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.

 

Avoidance Coping by Leaders (or when leaders refuse to deal with problems)

design11There are some pretty heavy psychological observances that can be employed when studying leadership. At the risk of overanalyzing, we are considering what causes some leaders to refuse to deal with failure. I define failure in this instance as the lack of taking a group or organization where God wants it to go. While I certainly am not the ultimate judge of the leadership effectiveness of anyone, I do have the responsibility of helping some leaders be as efficacious as possible.

Diversion may be defined as something that takes attention away from what is happening. When leaders are diverted from their primary task, the organization under their care suffers. We have all witnessed this. It’s interesting to observe leaders who are serving organizations that are failing, but the leaders don’t focus on the solutions. A tendency of some leaders is to concentrate on something else and, thereby, deflect the attention that may reveal that they are neglecting their duty. The focus that is required in order to solve the issue is lost.

We leaders may be like the bird dog described by Aldo Leopold:

“I had a bird dog names Gus. When Gus couldn’t find pheasants, he worked up an enthusiasm for Sora rails and meadowlarks. This whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes masked his failure to find the real thing. It assuaged his inner frustration.” (A Sand County Almanac, p. 200)

Another example may be (hypothetically, of course!) a pastor of a shrinking church that chooses to spend his or her time debating politics or bemoaning the decline of the culture or criticizing the church members. In the few precious hours of leadership influence they have available, they point out the faults of others. I do not think that these leaders are necessarily malicious. I believe that diversion is a tactic that some leaders employ because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are frustrated by their failed efforts to fix their organization and they are compelled to do something. So, blaming others, attacking others who are having success, minding the business of others and conflicting with team members becomes their default response.

To refer again to a psychological term, rumination “refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991)” (psychologytoday.com). When people engage in rumination (overthinking) they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions. This is in the place of focusing on solutions to the problems. It can be easier for a leader to come up with reasons rather than answers. There have been times in my experience when I have spent more time blaming my predecessor, analyzing the dysfunctions of the organization and justifying my lethargy rather than working toward resolutions for the problems at hand.

Avoidance coping is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. (mentalhelp.net) A distraction or a non-essential issue can steal the attention of a leader, especially when she is under stress. It can be relieving to think about another topic rather than to continue to wrestle with one’s own problems.

Then there is the more diabolical diversion tactics. If a leader under duress can create a diversion that will focus the attention of followers on someone or something else, the pressure can be alleviated. We’ve seen this personified in blaming/projecting (pointing at others as the problem), distracting (changing the subject or avoiding confrontation) and procrastinating (putting off the inevitable).

Some unscrupulous leaders are masters at clouding the issue or offering a “red herring” – misleading or distracting from a relevant or important issue. Slight of hand or misdirection is useful in magic tricks and sports but it has no place in the leadership of an organization.

A railroad engineer is at the helm of the train, which is speeding out-of-control down the track. As it heads toward the train station where, short of preventive maneuvers, lives will be lost, the engineer discusses the poor condition of the tracks, the outdated equipment of the engine, the bad attitudes of the passengers and the lack of wisdom of those who chose to build the train station in that location. What he needs to do is hit the brakes; but instead, he focuses on things that are out of his control. The result is devastation.

Leaders, we are the engineers. The train is our organization. Let’s take ownership. People are desperate for leaders who can identify the solutions to problems and to lead the organization through the crises.

Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church

Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!

Healthy Pastor Healthy Church

13557721_10154376814459214_6871678460088746686_nIn order for churches and ministries to be healthy and productive, their leaders (pastors) must be healthy. When we think of health, we usually think only in terms of physical health; but a more holistic approach is needed. Too many of us limit our definition of health, and possibly limit our effectiveness in the ministry.

Let’s focus on our wellbeing in regard to a spiritual, relational, emotional, mental and physical point of view. Balance is needed in order for us to remain productive for the long term. The demands placed upon an individual by modern ministry are significant. We’ve all seen friends who did not survive the rigors of church leadership. It takes a strong person to remain active in ministry for many years. While we all agree that we must be spiritually healthy, let’s not ignore things like our physical condition. In today’s world of authenticity and transparency, we can appear hypocritical if we preach a Gospel that doesn’t include every aspect of our lives. If we are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous, our ministries will suffer. If we are not growing intellectually, if our relationships are unhealthy, if we are unstable emotionally, our message will be hindered. Let’s fast and pray but let’s also gain education and work out.

Here is an idea to consider: these things are all connected. When we are healthy spiritually, our emotions, our health, our relationships and our mental capacities are impacted. We can’t truly say that we are healthy spiritually if we are ignoring vital aspects of our being. We can’t segregate the elements of our health. If the pastor is out of balance, the church will be out of balance. That’s what we call leadership.

Pastors, let’s take care of ourselves so that we can lead healthy and productive ministries but let’s also take care of ourselves so we can enjoy the benefits that God provides for healthy people.

Pastor, You Can’t Fix Everybody

IMG_0268Let me begin by saying, pastors can’t “fix” anybody. Only God heals broken people.

A while back, I met an individual and, within 20 seconds, they unloaded a barrage of information about their spouse that stunned me. Their graphic language, their sharing of personal details and their willingness to discuss intimate information about their spouse with a total stranger was a bit shocking. I’ve been in ministry for close to 30 years so this experience is nothing new. But this conversation told me a lot about this individual. My concerns were later confirmed. Before the event was over, this person spoke to me 2 additional times, both times, sharing the same details. I talked to them a total of about 6 minutes but I heard information that only the closest intimate friend should know. I finally had to stop them mid conversation.

What’s my point?

I was not able to help this person. I prayed for them (and still do). I advised them to seek professional help. I encouraged them to connect with their local church pastor. Later, in a brief conversation with this person’s pastor, I learned that they were perpetually in need and that this situation was long-term. Apparently, this couple has shown themselves unwilling to make the adjustments necessary in order to solve their issues.

