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.

Healthy Church Staff Relationships (Or How to Keep Your Staff from Imploding)

IMG_0138Working well with other leaders and staff members is essential for ministry success. Having worked with paid church staff for over 20 years, I believe that this is more challenging than working with church members or volunteers. In fact, I think it’s generally easier to pastor 100 people alone than 200 people with a team. Because of this, some churches avoid hiring staff. I have friends who purposely keep their ministry small and manageable. I disagree with this approach and believe the benefits of working with staff far outweigh the challenges. On the contrary, I know a few smaller church leaders who can’t wait for the day when they have staff – so their jobs won’t be so hard. You, my friend, are mistaken.

Church staff relationships are tricky, to say the least. We must figure this out because if the staff is broken, the church is broken.

Here are some of the greatest threats to healthy church staff relationships:

  • Jealousy of the success of others (this reveals spiritual immaturity and insecurities).
  • Sharing limited resources (there is only so much money and volunteers to go around). Staff members sometimes fight over support.
  • Undermining others in an effort to look better. We must realize that, as a team, when one of us wins, we all win and when one of us loses, we all lose.
  • Ministry silos. Tony Morgan writes about how some church staff members divide and are only concerned about their specific ministry. http://tonymorganlive.com/2014/04/23/ministry-silos-leadership/
  • Lack of loyalty to the mission and vision of the church/senior leader. Some staff members have secret ambitions to take their boss’ job.

So, how do we prevent these threats from doing irreparable damage to our church staff?

  • Hire spiritually mature people. Regardless of one’s ability, if there is a weakness in one’s spirituality, it will reveal itself in a church staff setting.
  • Create open and honest communication among the staff. Freedom to address perceived issues will allow a staff to address problems as they arise, rather than allowing them to build up over time.
  • The primary leader must stay personally engaged with the staff. While another staff member may be the first point of contact on a larger staff, the leader must be accessible and in relationship with team members.
  • Personal as well as professional relationships must be intentionally developed. A staff that dislikes one another outside of church will dislike one another inside of the church.
  • Staff prayer is vitally important. This prayer should be scheduled, frequent and treated as a priority.
  • Required reading. The staff should read and discuss current leadership development materials.The church staff should celebrate individual victories as a team and mourn individual losses as a team.

These are just a few ideas on how we may prevent threats to the church staff from destroying the staff (and church). I’d be interested to hear your ideas. Healthy church staffs result in healthy churches. And God wants a healthy Church!

We’re Selling the Church

we're selling the church

I had an intriguing meeting yesterday. As part of my administrative responsibilities, I assist pastors and local churches in securing places of worship. One of the churches I serve is considering relocating and we had a meeting with the representative of a major denomination who is selling one of their properties. This gentleman’s task is to liquidate buildings that they no longer plan to use. The congregation that worshipped in the building we are considering disbanded. They had worshipped in that building for 100 years. The stained glass photo is an actual shot from this beautiful old building.

That is where the conversation got interesting.

This man told me that his denomination is selling all of their buildings where local congregations fail. In essence, he said that they have no plans to bring in new leaders and start new congregations. Church planting and raising up new congregations is “not on the radar.” They will cut their losses and get as much money as possible from the liquidation of the building. After 100 years, they are selling the church.

I was a little stunned by the matter-of-fact way he communicated their approach. I was also a bit shocked that this man could make a living selling church buildings. I wondered how many churches they were closing. Why had they given up on the idea of opening new churches? And I wondered how long they could keep their organizational doors opened by selling off their properties. It’s a matter of math and time until they run out of inventory. And it appears as though the vision of the group has been extinguished.

I choose to allow this denomination to remain unnamed. Believe me, you would recognize the name.

Way more vital than a relocation consideration for our church is the painful truth that this experience reveals. Many once-strong churches are not surviving. Some denominations are abandoning ship and only trying to keep from losing a lot of money in the process. As a denominational leader, I am concerned about our direction. Is this building liquidation a sign of things to come for the church in America?

The true Church is not a building; it is people. But when once-vibrant groups are willing to abandon communities and years of ministry, we have reason for concern. When starting new churches is “not on the radar”, we’d better be worried.

I am not concerned about the future of the church; Jesus promised that She would survive. I am concerned about the future of the world. If the church gives up trying, how will the world be saved?

