The older I get the more I’ve noticed my list of ‘things I’m opinionated about’ has gotten shorter. That’s not to say I don’t have some strong opinions about certain important things, only that I have fewer of those things than I once had. And then of course, once I retired from pastoring back in 2006 I experienced greater freedom to say “I don’t know.” or “I don’t really have an opinion about that.”

When you’re a pastor you’re expected to have an opinion about everything and not just an opinion, but a strong opinion. To admit that you don’t know, or say you’re not sure about some controversial subject can get you into as much trouble as landing firmly down on either side of the debate.

A few years ago I had a client who ended our relationship. He wanted help in navigating the touchy subject of same-sex marriages. Some in his church and leadership team believed one thing and others something else. He was not in favor of same-sex people getting married.  I shared with him that as I tried to objectively listen to both sides I discovered that both camps had some good points and that I was not sure where I stood on this. The silence on the other end of the phone told me that this was not what he wanted or expected to hear from me. About five minutes after ending our call I received an email from the pastor telling me that he would no longer be using me as a coach, that he was greatly disappointed in me, and that he did not think it was wise for him to let me influence him. Ouch!

Keep in mind, I did not say that I was in favor or not in favor of same-sex marriages. The fact that I tried to be open-minded in listening to the two sides of the debate resulting in me not having a strong opinion about the subject was enough to end our relationship. 

If you’re a normal person (not a pastor), you can get away with not having an opinion about certain controversial subjects like Trump, global warming, the role of women in marriage and the church, the mode of baptism and who gets to be baptized, Bernie, KJV vs NIV, immigration, to wall or not to wall…the list could go on and on.

But pastors, and I know because I was one for thirty years, have been trained and conditioned to have an opinion about everything. We are constantly evaluating, judging, drawing a line in the sand so that we and our people know clearly who is on our side and who is not, who is for us and who is against us, who is our friend and who is our enemy.

Life is a long struggle to let go of all evaluations and opinions, to be free from the burden of making judgments.

I want to live free. How about you?

Stop what you’re doing and read Luke 10:30-37, I’ll wait…

Did you do it? Probably not but that’s okay because you’re familiar with the story.

One day an “expert” in the law came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That’s a good question but Luke tells us that it wasn’t a sincere question, he was saying this to try and trap Jesus. Now Jesus could have pulled out his KJV and started quoting Bible verses at him but instead, he asks his own question, “What do you understand the Law says about this?”

 

Side Note:

 Jesus was a master question-asker.

Great leaders ask great questions

and help people think.

 

This tricky fellow says, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus tells him that this was a good answer. I bet this guy was thinking, “Dang, this isn’t going as I planned. He’s not taking the bait. I know, I know…so Jesus, who exactly is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers his question with ‘The Good Samaritan.’ You know the story.

 

Side Note:

Jesus doesn’t always answer your

questions as you’re expecting.

 

At the end of the story, Jesus says, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t answer his question (Who is my neighbor?) but turns it around to “Who could you be neighborly to? Who could you show kindness and mercy to?”

Here’s my twist on ‘neighbor’:

A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness.

Whether you be a pastor or a normal person, most of us, if we’re really, really honest, have contempt and disgust towards individuals or people groups who are different than us.

I hate Pelosi and her Democratic idiots. She represents all that is evil in our country.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

Trump makes me want to puke. He’s an egotistical, racist, immoral pig.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

 

Side Note:

 Contempt is easy to see in others and

hard to recognize in ourselves.

 

Does your stomach turn and your blood pressure rise when you think about that hard-headed board member who opposes you at every turn, the church gossip who has slandered you and spread falsehoods about you, churches that allow women pastors or those that don’t, Planned Parenthood or those that picket and protest Planned Parenthood, Evangelicals or Liberal Christians, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter, those churches that welcome LGBTQ+ people with no strings attached and those that have strings attached, Fox News or CNN. Need I go on?

Those people who bug the heck out of me are my neighbors. A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness. Jesus told me to love my neighbor.

 

Side Note:

Loving your neighbor is hard.

But try anyway.

Small church pastors have some significant advantages in ministry. Here are a few ways to leverage your time and energy to make the most significant impact in your congregations.