Pastors, let me share this with you:

No one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help.

We all know people who are perpetually needy. I am not talking about those who are in chronic pain or with a life situation not of their doing that is creating continual suffering. I am speaking about those whose lifestyles prove that they do not want to recover. Some even get a thrill from the attention they receive from their issues.

Here is a little advice for pastors who are expected to help those who may be very difficult to help:

  • Humble down: You are not the Messiah. You do not have all of the answers. It is not a defeat to admit you don’t have the answers – in fact, it is sometimes a victory.
  • Know your limits: A renown scholar once said, “A good man’s gotta know his limitations.” (Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force). If the issues are beyond your scope of authority or expertise, admit that. No one is an expert in every area.
  • Recognize the users: Some only want to monopolize your time. Others wish to play on your sympathies. While we must not become hard-hearted in regard to the needs of others, we must learn to spot those who are not looking for solutions.
  • Refer, refer, refer. Doctors do it all the time. When they see a patient that needs the care of a specialist, they refer to that specialist. Pastors may find it beneficial to follow suit.
  • Grieve for them but don’t take up their grief: A good pastor will hurt when his/her sheep are hurting. We must carry the spiritual burden of loving people that are in misery. However, it is a mistake to assume the load of their pain. We are strong but not superhuman. We must learn to be sensitive and compassionate without damaging our spiritual and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to draw the line of distinction.
  • Give them hope: God never gives up on people; we shouldn’t either. Let them know that you are not their solution but that God has their answer. While we are not to try to be a savior to needy people, we are to point them to their Savior.
  • Remember to whom they belong. You are the pastor and you are the under shepherd, but they belong to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. When and if people are pulling too much out of you, give them to Jesus.

Once again, no one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help. If you try too hard, it may have a negative impact on the people you are trying to help, on yourself and upon your ministry. If you try too hard to fix others, it may break you. I don’t want to see that happen.

I’m praying for you pastor!

Why We Must Invest in Young Leaders

design[2].pngThere is a lot of talk these days about why it is so difficult for most people to connect with Millennials. They are complex, some of them have no interest in interacting with us and a few of them think they are entitled.

Of course they don’t have it all together. If they did, we would need them to teach us, because we certainly don’t have it all together.

Here are some reasons why we MUST invest in the next generation of leaders:

  • We won’t live forever; someone needs to be prepared to take over once we are no longer able to lead.
  • Some of us need to step aside before we are ready. One of the problems with growing older is our awareness of our effectiveness or ineffectiveness may be compromised. Let’s prepare younger people to lead before we reach the place of ineffectiveness.
  • Someone invested in us. We have a responsibility to pass on the valuable insight and wisdom that was generously given to us. To do otherwise is selfish. One of my favorite Bible passages is II Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” I see four or five generations involved in the teaching process. Let’s follow that pattern and pass on what we know.
  • We love them. Because we care about young leaders, we will invest in them.
  • Because the church and other organizations need young leaders in place now and in the future. The current lack of leadership in our world is evidence that we need strong leaders to emerge.
  • We have things to learn from young leaders. They have a handle on some concepts that we must learn in order to be effective.
  • Because we are better together. Mono-generational existence is boring, unhealthy and unproductive.

I’m excited about the young leaders I know. They are authentic, bright and well-informed. If we do our part to help them get ready, the future will be in good hands. If you know anything that can make the world a better place and can prepare people for what is ahead, do your best to share it with those younger leaders who will then share it with others.

The Best Thing About My Faith Family

I have a great job! But it’s so much more than a job. My work is my calling.

design[1]A friend recently asked me about my favorite part of our work. I didn’t have to think twice about my response.

My favorite part of the ministry in which I am involved is not the meetings. I love my colleagues and my leaders but I’m not a big fan of sitting around a table and working through an agenda. I’m not especially fond of traveling. Crowded planes and long car rides wear me down. Dealing with bankers and attorneys and real estate agents can be taxing (sorry friends who serve in those roles). And, honestly there are a few things about my faith family that are difficult. There are politics. There are egos. There is conflict. Of course, these things are evident in all organizations.

But the best part of our faith family is the people. My wife and I have the distinct privilege of serving in a leadership role for our denomination. As part of our responsibilities, we travel to a variety of places and meet a lot of great people. Every place we go, we are reminded about how precious the people in our movement are. We meet so many hard working, faithful and competent people. Pastors, church leaders, church members…every place we visit we find a consistent batch of great folks who love God and are working hard to build His kingdom. I refer to them as the backbone of the church. They are by far the best thing about our faith family.

I find it interesting that a few people choose to leave our group. I have a couple of friends who have decided that they can do better. That is between them and God and I hold no ill feelings toward them. But unfortunately, the reasons I hear from my friends who leave are, in my estimation, shallow. The aforementioned difficulties usually make the list: too many politics, too many egos, too much conflict. I see what they are saying and I agree that these are problems. But here is my point:

The quality of the people makes the challenges well worth it!

I’m not blind – I see the problems. And many people I know are working hard on and making progress toward engaging solutions. But rising far above these issues in my mind are the men and women who make up my tribe. I refuse to throw away relationships with so many awesome people because there are organizational challenges. The more I travel and the more people I get to meet and work with, the more I am convinced, I’m in the best family on earth.

I’m thankful for my faith family; it’s a privilege for me to serve in this capacity. By the way, I am a part of the Church of God.

Is it Time to Boycott the Boycotts?

boycott-1A powerful way to get what you want is to refuse to support. It works with companies, in friendships and in families. We are seeing an increase of people who are making strong statements about their values by cutting ties with those who disagree with them. We refuse to buy products, patronize businesses and support companies. In a manner of speaking, it works, but there are some results we should consider.

It’s getting more difficult to keep up with the list of banned companies. If we continue on current trends, we may run out of things to boycott.