It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.

Simplify.

I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.

Why Some Churches Don’t Grow

why some churches don't grow 2

It’s not a perfect science. Increasing the impact and influence of a church can be very difficult. We all agree that numerical growth does not necessarily mean spiritual growth. But it is vital that churches around the world reach more people for Jesus. The church is God’s “Plan A” to reach the lost – and we are surrounded by lost people.

Here are 10 simple reasons why churches don’t grow. The list is not complete and these reasons are not written in stone. This is not an attack on pastors who lead plateaued churches. I simply wish to provide some discussion for churches and church leaders who hope to grow.

No passion for growth. Some churches stay the same because there is no desire to reach more people. Possibly there is a lack of awareness or maybe there is a disconnect with the surrounding culture. Many churches seem to be okay with the status quo. It’s business as usual. The tendency is to rely on our abilities more than we rely on God’s miracles. Spiritual lethargy sets in and corrodes a church. Churches that do not want to grow won’t. A lack of intensity will ensure that we stay stuck. We must pray until we receive the fervor; it takes passion to get “unstuck.”

No strategy for growth. It is rare to hear a pastor say that he doesn’t want the church to grow. But without intentionality, a church is not likely to grow. Even when specific strategies are followed, there is no guarantee of increase. But no plan will quickly lead to stagnation. Rather than thriving, our goal becomes to maintain and survive. Have you outlined your blueprint to grow your church?

Unwillingness to change. Some churches know what to do in order to reach more people but they are unwilling to make the necessary adjustments in order to do so. We do the same things the same way – because of tradition. The past is more important than the future; our rearview mirror is bigger than our windshield. This kind of ministry atrophy is especially difficult to overcome. Lack of change will result in lack of growth. Lack of growth will result in extinction.

Lack of “know how.” Don’t believe the “experts” who tell you that church growth is a matter of taking “these 3 easy steps.” You can do certain things that will gather a crowd but true church growth is much more complex and spiritual than simply amassing warm bodies. Many pastors and leaders would gladly do whatever it takes to grow. Many times, church is a matter of doing the right thing the right way long enough that the results finally come. If you don’t know what to do, keep trying. And find out what to do! Leaders must approach the acquisition of this kind of expertise as a life-long ambition.

Intimidation about culture. The world is becoming a scary place for Bible-believing churches. There is now a level of resistance and animosity that many of us have never experienced. It can be easy to see the church as a fortress that serves as a safe place from the evil world. Jesus did not establish His church to be a hiding place. The church is to be a force in our culture. Only the ministries that are confident enough to engage our culture will impact it. Be bold! God has given you the courage you need to overcome.

Fear of increased responsibility. Some leaders dread the responsibility that comes with more people. Let’s face it – fewer people = fewer problems. However, God did not call us to an easy task. While a larger church equates to more pressure and stress, the rewards are that more people find Christ and experience the joy of being His disciples.

Desire to control. There are a few (or many) control freaks who must hold the reigns on everything that happens in their organization. Growth means shared responsibility and authority. Unless a leader is confident and competent enough to share control, new people will be a very limited commodity. A pastor who is in charge of everything won’t be in charge of much. Please don’t limit the size of your ministry to only a few.

Misidentifying relevance as compromise. This one is touchy. Some churches do not grow because they mistakenly think that if they connect with culture, they are somehow being less than true to the Gospel. This simply is not true. Jesus is always pertinent. The Gospel cannot be irrelevant. The church can, however, make the Bible irrelevant. Our job is to stay true to the Scriptures but to preach them in a way that makes sense to the people who hear it. That is not compromise, it is effectiveness. It’s what Jesus did and that seemed to work pretty well.

Ministry schizophrenia. This is where a church gets its identity from other churches. Whatever the next big ministry bandwagon is, they are jumping on! I am all for successful ministry models and I believe that there are principles that apply across the board. But God does not wish to duplicate in every church what works in well-known churches. Be true to yourself and to your calling. Know what will work in your neighborhood, and do it. Know who God called you to be and whom He called you to reach.

A lack of missionality. Churches that exist for their own good are doomed to fail. Inwardly focused ministry is a major turnoff for people who do not go to church. Jesus came, not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28); the church must give itself to God and to the needs of the people He loves. We are on a mission from God; if we fulfill it, our churches will grow.

