This is an excerpt from my latest book: Naked Man Running: 100 IDEAS that work in a small church. More excerpts coming! Get all 100 ideas here.

Catagory: Pastoral Skills, Chapter 8: How to make great decisions in five easy steps

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Pastors are always making decisions. Some decisions are minor, “Should we offer donuts or bagels or both on Sunday mornings?” Some decisions are major, “Should I ask Bob to become a board member?” Whether the issue is big or small, minor or major, pastors are faced with decisions. Learning how to make great decisions is a skill. I’ve discovered five essentials for making great decisions.

 

  1. Great decisions are preceded by great thinking. Leadership guru John Maxwell believes that the hardest thing to get people to do is, “…to think, and to do things in order of importance.” My experience in working with leaders would cause me to agree. Thinking must precede decisions.

 

  1. Thinking needs to be thought of as a spiritual discipline. For me, thinking is not simply some mental exercise, but a spiritual exercise. When we sit down to think, we need to invite the Holy Spirit to come and help us think.

 

  1. Time must be set apart for thinking. Usually, we do our thinking on the run or in the midst of distraction. This is not an entirely useless way to think, but it will not result in the best thinking. We need to set apart specific time for the sole purpose of thinking. Think-time should be scheduled into our week and show up in our calendar like any other appointment.

 

  1. We must make sure we are thinking about what we should be thinking about. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. We set apart thinking time, but we don’t rush into it. We pause, we wait, we pray, “Holy Spirit, I think I know what I need to think about, but I wait upon You. Show me what I need to be thinking about.” This cautious and reflective approach will often lead us into areas of thinking we might not have anticipated.

 

  1. When thinking, be begin by asking the right questions, rather than looking for the right answers. Questions always result in answers. Great questions get great answers. No questions get no answers. For example, if I am faced with the decision whether or not to ask Bob to become a board member. I need to think through questions such as:

 

1) What am I looking for in a board member?

2) How did I come up with these criteria?

3) Why do I feel Bob is a good fit?

 

These are great questions that will result in a great decision.

Let me challenge you to write into your calendar think-time. Find a place relatively free from distraction. Bring along a yellow-pad or whatever you use to jot down notes and ideas. Sit down and pray; invite the Holy Spirit to invade your thinking. Ask questions; write down the answers that come to you.

If you follow these five simple essentials, you’ll find yourself making great decisions.

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99 more ideas are waiting for you here.

This is an excerpt from my latest book: Naked Man Running: 100 IDEAS that work in a small church. More excerpts coming! Get all 100 ideas here.

Catagory: Pastoral Skills, Chapter 5: How to increase ‘Delegation-Success’ by 70%

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For most pastors, the idea of delegation is not new. We’ve all heard sermons about Jethro, Moses’ father in law, who advised Moses to release others to help him bear the load of leading God’s people.

It’s essential for the busy pastor to not only delegate, but also delegate well. You don’t want the task you’ve delegated to be handed back to you later.

Here are seventeen questions to ask before you delegate that will increase ‘Delegation-Success’ by 70%.

1.Have I adequately prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to lead me to the right person?

  1. What type of skills, giftings, and passions am I looking for in the person I choose?
  2. Who can do what I do at least 70% as well as me?
  3. Have I sought a second opinion from someone about delegating this task to this person?
  4. When will I set up a meeting to attempt to recruit this person?
  5. What information will I need to bring with me for my meeting once it’s scheduled?
  6. Who will be affected by this person’s new task?
  7. Will any of those who will be affected need to be informed ahead of time?
  8. What training will be needed for this person to succeed?
  9. What time commitment will need to be made to get them ready?
  10. What resources will they need to carry out their responsibilities?
  11. Have I communicated to them that this will be on a trial basis with a review after an agreed upon period of time? (If it’s not working for them, or for you, then they can get out gracefully.)
  12. Have I built an off-ramp? An off-ramp provides a way out. (see question 12)

Side Note: We need to provide training as to how one resigns from a ministry responsibly.

  1. How much time will I give this person to get back to me with an answer?
  2. Do I have a second choice in case this person decides against taking on this task?
  3. If the person says yes, how much time will this free up for me?
  4. Do I have a prioritized list of remaining action steps I will need to take?

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99 more ideas are waiting for you here.

 

This is an excerpt from my latest book: Naked Man Running: 100 IDEAS that work in a small church. More excerpts coming! Get all 100 ideas here.

Catagory: Pastoral Skills, Chapter 2: How to be more productive and move your people in the right direction

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Pastoring sometimes feels like being on a treadmill, you’re exerting a lot of energy, but you’re not going anywhere.

Just because you’re busy does not mean that you are productive. The trick is not to work harder, but smarter. In fact, the smarter you work, the less number of hours you need to be productive. It is possible to be a better pastor in less time.

To be more productive and ensure you’re moving your church in the right direction, you need to focus on ‘The Three P’s.’

Product: Your product is people. But not just any people, you’re trying to produce followers of Jesus. Few pastors would argue with this. However, if you get a group of pastors together and ask them what a ‘follower of Jesus’ looks like, you will get different answers. That’s okay. What’s not okay is having some vague idea of what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus.

I suggest you draw up a list, don’t make it too long or it will end up being unattainable, of what practices, attitudes, and focus, a follower of Jesus should have. Is it clear to you what your product is?

Preaching: Too many pastors preach without purpose. There is often no rhyme or reason to the things they decide to teach on. Whatever you are trying to produce needs to be reflected in your preaching. You preach on ‘this’ to produce ‘that.’ Are you preaching with a purpose?

Programming: Just as there needs to be a purpose to our preaching, there also needs to be a purpose to our programming. We do ‘this’ because we are trying to produce ‘that.’ Ministries or programs in your church that do not reflect or produce your ‘that,’ need to be evaluated and sometimes eliminated.

Is there anything your church does that is not producing your ‘that’?

Do you know what your product is?

Are you preaching with a purpose?

Do your programs help produce the product you want?

 

This might be a great topic for discussion at your next leadership team meeting.

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99 more ideas are waiting for you here.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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