Think about this- companies whose practices or policies are in opposition to our convictions can become the enemy. But here is the problem: they are not the enemy.

Coffee companies, theme parks and state governments are not the enemy. Our enemy is the devil. We are reminded in the Bible, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Another issue that will arise out of a boycotting mentality: communication breaks down. Once the conversations end, the possibility of agreement ends. Burned bridges are hard to rebuild. If we refuse to engage with others, we give up on the possibility of reaching people. Rather than coming to a place of understanding, even if the understanding is disagreement, we come to a place of hopelessness.

One more issue to bring up here: when we have a mentality of boycotting, we get used to being in control. Vendettas and revenge can make us feel powerful. If someone doesn’t do what we like, we can, through our withdrawal, control them. Well, we can’t actually control them but we can end the relationship. Is that the goal? I hope not.

Finally, what goes around comes around. Pastors who train church members to boycott in order to bring change shouldn’t be surprised if church members boycott the church in order to bring change. If we live by boycotting, we may die by boycotting. If we cut ties with others who disagree with us, we should expect those who disagree with us to cut ties with us. Soon, we will live a completely isolated life. It’s neither healthy nor logical to expect everyone to agree.

Let’s not get caught in the trap of boycotting. It may work for us to feel like we are in control, but we are not.

And if you don’t like my ideas, you can always boycott this blog site. Just kidding!

Minister’s Manual, 2016 Version. (This ain’t your grandma’s church!)

I was reading again Henri Nouwen’s classic, “The Wounded Healer.” His introduction mentions the need for a more relevant version of the old Minister’s Manual. The old ones were a sort of “how to” guide or “Ministry for Dummies” approach to local church functions. They were a very practical and helpful resource for younger pastors just getting started.

Traditional ministerial handbooks included sections on

Hospital visitation,

How to perform a wedding,

Conducting funeral services,

Administering the sacraments and so on.

Back in the day, a pastor could navigate his way through a variety of ministry situations with the aid of a good Ministers Manual. I have 2 or 3 on my shelf and they are collecting dust.

Today’s pastors certainly need to know the things expounded upon in these Manuals. But wow, has ministry ever changed!

I would suggest the need for an updated Minister’s Manual. But the chapter titles have to change to reflect real life situations that pastors face in a post/Christian culture. Some of the ideas below are an attempt at humor; some are more poignant. Some will only be grasped by pastors serving in a local church setting. But they all are a commentary on how the world and, therefore, ministry has changed.

ministers manual-1-1

Modern ministry manual:

Chapter 1: When to call the cops, when to run for cover.

Ch. 2: Addictions: Everybody’s Got ‘Em.

Ch. 3: Breaking up a Fight at a Funeral.

Ch. 4: Kevlar, the Pastors Best Friend.

Ch. 5: Mental Illness: The New Normal.

Ch. 6: How to Tell the Difference Between Crack and Heroin.

Ch. 7: Is that Elder Packing Heat?

Ch. 8: The Tatooathon Youth Fundraiser

Ch. 9: The New and Improved Bullet Proof Pulpit.

Ch. 10: How to Preach a Sermon Without Offending Everyone.

Ch. 11: Xanax, a Pastor’s Best Friend.

Ch. 12: Yes, it’s a “Please Me” Culture; Now Get On With It

Ch. 13: When Your Board has Your Back, but they’re All Carrying Daggers.

Ch. 14: How much is too much therapy?

Ch. 15: Just Say “No” to Talking to the Opposite Sex (and to some of the same sex.)

Ch. 16: “Don’t take it personal but I hate your preaching!”

Ch. 17: Keep your hands out of the Offering Plate!

Ch. 18: Why You Keep an attorney on Retainer.

Ch. 19: Can I Write Off my Punching Bag?

Ch. 20: How to Baptize Cats Without Losing a Eye.

Ch. 21: 3 Points and a Tear-Jerking Illustration in 15 Minutes or Less.

Ch. 22: Think you can Make at least One Person Happy? Think Again.

Ch. 23; How to preach like Andy, Joel and T.D. and still be True to Yourself.

Ch. 24: How to Compete with Youth Sports, nice weather, bad weather, the beach, the boat, sickness, health and a thousand other things that keep people out of church.

Ch. 25; Leading People who Never Go Anywhere.

Ch. 26: When to empty your hate mail email folder.

Ch. 27: How to include every possible music genre in every worship service without anyone complaining.

Ch. 28 Yes, chronic insomnia is perfectly normal for Pastors.

Ch. 29: “Meat of the Word” Smoothies.

Ch. 30: Why people don’t believe it when you say, “your best days are ahead!”

Ch. 31 Preach the Gospel even if they kill you for it. And they might.

You get the idea. Ministry is different today than it’s ever been before. That’s because the world is different than it’s ever been before. I don’t think it’s necessarily harder than before. Recall, there have been Christian martyrs for 2,000 years. But for sure, these are unique times. Some of us are waiting for everything thing to get back to normal. My advice? Don’t hold your breath; it’s not going back.

Stay strong.

Don’t quit.

You are called to this moment.

God is faithful and He will come through. We don’t know for sure what that means but we know He will come through.

Hang tough modern pastor!

What do you think? Do I have a new Ministers Manual in the works?

Leadership Discretion Advised

Leadership Discretion AdvisedA few years ago, I posted a light-hearted social media comment about my favorite sports team that was headed to the World Series (go Cardinals!) I jokingly inferred that I might pray about getting tickets to one of the games. I thought very little of it (first mistake) and assumed it was humorous (second mistake.) Shortly thereafter I receive a private message from a colleague who is a few years my elder. He wisely advised me to consider the people I lead as regarding my recent post. His comments went something like this: “Recall that there are men under your leadership who are having a difficult time taking adequate care of their families because of financial limitations. Some are working two or three jobs to pay the bills. Also consider that these families sacrifice some of their income to send contributions to our denomination to support our leaders, like you. Considering the extreme cost of attending a World Series game, some of your team members may be offended that you are willing to spend so much money on a ball game when they can’t buy their kids new shoes. I would encourage you to use great discretion. You have influence, you don’t want to waste it.”