Here is the truth about church growth: churches that don’t grow will shrink and eventually die. In our post-Christian culture, church growth is getting more and more complicated. We need to pray and work like never before. It is possible that you can pray and work hard and your church may still not grow. But we do NOT want to be the reason our church doesn’t grow!

Let’s get on with the responsibility of reaching the world for Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20).

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

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

Here we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list could go on…

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

Grace and peace to you!

A Dirty Pulpit

dirty pulpit

 

For those who don’t speak churchy language, a “pulpit” is a piece of furniture that is sometimes utilized by preachers in a church. It holds a Bible and is usually placed front and center of the stage or platform. Other names for the pulpit are podium, lectern, or rostrum.

Recently, I was involved in a project at a church where we were moving some furniture around. I noticed that the pulpit had a lot of dust on it, mostly around the base at the bottom. Obviously it had been some time since the janitor had given it a cleaning. This is not an indictment of the janitor. In fact, I think those guys are the unsung heroes of most churches. I’ve always said that the best possible pastoral training is to serve as a church janitor for a while.

When I saw the dust on the pulpit, it struck me. I thought of what the desk represents: sacredness, purity, preaching the Word of God, the voice of God being heard by the people.  But the dust spoke to me of humanness, of failure and of sin. It is ironic that God chooses such imperfect people to represent and communicate His perfection.

Some people expect a perfect pulpit (or pastor). There is no tolerance for mistakes. There are too many stories of preachers who have sinned. Although gross immorality happens only in a minority of churches, these stories get a lot of coverage in the press. Truthfully, however, there is proverbial dust on every pulpit. Every pastor has a struggle. To err is human.

Regardless of how hard we try, we are covered with dust. Preachers can do the work of God with diligence, yet we are still guilty of sin. This is not an excuse to sin; and be reminded that the standard for Christian leaders is higher than for everyone else (see James 3:1). Pastors, never approach preaching with unconfessed sin in your life. If you are not a pastor, pray for your pastor. But we must be aware that God works in spite of the dust in our lives. We can’t tolerate the dust or accept it as the norm. We’ve got to clean ourselves often. However, part of the wonder of God is that He selects you and me to be His messengers – dust and all. Amazing.

Critical of the Church? Better Think Twice.

church critic coffee-cup

It seems to be a popular trend right now for some pastors to criticize the church, especially churches other than their own. Conferences are being held for the sole purpose of pointing out the faults of other Christians. I have heard several messages recently that focused on how wrong other churches are. The blogosphere is buzzing with accusations of false doctrine.

While it is our responsibility to expose theological error and to correct heresy, there is little to be accomplished by targeting one another.

Before we put a bull’s eye on a church, let’s be reminded of a few important truths:

The church is the Body of Christ. (I Corinthians 12:27)

The church is His Bride. (Revelation 19:7)

The church is His Body. (Ephesians 5:22-23)

The church is His Flock. (I Peter 5:2)

The church is His Building. (I Corinthians 3:9)

The church is His Household. (Ephesians 2:19)

The way I see it, Jesus takes the Church very personally. He loves the Church and gave Himself for it. If you go against the Church, you are going against God. We don’t want to do that.  What God does to those who go against Him and His church? “But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.” (II Peter 2:3b)

My point? It is best not to mess with something or someone whom the Lord values very much.

Rather than criticizing each other, our time would be better spent:

Praying for each other.

Preaching the Good News of Jesus.

Building up the Church.

Fighting our enemy, the devil.

Removing the log from our own eyes. (Luke 6:42 “How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”)

One final point: When we turn on one another, the devil is thrilled; his job gets easier.  What do you say we make his job harder?

11 Reasons NOT to Give Tithes

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The word “tithe” mean “tenth”. It is a biblical principle that indicates that people are supposed to offer 10% of their income to the church. 10%! That’s a huge percentage. Like you, I can think of many reasons why I should not give away that much of my money!

Here are just a few:

1. I need that money. I need to pay bills; my family has needs. I’m in debt over my head. I am responsible to take care of my financial obligations. If I give tithes, I may not be able to do so.

2. I need to save for the future. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Anything could happen…and I need to be prepared for an unknown future.

