A pastor wrote:

“What are good ways to accomplish “learning new skills on the job? I formed a team of lay people who were tasked with visioning a new avenue of ministry for our congregation, which would (and has) included a hiring process. None of us had any prior experience on this front and so we’ve spent a great deal of time “muddling through.” Everyone has been okay with this, but I personally have found it frustrating at times.”

Reinventing the wheel takes a lot of time. It’s much easier to go to the store and buy a wheel, slap it on whatever it is you’re trying to move, and get moving!

If I were coaching this pastor I would ask them:

Who do you know that has already done what you’re trying to do?

Solomon told us that there is nothing new under the sun. How true. The longer I coach pastors and church leaders, the more I see that that there is seldom a challenge the church faces that somebody has not already faced it, navigated it, and come out the other side.

Identify one or two such people and either buy them lunch or a cup of coffee. If they live out of town arrange a phone call. Connect with them and describe what is it you’re trying to work through. Ask them questions like:

1. What did you do right?
2. What did you do wrong?
3. What would you do differently?
4. How was your situation different than ours?
5. What advice would you give me?

Take the result of this meeting back to your team and develop a new plan based on experience, not guess work.

Finally, it is situations just like this where it is good to bring in a coach or church consultant. Check out: 20 Ways I Can Help Your Church.

 

A pastor wrote:

How do you balance pastoring the current flock and evangelizing in your community? How do you recruit people in your church to help with both?

Certainly, no one would argue that it is the pastor’s job to pastor, but what we can’t agree upon is whether or not it is also the pastor’s job to evangelize in the community. In other words, is evangelism inherently embedded in the call to pastor. Some pastors would say yes and some no.

If I were coaching the pastor who asked these great questions I would begin by asking:

  1. What does ‘evangelizing in your community’ look like to you?
  2. Where did you get the idea that this is part of your call?
  3. On a scale of one to 10 (one = lowest), how gifted are you as an Evangelist?
  4. On a scale of one to 10 (one = lowest), how passionate are you about evangelizing in your community?

I’ve spoken to many pastors who are laboring under an expectation that it is their job to reach new people and grow their church. Some actually have this written into the job description they agreed to when they accepted the call to their current church.

Let me briefly comment on each of these questions one at a time.

  1. How do you balance pastoring the current flock and evangelizing in your community?

I don’t think this is a problem unless your gift-mix includes Evangelist. Some pastors have this mix…most, in my experience, don’t. Now…every believer (pastors included) has a responsibility to know how to share their faith and to do so when an opportunity presents itself. If my understanding of Eph. 4: 11,12 is correct, the pastor’s job is to train and equip the believers to do the work of the ministry. This probably would include how to share their faith, which I will comment on with the second question.

If, however, your gift-mix includes Evangelist, you will want to make room in your week, or month to exercise that gifting. This may or may not look like you spending time in the community getting to know people, etc. but it must look like something. Perhaps a starting point would be to set apart 10% to 15% of your time to this.

2. How do you recruit people in your church to help with both?

This is the hard part, isn’t it? Discover this, bottle it, sell it, and your phone will not stop ringing with people wanting you to speak at the next “How to grow your church” conference.

Once again, if I were coaching the pastor who sent me this question I would begin by asking:

  1. Are you aware of anyone in your church who has the gift of Evangelist or is passionate about people coming to know Jesus? If your answer is, “I don’t know.” then how might you find this out?
  2. On a scale of one to ten (ten being high), how certain are you that this is a matter of re-educating or re-envisioning your congregation about evangelism, personal evangelism, church-growth, who’s job is it to reach new people, etc.?
  3. If it is, where or how might you begin the re-educating process?

If I were coaching this pastor I would suggest:

  1. Saturate this in prayer asking the Father to stir up the people for reaching the lost.
  2. Gather together those who are passionate about this, even if only a few. Pray together, dream together, brainstorm together on how to reach new people.
  3. Begin a process of re-education.
  4. Be patient.
  5. Be willing to start small.

 

 

 

One pastor writes:

“How can I inspire people to be discipled? I’ve invited, offered, modeled, and even begged. No bites.”