Wow! This man was a true friend that cared enough to share valuable wisdom with me. I received it and thanked him. That has been a couple of years ago but I still recall the conversation, often. I realize that some will come to my defense, will think that this guy should mind his own business and that I have the right to spend my money the way that I want. But, as a leader, I disagree. I must be conscientious. I must be aware of others. I must be willing to sacrifice some of my liberties if I am to be an effective leader. I must use discretion. If you feel as though what you do is no one’s business, you need to take a look at Biblical leadership and Christianity in general. We are responsible for and accountable to one another.

Just last night, I was making some observations on Facebook about a very popular football game. I was trying to make some life and leadership analogies by pointing out the failures of a particular player. You guessed it; some people were upset and offended. I now had three choices: defend myself and blast those who were offended, ignore those who were offended, or apologize. I chose the latter and removed my post. Like it or not, my role as a leader is more important than nonsense talk on social media.

As leaders, everything we do is examined under a microscope, as well it should be. The Scriptures tell us in James 3:1 that leaders (teachers) are held to a higher standard. Of course there can be excesses with this idea and some only want to place impossible expectations on those in authority. But the principle remains true: anyone who wants to lead must be willing to use a different filter for decision-making. Don’t misunderstand – there are issues of morality that we must defend regardless of who agrees. However, the nonessential issues that sometimes separate people are just not worth it.

Leaders are entitled to opinions about everything but it is immature and arrogant to share every opinion one has. As the leadership level increases, so the level of filter needs to increase. Think about this: you only get so much input into the lives of others before they lose interest or they tune you out. What kind of information is worthy of your influence?

I can be right. I can be informed. I can even out-argue some people. However, there is a bigger concern. As a leader, how am I influencing my constituents?

My advice to you? Use great discretion. By the way, you are entitled to disagree with my idea, just use discretion when expressing your ideas. I’ll keep working on it from my end.

Can I Talk You Out of Ministry?

design[32]When I meet with young folks who think they feel a call by God to do ministry, I’m sometimes not very successful at hiding my skepticism. I’ve had a hundred of these conversations. In my experience, many who think that they are being asked to enter full-time ministry, aren’t. Please understand, all Christians are called to ministry. Regardless of your role in life, God expects you to do great things for Him. But only a few are asked to be vocational ministers. We have seen those who mistake feelings of guilt or regret as a call. Others are experiencing a religious awakening and their fervor can feel like a pull into ministry. Still others think the ministry sounds glamorous and they relish the idea of leading a great church (and preaching to thousands!). The problem is, I’ve seen many of these guys who have gotten into ministry and it did not turn out the way that they had anticipated. A few weeks or months later, they experienced a change of heart and were no longer in ministry.

Here is a harsh reality: If I can talk you out of ministry, either you aren’t called or something else would have talked you out of it later. Either way, you wouldn’t have lasted. So I’m going to try to talk you out of ministry before you get started. Is that cruel? If it comes across that way, I apologize. And not being called into ministry doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It’s about knowing who you are in Christ.

When you are genuinely called by God to do ministry, no one should be able to dissuade you. When I was young wannabe preacher, I approached my then Overseer several times requesting that he place me in a church to pastor. I recall the passion in my voice as I nearly begged this man for a place to minister. I located an abandoned church that our denomination owned. It was boarded up and padlocked and had been for years. I felt like this was my chance. The good Bishop promptly disagreed and said, “if you want to pastor a church, start one.” For years, I was frustrated at this man because he didn’t see anything in me that was redeemable. Now I understand more about his approach and response. He was trying to talk me out of going into ministry – but he couldn’t. He only strengthened my resolve. I did start a church and I have been in ministry ever since. His words discouraged me but they eventually helped to reaffirm my calling.

If you think God is calling you into vocational ministry, you won’t be able to ignore it and you won’t get over it. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)
You won’t be able to find fulfillment in anything else. You will be miserable until you are doing what God asked you to do. If you think you are called, here is what I want to say to you: start doing the things that reveal your ministry heart. Start serving others. Start being an example for others to follow. Work behind the scenes. Clean the church restrooms. Visit a widow. Cut the neighbor’s grass. Tithe 10% and give an additional 10% of your earnings. Pray through the night. Never miss a church service. Forgive someone who hurt you. Teach a children’s Sunday School class. These activities aren’t proof that you are called, they simple will be an opportunity for you to explore what real ministry is. If, in time, you are called by God to preach – you and everyone else will know it. Don’t expect others to pave the way for you.

If you can do anything other than preach and maintain your submissive relationship with God, I suggest you do it. I don’t say this because ministry is hard work – it is an honor and a joy. I say this because if you can walk with Christ without being a preacher, you’re not called to be a preacher!

Relational Leadership: Growing Beyond our Organizational Bureaucracy

IMG_021450 years ago, people were perfectly happy being treated like a number. Employees were expendable and assembly line workers were interchangeable. If you expected to be affirmed by your employee, well, that’s what a paycheck was for.

Today’s team members want to be valued beyond their monetary compensation; they rightfully expect to be treated with respect. Leaders can no longer be perceived as dictators. The days of the intimidating boss are fading and employees will no longer tolerate a company that undervalues their workers. In fact, most people no longer want to be seen merely as a worker or a cog in a corporate machine; they prefer to think of themselves as team members, vital partners, an important piece of the larger mosaic. Leonard Sweet says that, “people possess a desire for a higher purpose – a mission that will change the world.” By connecting with your organization, they can participate as a key component in a bigger mission.

If you are a leader, you must connect in a relational way with your team members. If your organization is too large for you to offer hands-on care for everyone, you must structure so that someone is doing hands-on care for everyone. Individuals matter!