3. What if something bad happens? My car could break down or our refrigerator might stop working. If I pay tithes, I might get stuck in a bad spot.

4. I don’t like everything that happens in our church. The pastor doesn’t always do things that way I want him to. I’m not sure where all the money goes. The staff probably makes too much money. I think they waste a lot of resources. I could go on and on…

5. Tithing is an Old Testament concept. Jesus never said, “Thou shalt tithe”.  In the New Testament, we are free to do whatever we think is best. Tithing is legalism. We are no longer bound by the Old Testament rules.

6. I don’t have enough money. It’s simple: I already run short of money. Common sense says that if I give money away, I’ll have less. One day, when I get rich, I will tithe.

7. I don’t feel called to give tithe. Generosity is not my spiritual gift. The Bible clearly says that some people have the spiritual gift of generosity. I don’t have that gift!

8. Let the rich people take care of the church. They could write one check and pay all the church bills. That way, those of us who have less wouldn’t have to deal with that responsibility.

9. I know of too many crooked preachers and churches. I’ve heard too many stories about Mercedes Benz and vacation homes in Vegas. There is no way I’m helping that preacher get rich!

10. I pay my tithes in different ways, like volunteering to serve at church and singing in the choir. If I give ten percent of my time, that’s the same thing.

11. God doesn’t need my money – He owns everything.

I trust by now, you understand that this is a parody. Pardon my sarcasm. The above are all reasons that I have heard as to why some people don’t give tithes. And any excuse will do. The truth is, among a hundred other good reasons, other people will be blessed if you do tithe. That should be enough – helping other people. Helping them to find Christ, to serve God, to find healing for their marriage and family, to have something to eat, to know that God loves them.

It’s simple. Just give God your 10%. You will like the results.

The Problem with Guilt-Free Church

no-more-guilt

I saw a billboard the other day advertising a church in the community. In huge letters, it said: “Guilt-Free, Grace-Full!” Having grown up in a spiritual atmosphere where guilt was used like a hammer against those trying to make spiritual progress, I find myself paying attention when I see a sign like that. I realize that many churches use guilt to control people and to get the kind of response they need in order to stay in operation. No one wants to be put on a guilt trip and most people will no longer tolerate that kind of treatment from church leaders.

But there is a problem with a guilt-free church: We are all guilty.

Our culture loves to deflect blame. We love to point at someone else: our parents, the government, our spouse – anyone but me! There is a significant move within the evangelical community to remove the sense of guilt from the lives of people. We don’t want anyone to feel badly about themselves. This is basically because so many people reject personal responsibility. But we ARE responsible. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23).

Here are some things to consider:

1. A feeling of “guilt” is required in order to be forgiven.

By guilt, I do not mean that we should beat ourselves up or feel as though we are hopeless. One of the definitions for guilt is: “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.” (dictionary.com) We must come to terms with our sin. This “guilt” can be defined as godly sorrow. An old fashioned church word for this is “conviction”.  II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (NKJV)  Worldly sorrow is the destructive kind of guilt – godly sorrow produces repentance, which leads to salvation. We must first be aware that we are sinners; then we can be saved.

2. If there is no guilt, there can be no grace.

Back in the 80’s one of the more popular Bible verses I heard was “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1) This verse was used to cover people who desired to do whatever they wanted, but did not want any of the associated guilt. The problem was, many people forgot the rest of the verse…”for those who are in Christ”. Once Christ forgives sin, there is no guilt; but until he does, we are guilty!  As much as some church leaders would like to be “all grace all the time”, be aware that God’s grace only covers those who confess their sins to Him. According to Scripture, not everyone is going to heaven, only those whose sins are forgiven. Pastors cannot let people off the hook for their sins. Churches who do this may enjoy growth for a season but the end results will be empty lives.

3. People deserve all of the truth.

Just because a dessert says it is “guilt free” that does not mean there are no calories. We can tell people that they will only feel good about themselves if they come to our church. But when the Word of God is preached and the Spirit of God is involved, conviction will take place. This is painful; people avoid it. But we should never remove the opportunity to for people to repent.

4. Don’t force guilt or grace.

These are properties of God; allow Him to do His work in the lives of people. Churches and pastors should preach the truth in love. They should not condemn or judge. Neither should they exonerate or liberate. This is the work of God. The church is only a conduit through which God works.