This reminds me of the story of a man taking a walk who comes upon another man hitting is head repeatedly against a wall?

“Why are you doing that?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

If people don’t want to go deeper in their walk with Jesus there is very little we can do about it. I didn’t say there is nothing we can do about it, only that there is very little we can do about it. If we assume too much responsibility for the spiritual progress of our people we might end up like that man hitting his head against a wall. Once you stop, or at least adjust your attitude, and possibly your approach, it will feel good.

To ‘be discipled’ implies the engagement in the process by which someone becomes a disciple. If I were coaching this pastor, I would begin by asking him, “What do you mean by ‘discipled’? What does a disciple look like to you?”

If you want to make a disciple how will you know when you get one?

Begin by drawing up a list of what a disciple would look like or be or do. An example might be, “A disciple regularly reads their Bible, or regularly attends church, or…most important, a disciple tithes.” But seriously, you get what I mean.

Don’t have too many things on your list. If you have thirty-two signs of a disciple it is doubtful that you will ever accomplish making a disciple. Limit yourself to five or six. I know, I know, that’s gonna be hard but try.

Now that you can see clearly what you’re trying to create, draw up a list of all the things you’ve tried for making a disciple. What things on your list failed. Why? Is there anything on your list that has worked…even a little bit? Why? Is there anything you’d like to try but have not tried? Why do you think this might work when the other approaches have failed?

What’s preventing you from trying this?

Here’s an idea that maybe you haven’t tried, I call it BUILDING A CHRUCH WITHIN A CHURCH.

Identify those people in your church that seem to be, at least somewhat, interested in going deeper in their walk with Jesus. There might only be three, or two, or only your spouse. If even your spouse isn’t interested maybe it’s okay to go back to that wall.

Work with what you have, not with what you don’t have. If you’ve only got two people interested invite them into your home one night a week (or every other week) and begin to pray together and share together. Design this to be more of a discussion time than a teaching time. You might discuss the list you’ve come up with for what a disciple looks like. Don’t dominate these meetings, but instead, facilitate. Slowly, slowly, slowly this will work…but it takes time and patience.

I want to end with the worse case scenario. Let’s say nothing you try works. There’s no one who wants to come to your house, not even your spouse. What do you do then?

Give up…for now. Stop hitting your head against that wall. Continue to pray that God would give you one person to begin with. Keep praying that the Father would stir up the hearts of your people. Keep being faithful until God tells you it’s time to move on. Keep loving your people, teaching your people, and serving your people. And…even if there is no one in your church that wants to go deeper, you make sure that you are going deeper. It’s hard to make disciples.

Recently a pastor asked,

“What are key questions to ask before serving at a church? And what things should we look for when we are in the process of interviewing at a church?”

What a great question. I’ve worked with many Pastors who are currently looking for a new church to serve in. Plus, I’ve worked with search committees looking for a new pastor. Want to know a secret? Most search committees don’t know what they’re doing…and, many pastors don’t know what they are doing when looking for a new church. By this, I mean that some pastors go into the interviewing process only prepared to answer questions…not to ask questions. One must remember that you are interviewing just as much as they are interviewing.

Want to know another secret? I’ve pastored in five churches and not one of them was I ever interviewed. Know how I managed to escape this? Three of the five I planted, and two of the five I was simply asked to join the pastoral team by the current pastor. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Lucky stiff.”

I realize that only a small group of you are currently looking for a new church but don’t skip this if it doesn’t apply right now. Instead, ask yourself how your board would answer these questions if asked and what changes, if any, said answers might lead to?

In no particular order, here are some of the questions I would ask a search committee if I was candidating at a church:

Over the past three years has the church been in decline, plateaued, or growing?
To what do you attribute this?
What percentage of the congregation is over 50?
How many families do you have with children in elementary school?
Why did the last pastor leave?
How stable is the church financially?
Does the church have money in savings?
What is that money used for?
How are major decisions made in this church?
Will I be included in the decision-making process and how?
Will I be considered a member of the board and will I have a vote?
Under what circumstances can I be fired?
How would you describe the morale of the leaders: high, low, somewhere between?
To what do you attribute this?
Do you have a pastoral job description?
Is this description flexible?
What will be my salary?
Will the church provide medical insurance?
Does the church provide cost of living increases?
How are pay raises determined?
Do you have a budget that I can review?
What is the job of the church board?
Does the church have a mission, vision, or purpose statement that I can review?
Will I be expected to keep office hours and how flexible is this?
What expectations do you have of my spouse?
How much vacation time do I have each year?
How many times a year can I be out of the pulpit?
What expenses can I expect to be reimbursed for?
Does the church have a line item in the budget for books, conferences, etc?
What percentage of your members are volunteering at the church?
Is the population in your town/city growing, plateaued, or in decline?
To what do you attribute this?
What has this church been doing to reach and retain new people?
Do you have term-limits for board members, deacons, elders, etc?
What has this church done to recruit, train, and deploy new leaders?
In the past, how has this church responded to significant attempts at change?

Boy…if these questions aren’t enough to scare the search committee off, nothing will. What questions might you add?

 

You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself, “The problem with Christians today is that they’ve developed a ‘consumer-mentality.’ Church is all about them, what’s in it for them, does the church meet their needs? If they don’t like the ‘menu’ at one church they simply go down the street to the next church that will cater to them.”

There is a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand…I sometimes think that we use ‘consumer-mentality’ as a cop out, a diversionary tactic to shift taking responsibility for our failures as a church and on to those Christians who leave us.

Not everyone who visits our church and decides not to come back is a Consumer Christian. Not all who have been with us but then leave are Consumer Christians. Many are, maybe most are…but not all of them. If we dismiss those who leave and those who don’t come back as Consumer Christians we will lose an opportunity to sincerely and objectively evaluate our ministry and make the adjustments necessary to reach and retain new people.

Ellen and I have only been ‘church-shoppers’ three times in our entire lives. Having pastored for twenty-eight years (that’s five churches, three of which we planted) we’ve always been the ones being shopped. But when we moved from San Jose California to southern Oregon eleven years ago we became church shoppers. We shopped and landed at a church in Medford. Then, seven years later, wishing to find a church closer to where we lived, we shopped and landed in a church about three minutes away from us in the little town of Rogue River. Now, three years later, having moved to Medford, we are shopping again. Here’s how we do it.

We begin by looking at websites. You can size a church up pretty quick if you know what to look for on a website. You see, we have about four or five things that are important to us in a church. We’ve come to realize that if you can find three out of five you are doing pretty good. I bet you’re wondering what those five essentials are. Sorry, but I’m not going to tell you.

Some churches we checked off really quick. They were not the type of church we would want to commit to. It’s not that they were bad churches, just that they wouldn’t a good fit for us. Keep in mind, we are not Consumer Christians. Next, we start visiting churches that are of interest to us. After a visit, some we check off our list. Again, they are not the type of church we would want to be part of. I’m sure they are good churches, obviously many people who go there think so, but they are not a good fit for us. And again, remember, we are not Consumer Christians. Currently, we have our eyes on a couple of churches. We will probably visit them again before making a decision. Oh, and I hate to feel I have to reassure you of this, but yes, we have been praying about this. We are looking for a good fit. Not a perfect fit, but a good one. Does this sound like Consumer Christianity? I hope not.

There will be people that will visit your church and not come back, not because they are Consumer Christians but because your church would not be a good fit for them. There will be people who have been with you for a long time and then will leave for someplace else, not because they are Consumer Christians but because something has changed and what was once a good fit is no longer a good fit. If we label them and dismiss them we are missing an opportunity to evaluate why some people stay and others don’t.

If we want to reach and retain new people, and, if those people are young families, we’d better learn what type of a church would be a good fit for them and make the necessary adjustments. You see, your church is ideally designed to reach the people you currently have. If you want to see something different you will probably need to do something different. Many Christians have become Consumer Christians…but not all. Don’t hide behind ‘Consumer Christian’ and fail to honestly and objectively evaluate who your church is reaching and retaining and why…and who your church needs to reach and retain and how.

 

Being a Preacher is easy. Being a Pastor is hard.

It’s not unusual for me to hear from pastors that the one thing they like the most about their job is preaching. Pastors love to study, prepare, exegete a passage and…preach it!