  1. 1. Set aside relational time. As you likely already know, relationships are essential in any church, but especially so in smaller churches. One of the great advantages for the people is to know others and be known. So particularly if you are wired to prioritize tasks and action items—like I am—you’ll need to be intentional about setting aside time for small talk and relationships. When I used to have board meetings, I would actually figure 20 minutes of relational time into the agenda at the beginning of each meeting. I didn’t put that on the public agenda, but I did write it into my own copy to remind myself of the importance of relational investment. When I started doing that, I noticed a significant improvement in the way the rest of our meeting time went forward.

 

  1. “Pay the rent” three days a week, then focus your ministry contribution the rest of the week. This is a piece of advice I need to credit to my coach, Colin Noyes, as well as author Lyle Schaller. The essential idea is that all churches will have certain expectations of the job description of a pastor—things they expect you to do that may or may not be a part of your giftedness or personal sense of calling. But especially in a small church of 200 people or less, where everyone plays multiple roles, you can usually structure your time so you spend three days a week meeting basic expectations. Then you have another three days to focus on a specific area of ministry contribution you feel called to make—something within your area of giftedness that you feel will be of long-term benefit to the congregation.

 

  1. Get the discipleship DNA right by focusing on peer discipleship groups. Another significant advantage smaller congregations have is the ability to focus on and improve DNA at the grassroots level. By DNA here, I mean the basic givens of an organism: what it does, what it prioritizes, what it naturally gravitates toward. Discipleship is a critical piece of DNA in the church. By focusing on getting healthy discipleship in at the very grassroots of a church, you can set it up to multiply and spread throughout the whole rest of the organization and beyond. One of the best approaches for smaller churches—in my opinion—is getting groups of 2 to 4 people meeting weekly to focus on their discipleship journeys together. No one needs to be in charge, and you can provide some curriculum or structure to give people direction. Two options include Life Transformation Groups(free) and The Guide for Discipling(purchasable as a download). Both are available in both English and Spanish.

These are just a few of the leadership ideas, tips and strategies in my latest book The Leadership Difference.

***

Dr. Bob Logan has worked in full-time ministry for over thirty years as a church planter, pastor, missions leader, consultant, and ministry coach.He is internationally recognized as an authority in church planting, church growth and leadership development. Bob’s current areas of focus are coaching, speaking, and developing leaders in missional, incarnational contexts.

 

Pastor Jim Dorton
Three Stones Church
Dover, Delaware

What do you enjoy the most about being a pastor?

I love ministering to the church, to God’s people.  Whether it’s a child’s innocent question about God, a youth questioning their faith, or an elderly person who just needs companionship.  (#2 – Preaching!)

If you had to pick one thing that you feel is a real strength of your church, what would it be?

Although not as strong as we hope to be, we have several people serving outside the church in local ministries.

What are two advantages of the small church?

Number one:  The ability to for the pastor and leadership to know everyone in the congregation pretty well, and, number two) for everyone in the congregation to have the opportunity to know each other well.

What will be one of the greatest challenges your church will face this year?

We are a very conservative church, Biblically, but we have a fairly even split politically.  It will be a challenge (in the current political climate) to teach people to openly, lovingly discuss their differences and then prioritize them well below Christ and His Gospel.

How do you hope to address that challenge?

Bringing people of differing opinions together formally and informally, to discuss those differences.  Also, bringing people together to serve in the Name of Christ regardless of their other opinions.

What one thing do you wish your members knew about what it is like being a pastor?

How terribly painful and how incredibly wonderful it is.  And that I, and all our elders, take their salvation very, very seriously, and understand that God will hold us accountable to teach and lead them well (Hebrews 13:7).

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, what would it be?

Treat your prayer, devotional, and study time like tithing.  Not the “tenth” part – but the “first fruits” part.  Do not sacrifice these for anything.  Identify the true emergency things for which you must put those disciplines off (for they will come), and do not put them off for anything else.  Also, predetermine ways to recover that time. For example, I have a number of small sticky notes marked “sermon prep” on my calendar every week.  If I have to go to the hospital during two of those hours, then I move those to open slots.  If I run out of open slots, I’ll cancel less important things to get prep done before my day off.