Allow me to clarify a few things that are often mistaken for relational leadership:

  • Telling you what you want to hear. We must care enough to challenge one another to grow. Stretching is uncomfortable but a necessary part of personal and organizational development.
  • Always agreeing. Just because I disagree with you does not mean that I am a “hater”. Sometimes my love for you compels me to disagree with you. Relational leaders care enough to lovingly confront when necessary.
  • Presuming your leader to be all things to all people. We must have reasonable expectations. If your leader has 10 or more direct reports, she may not be accessible every time you need her. An extremely high capacity leader may be able to effectively connect personally with 50 or more people but you must not place them under extreme performance expectations as they relate to accessibility.
  • One-sided relateability. Relational leadership is a two-sided coin. If you expect your leader or team member to initiate every conversation, you need to further study communication. Two-way care is required. (Part 2 of this post will address relational followership.)
  • Organizational acquiescence. While modern thinkers need to know they have influence, they cannot expect everyone to instantly comply and conform to their ideologies. Regardless of how impatient we may become, deep influence and trust takes a lifetime to earn.

However, any leader that plans to remain effective must assume responsibility for building authentic relationships with their associates. People must know that they matter more than the organization. Regarding connectivity: as goes the leader, so goes the team.

We must grow beyond our organizational bureaucracy. In order for institutions to continue to survive they must embrace a systemic relational ethos. If you find yourself in a leadership conundrum where morale is low but angst is high, try making more relational investments in the lives of team members. Strategically and intentionally provide emotional equity; let them know you care!

You are important far beyond what assets you bring to your organization. Your value as an individual and friend far exceeds the contributions you make to the institution as a colleague, associate or employee. Relational leadership will affirm this over time.

On a more personal note, the organization that I serve (the church) is experiencing great transformation in the area relational leadership. Much of our structure is being evaluated and adjusted. We have as our model, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always put people ahead of the institution. In fact, the purpose of His structure was to serve individuals. The church must lead the way in growing beyond our organizational bureaucracy and embracing relational leadership.

(Len Sweet, Summoned To Lead)

Before You Decide to Skip Church (or 7 Great Reasons to Go to Church)

IMG_0184 copy(This article was originally posted on June 4, 2012 under the title, “I Go to Church.”)

I make a living in the church, actually through the church. Worship services usually happen in the church but they are only a part of what we do. I went to church before I was paid to go and should I lose my job in ministry, I would keep going to church.

I usually emphasize a missional expression of ministry, or carrying out in our culture what Christ tells us in the church. But today I want to discuss what I get out of worship services. In addition to the usual (worship, prayer, learning more about God, etc.), I find many personal benefits to regularly attending worship gatherings.  These things have nothing to do with my being a pastor. They have everything to do with me going to church services.

Here are some of the benefits I get out of church:

I encourage others at church. Many people don’t believe it, but their very appearance in a church service is an encouragement to other people. Obviously if you are not there, they will not get that encouragement. So I go.

I get to experience “the moment”. God’s Spirit works in unique ways while His people are gathered in a group. That moment cannot be recaptured or transferred. If I miss it, I just miss it. There is power in spontaneity. God might tell me to say something or do something for someone “right now”. If I’m not there, I will miss the spontaneous.

I get to use my gifts that are intended for worship gatherings. The Bible is clear that some of the talents given to people are given for the purpose of building up others while at worship. If I don’t go to church, I cannot use those gifts anywhere else.

I am made aware of the right-now needs of my church family. A simple look in the eye can inform you of someone who is hurting or frightened or angry. I can respond, on the spot, to that need. If I am not at church, I won’t even know of the need. So I go.

My fellow leaders speak into my life. Messages or sermons or teachings are the best counsel and advice that a pastor can offer. Watching on the Internet or on television or listening online is great, but it is not the same as in person. D. L. Moody said, “The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church…is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.”

I am “in the know” with the immediate direction of our church. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about something special that God is doing or a change that is taking place. I want to see and hear it first-hand.

I am able fulfill my responsibility as a member of my church. Among our responsibilities are: prayer for others when they need it, responding to crisis at the moment, providing support when it is needed, and participating in the forward movement of the church. If I am somewhere else, none of this can happen…until maybe later. Sometimes, later is too late.

These things cannot happen outside of the church, so I go. Often. I love going to church and my life would be incomplete without it. So I go. Whether or not I am a pastor, I go to church.

So before you decide to skip church, or before you allow something else to push your church service to the back burner, please know that your attendance and involvement is important.

Don’t miss something important. Go to church.

It’s Getting More Difficult (Ministry in the Modern World)

design[12]Experience should make your job easier. I am not finding that to be the case. The older I get and the more time I spend in Christian ministry, the more challenging it seems to become.

Monumental shifts in our cultural contexts leave the church in unfamiliar territory. While we once enjoyed the favor and respect of the community, we now find ourselves on the receiving end of rejection and even disdain. Worse than being rejected is being ignored. Because the Western culture has, for all practical purposes, abandoned a Christian worldview, churches that adhere to traditional Biblical tenets are dismissed as ignorant or hate-filled. Times are rapidly changing for those in ministry.

Because of these dynamics, ministry is not getting easier in America; on the contrary, we are facing greater challenges and resistance than we have in the past. Some Christian leaders are not responding well. Some of us are behaving more like Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden. We pull out our swords and lop off ears (in Jesus’ name, of course)! There are too many Malchus’ in the world. These are people who are suffering from the mis-reaction of Christians to social pressures. There is a time for us to leave our swords in their scabbards. (see John 18:10-11)

I have a few suggestions that may enable us to more effectively navigate these tumultuous waters.