But the development of and delivery of a sermon is possibly the easiest thing we do as pastors. Now I’m not suggesting that it’s no big deal to wrestle with a passage of scripture, pour over your commentaries, dig into the Greek and Hebrew, and give off the energy and passion required for a sermon that will connect with your people. This is important stuff indeed. But think about it. When you’re preparing your sermon you are probably sitting comfortably in your office (unless you’re one of those cool pastors that work on their sermon at some coffee shop) all by yourself, just you and a desk covered in books. Even when you preach you’re standing up there by yourself speaking to a group of people and separated by at least a few feet of carpet. Oh, they might give you some verbal and nonverbal feedback. You might hear an occasional “amen” or the sound of snoring. They might nod at you in agreement or be checking their email on their phones. But most sermons leave little time for any genuine feedback and interaction. It’s you preaching and them listening. Easy, at least easy compared to pastoring the same people.

I’m guessing that most of us have had classes on public speaking or homiletics, but I bet that few of us have had the same degree of time and focus on what it means to be a pastor. And might I suggest (please don’t put out a contract on me) that pastoring is more important than preaching.

Take a deep breath. For the record:

Preaching is important.
Preaching is very important.
Sound doctrine is important.
Sound doctrine is very important.
Your Hom-classes were not a waste of time…but…

Preaching is easy, pastoring is the hard thing.

It’s hard to be with people in their pain and struggles. It’s hard to put up with those who oppose your leadership and seem to sabotage your vision for the church. It’s hard to take that phone call at the end of the day when you’re already tired and spent. It’s hard to feel unappreciated. It’s hard to have unrealistic expectations placed on you and your family. Pastoral counseling is hard. Accepting the fact that no one in the church (even your leaders) are as into it as you are is hard. Doing funerals is hard. Dealing with the same ‘people-problems’ over and over and over is hard. Loving your small church can be hard. Preaching is easy, pastoring is hard.

Six months after my conversion, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I heard a voice (this will be only one of two times in my entire walk of faith that I thought I’d heard a voice) that said, “I want you to pastor my people.” The voice didn’t say, “I want you to preach.”, it said, “I want you to pastor my people.”

I would also go on to preach. I love preaching. I’ve been told that I’m a half-way decent preacher. I am a preaching coach, i.e. I help pastors become better preachers and teachers. But…the older get, the longer I walk with Jesus, the more I talk to pastors, the more I realize that people need, first and foremost, a pastor. John Maxwell once said, “You teach what you know but you reproduce what you are.”

 

“My church is small.”
“How small is it?”
“My church is so small that our board is me and my spouse.”

That’s pretty small.

Now I know that many of you reading this are blessed with an awesome church board. You couldn’t be happier. Your board is made up of the most supportive, cooperative, generous, spiritual, mature people a pastor could ever hope for. I’m happy for you, I really am. But you’re missing out. You have no idea how faith-stretching and character-building it can be to have a dysfunctional church board. I believe one of the main ways God wants to grow you as a pastor is by using a board that drives you nuts. Therefore, let me share with you some ways you can have a dysfunctional church board.

I’m assuming that you have something to say about who joins your church board. This is not always the case. Many of you have come to an established church and are lucky enough to have inherited a dysfunctional church board. Lucky you. The following tips will relate to both i.e. those that have a say in choosing board members and those that don’t.

First, if you have an opening that needs to be filled try to find someone that’s been in the church since it’s inception. The longer a member the better. You know the type, “I was here before you came and I’ll be here after you’re gone.” It’s board members like this that will say things every pastor loves to hear, “That’s   not the way we do it.” or “Over my dead body.” or “Wal-Mart is hiring.”

When considering someone to join your board don’t worry so much about those who are spiritually mature and have proven to be loyal to you, your family, and the church. The church is a business and the church board needs to run it like they would any business. You don’t need a bunch of monks, you need business-savvy people fluent in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Along these lines, let your board meetings be dominated by one outspoken, opinionated, negative, belligerent person. Every board needs to have one of these. And whatever you do, never confront them and tell them to stop it. If you do this there is a good chance that you will indeed find out that Wal-Mart is hiring.