What are you currently reading? 

I just started The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson, also re-reading The Holiness of God by R.C.Sproul

Pastor Jesse Bingaman
Ebenezer Bible Church
Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania

What do you enjoy the most about being a pastor?

My favorite part of ministry is that I get to meet people where they are at whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I love doing pastoral counseling no matter what the issue is. Along with that I really love doing funerals. Those are my favorite parts of ministry and what I feel I’m most effective at.

If you had to pick one thing that you feel is a real strength of your church, what would it be?

Our church’s greatest strength is our ability to care for people in need. We have gotten really good at that. We had a guy with serious health issues. The church took care of all the housework, lawn care, and meals. I didn’t ask them to do it. They just did it.

What are two advantages of the small church?

Small churches can be a bit more flexible. We’ve made last minute decisions to cancel church and take that time to visit some of our sick people. That was really effective and something bigger churches may not be able to as easily. Also, I often hear guests talk about the family atmosphere of the church. I think that’s easier to maintain in a smaller church.

What will be one of the greatest challenges your church will face this year?

We are struggling to get the people to recognize the need for evangelism in our local communities. We are great at taking care of the people in the church, but we lack the drive to reach people in our communities. Some of it is that we tend to think too small.

How do you hope to address that challenge?

Well, we aren’t really going to do anything drastic. We started by doing a weekend (micro) mission trip each year in Trenton, NJ. The goal is to help the church recognize the difference we can make. It exposes us to different cultures, and the church in Trenton is really good at evangelism so they can teach us a lot. I think we’ve gotten some better and we are simply going to stay the course since it seems to be working (although slower than we had hoped or liked.)

What one thing do you wish your members knew about what it is like being a pastor?

I wish they could see how much we love them, and just how difficult and draining ministry can be. Our church does not recognize just how tiring ministry is. A few months ago I came under fire for saying “I’m tired and will be taking a weekend off.” Bivo ministry is what is best for us and the church, but it’s extremely tiring at times.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, what would it be?

Take care of your family first. If you lose them, you have lost. When I first started in ministry I set out to save the world, but I nearly lost my family in the process. If you take care of the family first, ministry will become much easier. We now do ministry as a family and we all love it, including our teenage daughters.

What are you currently reading?

Complex PTSD by Pete Walker and “A Theology of Christian Counseling” by Jay Adams

Pastor Jeff McLain
East Petersburg Mennonite Church
East Petersburg, PA (Lancaster County, PA)

What do you enjoy the most about being a pastor?

I love the church. I love equipping people to be on mission as a community, and I love helping individuals discover their callings and giftings.

If you had to pick one thing that you feel is a real strength of your church, what would it be?

We are located in a neighborhood that we have been invested and intertwined with since 1720.

What are two advantages of the small church?

There are many exciting advantages to being a small church. One of those is that it gives us the chance to really know each other and to partner together on God’s mission in our neighborhood. It also allows us to put more of our efforts into Kingdom focuses we see in our church community and in our neighborhood. We do not have the drain of the larger overhead of institutions, programs, and structures.

What will be one of the greatest challenges your church will face this year and how do you hope to address that challenge?

The last year for our church really was a year of transition. There were many reasons to celebrate despite those transitions.  This year, as we celebrate, we have named as a year of invitation. We are learning to invite others both into discipling relationships and to journey with us as a church. This is challenging because it’s a level of personal responsibility we have not been used too. However, I think we can overcome this obstacle because we have new staff and are modeling this culture. We also continue to illustrate the excitement we have for the future and the ways we see God renewing us and even growing us. I believe this high vision will help us desire to invite others to see what God is doing.

What one thing do you wish your members knew about what it is like being a pastor?

The answer here probably depends on the week. However, I think overall it would deal with helping them see the oppressive weight of the expectations they hold on the church, on pastors, and each other.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, what would it be?

My answer is to be “grounded,” but there are three parts to this singular answer.  Be grounded in your call to Pastoring and the context you are in. Be grounded in your ability to hear God’s leading. Be grounded in your ability to find support outside of your context.

What are you currently reading? 

Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches by Mark Clifton, Old Testament Survey by Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, Biblical Interpretation 101  by Derek Morphew, and For Phillies Fans only! by Rich Wolfe

Pastor Troy Fields
Tree of Life Assembly of God
Lexington, MN

What do you enjoy the most about being a pastor? 

Knowing that I am in the center of God’s will.

If you had to pick one thing that you feel is a real strength of your church, what would it be?

We are a family

What are two advantages of the small church?

1.  Much more connected
2.  Easy to mobilize

What will be one of the greatest challenges your church will face this year?

Taking the church out into the community.

How do you hope to address that challenge?

I will be talking about it at the Annual Business Meeting and I will have a sermon series called “Mission 3:16: focussing on the incarnational aspect of God reaching us.

What one thing do you wish your members knew about what it is like being a pastor?

Even when it seems like I am indifferent or even upset, the people of the church completely have my heart

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, what would it be?

Everyone says “make sure to take time for your own spiritual growth” or something of that nature, but I would say, “get a friend who has been in the ministry for a significant amount of time and learn everything you can from them.  So much of ministry is on the job training…so find a good trainer.

What are you currently reading?  

I read several things at a time.  “The Day the Revolution Began” by NT Wright, “Enjoying Prayer” by Kevin Senapatiratne, “Manhood Restore” by Erik MAson  and two Commentaries, 1 on First Corinthians (Gordon Fee) 1 on 1 John (Warren Wiersbe)

Pastor Eric Roach
Standing at the Cross Christian Church
Carthage, Mo.

What do you enjoy the most about being a pastor?

The look on people’s face when they realize God is working in their lives. When someone experiences a miracle or their prayers are answered. Helping young Christians understand the power they have available to them with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The time I get to spend with people that are hurting or going through a rough patch…helping them get into the word of God…watching them grow and find the joy in Gods word.

If you had to pick one thing that you feel is a real strength of your church, what would it be?

The love of the Church family and how we welcome people that visit…with that our outreach has grown immensely.

What are two advantages of the small church?

Being able to know everyone, I think people are more at ease with helping out…volunteering.

What will be one of the greatest challenges your church will face this year?

Finances…the lack thereof.

How do you hope to address that challenge?

Control expenses…search for areas to cut costs. We found someone different to do the lawn care. It saved us $20 a week. Keep folks informed of where we are financially. Don’t be ashamed to talk about the financial side of things.

What one thing do you wish your members knew about what it is like being a pastor?

How much time is involved. People expect you to be available whenever they need anything. It is very stressful…not only do you have your own problems…you are expected to take on everyone in the congregations.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, what would it be?

Be tough…don’t let people push you around. You can’t study the word of God enough. Don’t let others dictate your sermons. Get ready to get your heart broken.

What are you currently reading?

The Blessed Church by Robert Morris.

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: People Problems, Chapter 97: How to discern if you need leaders or helpers

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I think it was John Maxwell that said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” The group I was a part of (The Vineyard), drilled into us the need to ‘raise up leaders.’ Some experts have even told pastors that your church will only grow as large as your base of leaders. I’m not sure that’s always true, but it might be close enough.

Often pastors want to talk to me about leadership development. And if they don’t bring up the subject, eventually I will ask them, “What are you doing to raise up new leaders?” But first I want to know how many active adults (adults, not adults and children) they have in their church, why? Because…

The smaller the church, the less the pastor needs leaders and the more the pastor needs helpers.

Now let there be no mistake about it, leaders will come from your team of helpers. Of those who are helping you, someone will stand out and catch your attention. Chances are, this could be a future leader.

The smaller your church, the more likely it will be that you have more, sometimes way more, helpers than you have leaders. You see, if you are searching for leaders, you are probably looking for a degree of maturity and commitment to Jesus and the church. You may, or may not have such a person. But if you are looking for helpers, the bar is a little lower, and you will have more to choose from. Besides, it’s better to wait until you have the right kind of person to call a leader, than it is to put someone in leadership prematurely and later regret it.

Once you call someone a ‘leader’ everything changes. Calling someone a leader changes their relationship with you and your relationship with them. Calling someone a leader changes the way your church thinks of the person. And, sorry to say this, sometimes people change, and not always for the better, once you start calling them a leader. For example, they might think this (calling them a leader) means more than you intended it to mean. I suggest that you hold off calling anyone a leader until you’ve had enough time to know if they are ‘leading’ in the way you want a leader to lead.