Think it over. The next time you feel guilty about something, don’t dismiss it as a guilt trip. Don’t find a preacher who will tell you how awesome you are. Pray and ask God to reveal any wicked way within you, and if He shows you something, repent and accept His free gift of grace!

Psalms 139:23-24 “Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

People-Growing (for church leaders)

People GrowingGod has called us into the most wonderful work in the world! Much of what we do can be compared to what a farmer does. He grows crops; we grow people. He reaps a harvest of grain or vegetables; we reap a crop of souls.

Like farmers, pastors must know the purpose of their work and we must be willing to do whatever it takes to produce disciples. Fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is not an option for today’s church leader!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be intentional. Discipleship and spiritual growth among your church members does not “just happen”. If there is not a specific plan, our church will not grow. Conducting church services is not enough. We must engage the people in an intentional and consistent plan of personal spiritual growth. There are many simple plans available; develop one or find one and get your church involved. What is your plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be willing to measure our success. Numbers aren’t everything but they do measure our progress. Attendance = real lives. If we are not reaching more people now than we were a few years ago, it is time for an adjustment. Refusal to deal with the bottom line (disciples being made) will lead to failure in the ministry. Go ahead and answer the question, “what do our numbers say about our discipleship process?” Are adjustments necessary? If so, what adjustments?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be skilled. The Bible instructs us to study to make ourselves approved unto God ((II Timothy 2:15). If we expect the people we lead to grow, we must also grow. I recommend that each of us read various authors on the topic of spiritual growth. We need to feed ourselves outside of the church services we lead. We must worship and pray and fast. It may also be beneficial to learn from others – consider a coach or mentor who can help to develop you as a leader. If we grow as leaders, those we lead will also grow.  What is your personal growth plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be diligent. James 5:7 says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” We cannot be in a hurry to grow people. It talks a lot of plowing and planting and watering and fertilizing. There are no shortcuts! But we cannot be satisfied if we have had no harvest for years. God works through seasons – when is our season to harvest people? It must be soon!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be aware of our accountability. We should be accountable to one another. We should be in cooperative relationships with those in our faith family. But we WILL give an account to the Lord for our productivity or lack thereof in the field of souls. The field belongs to God. The people are His. The Ministry is His. We don’t want to stand before Him empty handed. We certainly desire to stand before Him one day and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant”! (Matthew 25:21).

Jealous Husbands Don’t Scare Me

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There is one reason why I am not concerned about a jealous husband coming after me: I have not been doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. I have not cheated with someone else’s wife nor have I cheated on my wife.  Please don’t take this as bragging and I know better than to get prideful; but there is a deep sense of comfort that comes from knowing that my conscience is clear.  I remember hearing my pastor talk about this topic when I was a kid and I didn’t really understand. He spoke of the freedom of walking down the street with confidence, knowing that no one was gunning for him because he’d been messing around – because he HADN’T been messing around! I understand now and I treasure the fact that God has taught me the value of relationship integrity.

I know too many guys who have been guilty of adultery and I also know many who have been victimized by it. While Hollywood normalizes these activities, the results in real life are always devastating; lives are being destroyed.

Let’s pray for men in general and husbands specifically. Pray for purity and fidelity among us. Pray that we older guys can model for younger guys what it means to be a man of purity. Pray that young men in America will not believe the lies being pushed by our culture that say manhood is determined by sexual activity. Pray for fewer reasons for crimes of passion. Let’s ask God for forgiveness of our sins and that He will help us to overcome our temptations and make us more like Christ.

I Corinthians 16:13 in various translations…

KJV: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.

MSG: Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute.

Douay-Rhelms: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened. (I love that: “do manfully”!)

Whitter: Keep your guard up, dig deep in Christ, don’t be a weakling, win the war!

I Found Myself Numb

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I heard myself saying the right things but I felt myself feeling nothing. As we were at the bedside of a yet another dying person, I was disturbed, not at the idea of death or even the mourning of a family but that I had grown so accustomed to the scene. This was after many years of pastoring. Too many funerals, too many emergency room visits, too many death-bed experiences. I had become the pale-faced, cold-blooded undertaker we’ve all seen on old westerns – except that I was supposed to be a pastor. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; I really did and was hurting for the family. It was simply a matter of overexposure and lack dealing with grief properly.