In your meetings have prayer make up no more than 3% of your time together. More than this will encroach on all the ‘business’ that needs to be addressed. If someone wants to pray they can go to that prayer meeting sister Mabel has that is poorly attended. Win, win.

Never, I repeat, never suggest term-limits. Why would you ever want an easy way to replace a board member who causes you constant frustration?

Finally, don’t worry about reeducating your church or your board as to the role of a church board. This takes a lot of time and you still might end up at Wal-Mart. The bottom line is if it’s not broke don’t fix it. If it is broke…leave it alone. Remember, you’ve been called to be a pastor and that has inherent in it a glutton for punishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like it or not, the church is a volunteer-driven organization. Unless, of course, your church is so small (how small is it?) that you are the volunteer. That’s pretty small. In fact, the smaller your church is the less you need leaders and the more you just need helpers or…volunteers. Now apparently some of you are pretty good at losing volunteers because so many pastors want to talk to me about how frustrated they are with their dysfunctional and dwindling volunteer base. There’s always room for improvement. I want to share with you how you can become more effective in helping your volunteers quit.

First of all, over commit the few volunteers that you have. Volunteers love this. If they are good at doing one task they will probably be good at two, or three, or four. And especially if they were stupid enough to tell you “Anything you want pastor, I’m here to help.”, they have to expect that you will not pass up an opportunity like that.

It’s important for volunteers to confuse their commitment to the church for their commitment to the Lord. You see it as one and the same, so should they.

Keep them in the dark as to what exactly it is you want them to do. For example, if you want them to do A, B, C and D, only tell them about A and C. It’s best to spring things on them after they’ve signed on the dotted line. But don’t have them sign anything. Whatever you do, don’t give them a job description (wait, you’d better call it a ‘ministry-description or you’ll be accused of running a church like a business.) The bottom line is…don’t put your expectations down on paper. This way you can add things to their job without them knowing which will give you the freedom to be irritated at them for not doing what you never told them to do.

Whenever you meet with them limit the conversation to how they and their ministry are doing. Don’t check in about their family, their marriage, their soul. You only have so much time…focus on the important things, i.e. how they are helping you grow the church. Volunteers love this.

Oh…when you do meet with them make sure to list off what needs improvement. Volunteers love this. And whatever you do, never let them tell you what they think needs improvement in your areas of responsibility. Hey…who died and made them the boss.

Don’t bother praising them for a job well done in front of others. You don’t want this to go to their heads, after all, they should be looking for the praise of God, not man. Don’t feed that thing.

Make sure that their commitment is until Christ returns. Jesus didn’t take a break. You don’t get a break. Why should they expect one? Believe me, volunteers love open-ended commitments.

Training? Who needs training? You’re an intuitive leader, they should be an intuitive volunteer. And don’t go quoting Eph. 4:11,12 to me. That was easy for Paul to say because he never had a busy schedule like yours.

And finally…always, always, always expect your volunteers to be as committed to the church as you are. You don’t have a life outside of the church, why should they? And if they dare to admit that they don’t have enough time to volunteer any more than they are you can always resort to guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are very effective motivators. In fact you should plan to regularly preach on how screwed up Christian’s priorities are. Volunteers love this.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Now go out there and lose some volunteers. God be with you.

 

 

 

 

Believe me when I say that it’s harder to get a guest to come back a second time than it is the first time. You might argue with me about this, and you might be right, but certainly we agree that it’s hard to get someone back a second time. And…believe it or not, some church members aren’t really that keen on having new people join their church. They would never say this out loud (or maybe they would) but deep down they like the way things are and they don’t cherish the idea of new people messing things up. For those of you that are fortunate enough to pastor a church like this here are some ways to insure that first time guests never become second time guests.

First, you must teach your people that being ‘seeker-sensitive’, or ‘guest-sensitive’ is what those worldly churches do while watering down the gospel in order to tickly people’s ears.