1. Recall that we are not the first to be rejected for the cause of Christ. Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

2. Maintain proper perspective. While we are experiencing new opposition to our faith, there are countless brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

3. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the most difficult passages in the Bible have to do with loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36)

4. Embrace the opportunity to minister to the world. When in the middle of pushback regarding your faith, pray for the chance to share the Gospel. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15b)

5. Remember, it’s not our fight. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) God is well able to take care of His business, don’t make cultural resistance your personal battle.

6. Be tough to the very end. Those who do so will be saved. “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

I wish I could tell you that the pressure that ministries face will ease in the near future. I don’t believe that it will; in fact, I believe that it will only get more difficult. I can tell you that our current situation doesn’t catch God by surprise. He remains in control. He has promised to be with us. And He will be victorious in the end.

Hang in there, Child of God. Great will be your reward.

Is Your Church Successful?

Disclaimer: Please forgive the academic nature of this post. This is a paper I recently wrote for a class but I hope you can weed through it to glean some useful things.IMG_0147

How Does a Church Measure Success?

     When considering the topic of measuring church success, one must take into account a variety of issues. Each church is different and what may be considered as success is sometimes subjective. Varying opinions on the elements of ministry success prevent us from coming to consensus on the matter. Biblical standards on what constitutes success in churches are subject to interpretation. There are some standards that, in my opinion, are absolutes for success in ministry and that is the focus of this project. Powers and Roberson assert,

“A church is successful when members of the congregation are growing in faith as the body of Christ, in all ways unto him and disciples are discovering, developing, and using their gifts in Christian service within the body, in the community, and in partnership with other believers around the world.” [1]

While every church leader and member may feel qualified to define how success is measured in their particular church, it is beneficial to look to those who have exposure to the larger Body of Christ when identifying success. The use of the term success when discussing Christian ministry creates concern for some. Some may equate this nomenclature with business models of success. Klopp assists us by addressing his use of terms other than success. He states, “Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in church health, effectiveness and revitalization. I use the term effectiveness because it doesn’t carry the theological or secular baggage as do terms such as ‘missional’ or ‘success’.” [2] Whether we address the concepts in terms of success, effectiveness or health, we should all agree that we are addressing ways in which the church may fulfill the responsibilities and expectations placed upon it by Jesus Christ. The Church is not to exist in an effort to please people; we will give an account to God and must please Him in every way.

With these considerations in mind, Powers and Roberson’s definition of a successful church may be adequate for general consideration but the Evangelical perspective of success in ministry should include additions related to winning people to Christ. While the ideas may be implied by the stated definition, evangelism is too central to the success of the church to be omitted in any serious definition. Other leaders have weighed in on attempts to define church success. Some have chosen to address the temptation to measure success using the wrong evaluative tools. In their book, Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis state,

“Too many of our notions of success owe more to the world than to the God we worship. We measure success in terms of numbers, budgets, style, staff, prestige. We are not quite as crass as to think the church leader with the biggest salary and the flashiest car is the most successful. But we are not far from thinking that the church leader with the biggest congregation and flashiest Sunday morning meetings is the most successful.”[3]

This position would seem to some as an exaggeration; my experience concurs with their assessment. Shawn Lovejoy devoted an entire book to the concept of reevaluating and reestablishing the measurements of success in the church. He provides a list of common but unhealthy measurements, including comparing ourselves to others, copying what others are doing and condemning others who have success that we envy. He provides additional unhealthy approaches to church success, with some of the elements including numbers, activity, approval rating and fame. Lovejoy pleads with pastors to recalibrate their definitions of success and work toward healthier, more productive churches. [4] Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer encourage us to change the scorecard of measuring success in church. Program based, inwardly focused churches will accentuate those issues that appease consumers. Stetzer and Rainer say, “The old scorecard of the church valued the external measures of the three Bs: bodies, budget, and buildings. The North American culture likes to count and so does the church. So we count the number of people attending, the number of dollars being used, and the number of square feet being inhabited for the purpose of the church.”[5] It is tempting to utilize such instruments because they are measureable and quantitative. Counting bodies is much simpler than measuring spiritual growth. We must, however, insist on interpreting success by godly standards, not by earthly ones.

Determining what defines success in a church is a significant undertaking. Since there is no comprehensive list provided in Scriptures, we must prayerfully examine the traits of Biblical ministry and assure that our churches comply. Pastors and leaders of ministries must be certain that core values are embraced and that they guide every decision and activity in the church. These values are based upon the truths of God’s Word as it applies to the lives of the people being reached by the church. Adherence to these values influences the direction of the church. We cannot know our mission if we do not embrace values. Gene Appel, former Pastor of Willow Creek Church in Illinois states, “The values church members and leadership embrace form their church mission.”[6] It is necessary to articulate what drives us as a church, why we are in existence and what we are striving to achieve. We will never know if we have achieved our mission if our values are unclear or ambiguous. It is my opinion that this is the cause behind much frustration among pastors and local church leaders. Clear and concise values have not been adopted and mission is elusive. Without these elements in place, we find it impossible to measure the effectiveness of a ministry. This frustration leads to a focus on what we can measure: crowds, resources and bottom lines on the financial reports. Lyle Schaller reminds us that core values and mission statements can, if not properly utilized, give us a false sense of security. He says, “Too often core values, like mission statements, are superficial expressions of pious rhetoric that have not been internalized by either the pastor or the leaders of the congregation.” [7]

If we are to measure what constitutes a successful church, we must begin with some basics as described by Scripture. Jesus provided the power of the Holy Spirit to the church so that we may be “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV). Paul explains the purpose of church leaders as “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11). Jesus assigned the Great Commission as the clarion call for the church: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a). For a church to be considered successful according to Biblical standards, emphasis must be placed on reaching those who are separated from God, releasing God’s people for ministry and making disciples everywhere. This seems to be a missional focus rather than an inwardly focused approach. It is a common assertion that this type of outwardly focused ministry will produce measureable, quantitative results such as increased attendance and giving. There is no biblical guarantee of this result and caution should be exercised when making such assumptions. A successful church will minister out of pure motivation to see lives changed. If God allows us to reach an increasing number of people, we are blessed. This should assist us as we attempt to keep our definition of ministry success pure.