I didn’t get numb overnight. Unfortunately, I’ve had more than my share of morbid experiences: Identifying bodies burned in a house fire; gruesome deaths of children; and having to do things in hospitals that nurses didn’t want to do and family members couldn’t bring themselves to do. The breaking point seemed to be the slow and agonizing death of a young friend. I stood helplessly by his side for months and watched as his wife and young son let him go. I helped the undertaker load his lifeless body on the gurney.

I had allowed a shell to build up around my heart. For years, while conducting funerals, I have heard remarks like, “I don’t know how you held it together.” But this was different – this wasn’t composure.

I got my wake up call before it was too late. When I realized I wasn’t experiencing the proper response to death, I knew something had to change. I have since made necessary adjustments. These changes are too personal to share but they were precise and effective.

So how does one in my profession avoid becoming cold-blooded? My few suggestions would be:

Allow yourself to grieve (possibly in private because your breaking down in public could cause a tidal-wave response).

Be sure to debrief after especially difficult experiences.

Seek counsel when the load is heavy. Even those in the helps industries need help.

Pray that God will keep your heart tender. See Ezekiel 36:26.

I don’t regret my life work. In fact, I treasure it and am honored to be called by God to do this work. But I would like to avoid this pitfall in the future and help others to also avoid it.

Don’t let yourself become numb.

Don’t Blame Me, I’m Just the Leader

don't shoot me

Hey leaders, when something goes down within your organization, don’t let people blame you.

Step up and blame yourself!

That’s right. Leaders don’t run from blame and they certainly don’t blame other people. Leaders accept the responsibility for the need for change and they lead it! That’s what leaders do.

Leadership guru John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  There have been times in my career that I have hated that adage. When things are going poorly and the team is not producing, I want to point at someone else and take the pressure off of myself. But it’s my job to lead the team into success. With certain qualifiers, as goes the leader, so goes the team. There will be times when someone else messes up. As the leader, we must be strong enough to shoulder the blame and do what it takes to correct the direction.

I heard a ministries consultant take another angle: If you’ve been at your current appointment for at least 3 years, you own every problem. You can no longer place the blame on your predecessor.  You’ve been there long enough to address it. As the current leader, it’s your duty to deal with it and fix it. We can’t exonerate ourselves from it or abdicate our responsibility.

Let’s use Jesus as our example:

In John 18:10, Simon Peter cut off the ear of Malchus. Jesus rebuked Simon and healed the guy’s ear! He explained that His kingdom was not one of violence.

In Matthew 17:24-27 Peter commits Jesus to paying taxes without consulting Jesus. Again, Jesus fixes the problem.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus’ disciples failed to remove a demon spirit from a boy. Jesus took care of the issue and set the boy free.

Notice something – not only did Jesus accept responsibility and fix the problems, He also showed His disciples how to prevent the problems from being repeated. He utilized them in the solution, training them for the future.

I love that! Real leaders are willing to meet a challenge head-on. They do whatever it takes to correct the crisis. They utilize the problem to train their team. And as a result, the team grows in its abilities.

So once again, when something breaks in the organization, don’t find someone else to blame. Just lead the change. That’s what leaders do.

the new “no”

What do you think of this statement? “No response is the new ‘no’.” Here is what I mean: When you ask someone for something or request someone to get involved in a particular thing and you hear nothing back from them…you can assume that the answer is “no.” Apparently it is no longer necessary to actually say “no”. Saying nothing at all will suffice.

Our church staff experiences this frequently. My daughter, Jessica is a missionary and has to search for churches in which to raise support. From what she tells me, it is very common to receive no response at all from Pastors. Voicemails and emails remain unanswered most of the time.

I know I have been guilty of this. I get a message from a salesman or a band or an itinerate preacher who wants to be invited to come to our church. It is always uncomfortable to make that return call. I’d rather not, but I try. Putting myself on the other end of that call, I would rather hear a “no” than to be left hanging.

I just wanted to post this as an encouragement to leaders. People deserve to be treated with respect. It doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a “no” response, but it sure beats being left hanging.  We realize it is difficult to do. But go ahead and respond – with a “no” (assuming your answer is not “yes”).  You will feel better and the person you are responding to will feel better.  And then they can move on to the next person they need to ask.