Don’t feel obligated to explain too much, after all…it’s their job to figure out ‘insider talk.’ They should know who Bob is when you announce the men’s retreat he’s planning. If you do a lot of standing up and sitting down…spring it on them. It’s really funny to watch people try to coordinate this with the others so they don’t look like an oddball who’s still sitting when others are standing. If you are one of those ‘Charismatic’ churches…please, please, please don’t explain all the stuff going on when “the Spirit starts to move.” (I can say things like this because I’m a quasi-charismatic.) Oh that was funny, my auto-spell check inserted queasy for quasi. Oh well, that works to.

I’m concerned that so many churches are no longer asking guests to stand up and introduce themselves. We need to bring this back.

Encourage your people to fellowship with one another before and after the service rather than try to strike up a conversation with a visitor. After all, it’s easier to talk to someone you know rather than someone you don’t know. If someone is looking for friends they can be the one to instigate.

If your people insist on being friendly, have them be soooo friendly that it really is more creepy than friendly.

Preach ten minutes too long.

While on the subject of preaching, always preach on holiness, sin, judgment, God’s coming judgment, what’s wrong with this sinful world, what’s wrong with the liberal Christians, what’s wrong with the conservative Christians, what’s wrong with the Christians who can’t make up their minds what they believe.

Have really bad coffee.

Have the volume of your music so loud it will make their ears bleed. People love going to a church that made them bleed.

If you use hymnals, insist on those that have the print so small that the visitor has to squint and struggle to read the words and results in headache. People love going to a church that gave them a headache.

If you don’t use hymnals and are one of those ‘contemporary’ churches that uses ‘choruses’ (by the way, ‘choruses’ is an outdated way to describe those songs…please stop saying that) choose the ones that are poorly written, hard to follow, and have really strange lyrics that even your own people don’t understand, let alone those guests.

Well that’s all I’ve got for now. Maybe you can gather your leaders together and come up with some more ways to scare first time visitors away. Church is for the committed and if those people were committed they would already be in your church. Who needs them anyways…unless they tithe and are willing to work in the children’s ministry. We always need those people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriages end before the marriage ends. Some stay married after their marriage has ended. Being a pastor has embedded in it the potential of ending ones marriage. Here’s how to end your marriage.

Be warm and friendly and caring and attentive to your congregation but an entirely different person to your spouse. After all, it’s good to have a time and place to let your defenses down. Believe me, your spouse will understand.

Having a day off is all good and fine, in theory, but in reality, a pastor needs to be available to their congregation even if it is ones day off. It’s important to check your email during said day, answer your phone, and read a ministry related book. Your spouse will understand.

Never forget that nothing is more important than the church, not your children, not your marriage, not your mental and physical health…nothing. Church first, then if there is any of you left over it can be dished out to who’s ever left. One of the things your spouse loves about you is your dedication to the ministry. Your spouse will understand.

Whatever you do, never repeatedly make it clear to your church that your marriage and your family will always come first. Never clearly explain the boundaries you have…pastors aren’t allowed to have boundaries. Your spouse will understand.

Don’t establish boundaries. Your spouse will understand.

If you and your spouse are having relational problems…keep it to yourself. You can’t trust anyone. You can correct said problems on your own simply by praying more and reading your bible more. Besides, chances are that the problem is with your spouse, not you. Your spouse will understand.

Have a few unrealistic expectations for your spouse, after all, they are married to ‘the Pastor’ and congregants will expect more from them. Your spouse will understand.

Work more than 40 hours a week. 50+ is better. Your spouse will understand.

Jesus didn’t take vacations, why should you? Your spouse will understand.

It’s best to limit your time reading the Bible to when you are preparing your sermon. This will insure a shallow inner life which effects everything, including your marriage. Your spouse will understand.

Date Nights are highly overrated. Besides, when one is out two or three nights a week, who has time for date nights? Your spouse will understand.

Remind your spouse that driving together to mid-week service is the same as a date night. Your spouse will understand.

Remind your spouse that it is their job to run interference between the children and you. When you come home after a hard day at the church, you need to be left alone and allowed to vegetate in front of the TV without any nagging pressure to pay attention to the kids. Your spouse will understand.

In conclusion, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that you actually end your marriage. You can stay married without being married. If this doesn’t make sense to you, ask your spouse. They will understand.

 

 

 

 

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