Leith Anderson addresses the idea of successful churches in two books he authored in the early 1990s. Along with a plethora of negative examples of success, he identifies the following: “Success is reaching the right goal, using our resources according to a specified standard.”[8] I find that, without reading the book, this definition of success is vague and obscure. However, as Anderson develops his thoughts more fully, we find a solid didactic on church health. He focuses on the process of fulfilling mission, the utilization of gifts, and the necessity of adhering to Biblical standards while being flexible on non-essential issues. In his earlier work, Dying for Change, he eloquently argues for the church to stay focused on eternal issues refusing to compromise on Biblical truth while embracing the need to adjust methods as society shifts. “We cannot view the church as an island isolated from the rest of society. It cannot be isolated. As the culture changes, the church changes.”[9] At least one aspect of the successful church must be considered as the ability to reach the world around it with the message of Jesus Christ. Given our primary goal is to lead others to Christ and to make disciples, if we fail at these two tasks, we are unsuccessful. If the church fails to make disciples, she will eventually become extinct. Anderson and other writers help us to see the balance of commitment to living a godly life while connecting with the culture we are trying to reach. Both are necessary in order for a church (or Christian) to be considered successful. Minatrea laments the dying church that refuses to adjust its methods to reach their community.

“They found themselves increasingly out of touch with the rapids of cultural change and the real world in which their neighbors lived. They no longer anticipated having a major impact upon society and hoped only to reach enough people to help the church survive. I call this prevalent consumer orientation, isolation from society, and associated lack of belief in capacity to have a significant influence a maintenance mentality.”[10]

It is my opinion that it is impossible to have a successful church that is irrelevant to its culture. The Bible is always relevant, regardless of the society. Churches can be guilty of making the Bible irrelevant. Admittedly, we are in a major struggle with a propensity by many to reduce the Bible to a storybook. Post-modernism has impacted the church to the point that many are fearful of preaching the truth. However, watering down the Scriptures has resulted in an anemic church that is unable to deliver what our culture needs the most. The most successful churches are the ones that “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and offer life and hope through the transformative power of Jesus Christ. With today’s post-Christian attitude, churches that speak Biblical truth may have difficulty amassing a large congregation. However, I believe that people are hungry for real solutions and eventually truth will prevail. This is another reason why success may not be measured by using standard analysis. Being culturally relevant should mean making the truth of God’s love accessible to all. Unfortunately, the idea has become convoluted and a point of contention for many Christian leaders. Robert Logan assisted me in my understanding of the topic. He instructs, “Being culturally relevant is actually another way of describing what incarnating the Gospel is all about. It means putting the Good News into forms that relate and communicate to people wherever they are.” [11] In my estimation, and utilizing this definition of culturally relevant, one may not consider their church successful unless they are culturally relevant.

I read two works that seem especially congruent with this topic. Koster and Wagenfeld’s Take Your Church’s Pulse, and Stanley, Joiner and Jones’ 7 Practices of Effective Ministry are closely related to the task of determining success for the church. Both are efforts to identify key elements of a healthy and productive church. The 7 Practices text lists things that the church should do in order to become successful. A brief summary of the 7 practices is: 1. Clarify the Win (what do we want to celebrate?); 2. Think Steps, not Program (where do we want our people to be?); 3. Narrow the focus (do no more than one or two things well); 4. Teach Less for More (say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it); 5. Listen to Outsiders (focus your efforts on those you are trying to reach rather than on those you’re trying to keep); 6. Replace Yourself (prepare now for the future); and 7. Work on It (step back and evaluate).[12] These practices are publicized to create healthy environments in the church. They are not considered as indicators of success but rather are recipes for success. Personally, I find the authors of these practices to be a bit presumptive. I originally read this book with our local church staff when it was first published. We read and discussed the book and explored ways to implement the concepts contained in it. As it developed for us, many of the ideas of the authors were very specific to their context and not as easily executed in other settings. Our particular cultural context was not conducive to some of the practices. Thus, I am of the opinion that the book has limited application when considering how to determine success in the local church.

A much more helpful resource in my quest to establish the elements of a successful church is Koster and Wagenveld’s Take Your Church’s Pulse. The book presents ten vital signs of a healthy church. The list is subdivided into five key commitments and five key functions. The five commitments are Clear and Inspiring Vision, Mobilizing Leadership, Motivated Ministering Body, Proper Stewardship of Resources, and Integration of Text and Context.[13] According to the authors, implementation of these commitments will prepare and position the church to succeed in effective ministry. The five functions are listed as: Compelling Witness, Comprehensive Discipleship, Compassionate Service, Caring and Welcoming Community, and Dynamic Worship and Prayer. While these functions are practices of the church, they also serve as descriptors of an effective church. Healthy churches will participate in each of the functions listed. While I have not attempted to put into practice the comprehensive list as published by the authors, I have implemented each of the individual elements listed in a local church context. I believe that their list is synoptic and thorough. When attempting to identify key components of a successful church, we should utilize the index provided by Koster and Wagenveld.