Do you need leaders or do you only need helpers?

Here are some steps you might find helpful:

  1. If you think you need a leader, what is it specifically that they need to lead?
  2. What concrete reasons do you have for thinking they would be a good leader of (fill in the blank)?
  3. Do you need to call them a leader or could you call them something else?

Who are your helpers?

  1. Who among your helpers stands out the most?
  2. Who among your helpers comes in at second place?
  3. Pray over these people and ask the Father to show you if he regards them as potential leaders.
  4. Begin to pour your time into them.
  5. At some point, but only if you think you have a future leader on your hands, let them know that you think they have potential.

Almost all leaders started out as helpers. Know who your helpers are, and you will eventually know who some of your future leaders will be.

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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: People Problems, Chapter 92: How to deal with bullies in the church

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In Junior High I was one of those skinny kids (you’d never believe it if you saw me now) who wasn’t into sports, was self-conscious, and lived in fear of being beaten up by a bully. I was very aware of who the bullies were and where they hung out. My life-preserving strategy was simple, avoid the bullies, and you won’t get beaten up. Apparently it worked because I made it through Junior High without ever getting pounded.

Pastor Jim (not his real name) had a problem on his hands, and he wanted to process it with me during one of our coaching calls. Bubba (not his real name but I thought that was a good name for a bully) had been a church board member, had taken a year off according to the church by-laws, and now was letting everyone know that when his break was over he intended to return to his position on the board, pending nomination and approval by the congregation.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“None of my current board members want him back.”

“Why?”

“He’s really difficult to work with. Bubba is a big guy, boisterous, and he uses his size and words to intimidate others. People in the church are uncomfortable around him, and some have even shared that they are afraid of him. But he’s been in the church for a long time, and he has a lot of influence, even if it’s bad influence.

“Sounds like you have a bully on your hands.”

“I think you’re right.”

Church bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They might not look exactly like Bubba, but they are just as much a bully. Church bullies intimidate and threaten, overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously. They might use their influence or money or ministry position to pressure you and others to do what they want. Some have been known to actually threaten the pastor.

“We voted you in and we can vote you out. I was here before you came and I will be here after you’re gone.”

The only way to deal with a bully is to walk right up to them and smack them good and hard in the nose.

No…not really, I’m kidding…kind of.

Church bullies won’t stop until someone stops them. You get what you tolerate. Do you have a church bully who needs to hear, “STOP IT”?

Confronting a bully is scary and risky. It can be dangerous, but not as dangerous as letting the bully continue to bully. It’s not uncommon for me to find a pastor who is intimidated by one or two people in their church and those one or two make life miserable for the pastor and can put a damper on the over all ministry of the church.

Do you have a bully on your hands? If so, might I suggest a few steps, none of which involves slugging them in the nose?

 

  1. Devote some time in prayer to make sure that you are really dealing with a bully and not something else. If timing isn’t everything, it’s close enough. Is the Father releasing you to confront the person now or later?

 

  1. Find a couple wise, mature, trusted people in your church who have the same concerns about this person that you have, who will accompany you to a meeting with this person.

 

  1. Send a well-crafted letter to this person stating that you and a couple of others would like to meet with them to discuss some concerns you have about their behavior. I like the ‘letter first’ approach because it gives the person some time to think about things and because nobody likes being surprised.

 

  1. At the meeting get right to the point. Don’t bother buttering them up and then dropping the bomb. Give specific examples of the behavior that is unacceptable and why it’s unacceptable. Communicate to them that you are for them and would love to meet with them on a regular basis to help them grow in these areas. But be firm and clear that their behavior will no longer be tolerated.

This is scary. This is risky. They might blow out of the church and take their money and their friends with them. They might lead a campaign to get you fired. You might get fired. But there are many churches across this nation of ours that are being influenced by bullies rather than godly, humble leaders.

Someone, sometime, has to stand up to them face to face and say, “STOP IT!”

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99 more ideas are waiting for you here.

 

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