As we summarize our research on the fundamentals of successful church ministry, my concern for the church of the 21st century remains. In my assessment, many churches are attempting to conduct impactful ministry by performing tasks and carrying out programs in their own strengths and abilities without relying on the life-transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We sometimes operate as though we are the source of life-change. Church can become an organization rather than an organism. I am very much in favor of investigating and exploring ways that God is working in other churches. God allows us to view successes in other ministries so that we may be inspired and motivated to also enjoy progress. However, it is a mistake to attempt to duplicate in our ministry what God is doing elsewhere. Trends and methodology can become contagious and, if we are not careful, all of our churches can begin to look and act alike. Popular pastors can garner a following of younger pastors and the temptation is to try to fit into the mold of this version of success. This may explain why North American churches spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to gain members from other churches. There can be a way of leading ministry that is attractive to other Christians, but not to those who are living without Christ. We experience a significant amount of transfer growth but not enough conversion growth. Our cultures and communities are too diverse for us all to conduct ministry the same way. The unique challenges and needs of the people in our neighborhoods require that we approach church work from a distinct and personalized platform. We may learn from the failures and successes of other churches but what God desires to do in our particular situation is distinct. Every church, every pastor and every community is unique. If we view the solution as mimicking what others are doing, we stifle the creative work of the Holy Spirit. He desires us to follow His leading as we address the needs of the culture that surrounds us. While it is beneficial for us to explore the concepts that various writers espouse as indicators of healthy ministry, we must recall that the Church is the bride of Christ and will ultimately be judged only by Him. Only God truly knows what is happening in the deep recesses of the ministry. We look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. It is a common temptation to hold others to our standards and to determine their success or failure based upon our criteria. It seems presumptuous and arrogant to determine some churches as successes and others as failures. Obviously, we can observe when a ministry practices the Scriptures and connects with its community. But we cannot measure true spiritual success. When I am bold enough to condemn a ministry as a failure, possibly I should submit to the Biblical teaching that instructs me to remove the log from my eye prior to attempting to remove the speck from my brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5). I am not insinuating that we stop evaluating ministry for success or failure. I am purporting that we enter into this process with humility and a keen awareness that we cannot accurately perceive what is true success and failure. Regardless of the limited number of members, the small facility and the miniscule budget, some churches are fulfilling the call that God has placed on them to make disciples, to release people for ministry and produce fruit that remains. On the contrary, some churches with massive numbers of attenders, a magnificent edifice and a swelling budget may possibly be viewed as a failure in the eyes of the Lord. This reminds us that every church is unique and has a specific calling to fulfill. We must operate in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill that call.

It behooves us to concentrate our definition of the elements of a successful church. Ingredients such as worship, service, community, prayer and evangelism are crucial. Vision, stewardship, leadership development, outreach and proper handing of the text within the context are vital. We should explore these features with a sincere desire to be the best church we can possibly be. However, we must never place these elements ahead of complete and total obedience to what God is requiring of the specific church. In our efforts to determine what makes a church successful, we must be sure to be guided by the principle of the true purpose of the church: to bring glory to God and to share Christ with the world.

I am convinced that, on Judgment Day, we will not be subjected to a checklist of modern expectations that are commonly considered to be criterion for success. I do believe that God will determine that day whether or not we have been obedient to Him and faithful to His call. Certainly, we hope and pray that we will hear these words spoken to us and to the church that we serve, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of the Lord!” (Matthew 25:23).

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Leith. Dying for Change: The New Realities Confronting Church and Para-Church Ministries. Minneapolis, MN. Bethany House Publishers, 1990.

Anderson, Leith. A Church for the 21st Century: Bringing Change to Your Church to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Society. Minneapolis, MN. Bethany House Publishers, 1992.

Appel, Gene and Alan Nelson. How to Change Your Church (Without Killing It). Nashville, TN, Word Publishing, 2000.

Chester, Tim and Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community. Wheaton, IL, Crossway Publishing, 2008.

Klopp, Henry. The Ministry Playbook: Strategic Planning for Effective Churches. Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 2002.

Koster, Tim and John Wagenveld. Take Your Church’s Pulse: Ten Vital Signs of a Healthy Church. (Sauk Village, IL, Multiplication Network Ministries, 2014.

Logan, Robert E. Beyond Church Growth: Action Plans for a Developing Dynamic Church. Grand Rapids, MI. Fleming H. Revell Publishers, 1989.

Lovejoy, Shawn. The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 2012.

Minatrea, Milfred. Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. San Francisco, California, Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Powers, Bruce and James T. Roberson Jr. Church Administration Handbook. Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing, 2008.

Schaller, Lyle E. The Very Large Church: New Rules for Leaders. Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2000.

Stanley, Andy, Reggie Joyner and Lane Jones. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. (Sisters, OR, Multnomah Publishers, 2004.

Stetzer, Ed and Thom Rainer. Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations. Nashville, Tennessee B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

[1] Powers, Bruce and James T. Roberson Jr. Church Administration Handbook. (Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing, 2008), 13.

[2] Klopp, Henry. The Ministry Playbook: Strategic Planning for Effective Churches. (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 2002), 26.

[3] Chester, Tim and Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community. (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Publishing, 2008), 191.

[4] Lovejoy, Shawn. The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 2012), 16-26, 34-35.

[5] Stetzer, Ed and Thom S. Rainer. Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations. (Nashville, TN, B&H Publishing, 2010), 26.

[6] Appel, Gene and Alan Nelson. How to Change Your Church (Without Killing It). Nashville, TN, Word Publishing, 2000), 26.

[7] Schaller, Lyle E. The Very Large Church: New Rules for Leaders. (Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2000), 128.

[8] Anderson, Leith. A Church for the 21st Century: Bringing Change to Your Church to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Society. (Minneapolis, MN. Bethany House Publishers, 1992), 89.

[9] Anderson. Dying for Change: The New Realities Confronting Church and Para-Church Ministries. (Minneapolis, MN. Bethany House Publishers, 1990), 43.

[10] Minatrea, Milfred. Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. (San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass, 2004), 7.

[11] Logan, Robert E. Beyond Church Growth: Action Plans for a Developing Dynamic Church. Grand Rapids, MI. Fleming H. Revell Publishers, 1989, 69.

[12] Stanley, Andy, Reggie Joyner and Lane Jones. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. (Sisters, OR, Multnomah Publishers, 2004), 10-11.

[13] Koster, Tim and John Wagenveld. Take Your Church’s Pulse: Ten Vital Signs of a Healthy Church. (Sauk Village, IL, Multiplication Network Ministries, 2014), 13.