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In our last church I had, possibly, the best children’s ministry director in my twenty eight years of pastoring. Carrie was one of those really gifted people who had a passion for kids, was pro-active, you never had to worry about her. But one day she came into my office and said, “Dave, sometimes I feel like the only reason we meet is to talk about my ministry. I don’t feel like you care about me as a person, I’m just someone that helps you accomplish your vision for the church.”

Ouch!

You know what? She was basically right. Of course I cared about Carrie, but is was true, our one-on-one meetings were all about how her department was doing. I never met with Carrie to simply talk about life, how was she doing, etc. I apologized. She accepted my apology, and we were able to move forward. But Carrie helped me learn an important lesson.

Your leaders need two types of meetings.

Leadership Team meetings. Even if you only have a few leaders you need to gather them for prayer, communication, vision-casting, and leadership development. But never forget, group meetings accomplish something different than the one-on-one meetings. Understanding this difference is essential if you want to keep your best leaders.

One-on-one meetings. This might be in your office, over a cup of coffee, or for breakfast or lunch…it doesn’t matter where but it matters, it matters a lot. You need time to check in with your leaders to find out how they are doing. Not how their ministry is doing. Ask questions like:

  1. How’s your relationship with Jesus?
  2. If you had to choose one word to describe your currently relationship with Jesus, what would it be?
  3. If they are married: If you had one word to describe your current relationship with your spouse, your children, etc., what would it be?
  4. How can I better serve you?

I guess you could accomplish some of the things mentioned for leadership team meetings in a one-on-one meeting but be careful. Make sure you start out with the personal stuff first. If your whole time with them ends up being about personal stuff…that’s okay. Followup some time later to find out how their ministry is doing.

Ellen use to remind me, “Dave, it’s all about people, not programs. People before programs.”

Make sure that group meetings and one-on-one meetings show up in your schedule. If you want to keep your best people, give time to your best people. Show them you care about them, not just how they are serving in the church.

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Pastoring sometimes feels like getting up on a treadmill, you’re exerting a lot of energy, but the truth is…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 to work 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.

In order to be more productive, more effective, and better at moving your church in the right direction you need 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’ actually looks like, you will get similar and different answers. That’s okay. What’s not okay is having some vague fuzzy idea of what a follower of Jesus looks like. 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…in your opinion. Is it clear to you what your product is?

Preaching: Too many pastors preach without purpose. Often there is 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’ in order 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 programing. 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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Lately I’ve been using the questions Jesus asked to be the focus of my quiet times. This morning I came to Matt. 24:45 and thought of you.

“Who then is the faithful and and sensitive slave who his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?”

  1. God only asks that you be faithful to your call. The world values success, God values faithfulness.
  2. God wants you to be sensitive, sensitive to his voice, sensitive to what he’s doing in your heart, and sensitive to the needs of your people.
  3. You are God’s slave, not the churches slave.
  4. God is the master. It is his church, not yours. We all believe this but our prayers and schedule often betray us. How you pray and what your calendar looks like says a lot about how much we believe this. You might need to think about this one.
  5. God has put you ‘in charge.’ You are the pastor, you are the one called to lead. Sure…we have other leaders, others who help us lead, but you have been placed in charge. Be confident in your calling and don’t let fear keep you from being the leader you’ve been called to be and the leader your church needs you to be.
  6. God wants you to make sure they are being fed. No doubt, what first comes to your mind is the pulpit. But there are other ways people are fed. We want to teach out people to feed one another. And most importantly, we want to train our people to feed themselves.

Which of these six speaks to you the most? Bring this to God in reflective prayer and see what he impresses on you.

 
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In case you haven’t noticed, working with people can be disappointing, frustrating, irritating, and maddening. No? You have’t experienced that? Well congratulations, God called you to the one perfect church in America.

Sometimes pastors get pushed to their limit and then, in response, act out in ways harmful to themselves and others. Solitude lengthens ones limit. When silence and solitude are neglected the fuse is shortened.

There is a direct connection between how much patience, joy, and energy we have, and the consistency and meaningfulness of our times alone with God. (I actually wrote a chapter on this in my New York Times bestseller, ‘Mile Wide, In Deep.’

Did you notice those two word: consistency and meaningfulness? Most pastor (I’m not exaggerating) do not have a consistent and meaningful devotional life. Often I hear, “I’m in the Word all the time because of sermon prep.” That doesn’t count. I mean, you will draw some nutrients from the Bible this way but not enough to be the deeply spiritual person you want be and your congregation needs you to be.

“I pray with people all the time.” Good, pastors should pray with and for their people, but still…this does’t count. This is different than what I’m talking about.

In order to lead our people into the depths of relationship with Christ, we must be wading into those waters as well. You will either be up to your neck in Jesus or up to your neck in disappointment, frustration, irritation, and anger.

Having consistent and meaningful times alone with the Lord will not make all your church-people problems go away. Having consistent and meaningful times alone with God will not automatically take away your feelings of disappointment, frustration, irritation and anger…but it will help. It will help considerably. It will lengthen your fuse.

You don’t want to blow up. You don’t want to discover what ‘blowing up’ looks like for you. Maybe you already know. It’s not too late to add some inches, or maybe feet, to that fuse of yours.

Do you have a plan, a spiritual formation plan?

“Well Dave, all this solitude stuff…that’s not how I’m wired.” That maybe true, and maybe using that as an out is why you’re so wired. You don’t have to be an introvert to enjoy solitude. Remember, you’re not locked into your wiring. You can learn new habits.

You begin with a plan until the rhythm of time alone with God becomes so natural you no longer need a plan.

Are you feeling disappointed, frustrated, irritated or angry?
Is your fuse too short?
Do you have a plan to remedy that?

Oh, before you go, I didn’t lie about writing a chapter on this. I did lie about the New York Times bestseller thing. Whew! My conscience feels so much better now.

 

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Badger is our outside cat, or what some call a barn cat, or a mouser. A mouser is suppose to kill mice. I’ve never known Badger to kill a mouse, at least not kill one and leave it for me as a present. Badger has left me some birds, and twice she has left me a mole.

Moles are one weird looking animal. In fact, to be totally honest with you, they creep me out. But I also don’t appreciate what they do to my lawn. Currently there is one out there wreaking havoc. Every morning I find two or three beautiful little mole hills. Thank you very much.

You know that old saying, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill?” There’s a lot of wisdom there that applies to leading a church. But just as important as it is not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, it is equally important not to make a mole hill out of a mountain.

Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill

We do this when we make something a bigger problem than it really is. Pastoring eventually leads to paranoia. We can be constantly worrying about the ‘other shoe dropping’ or something blowing up in our face resulting in division or an exodus or some other unpleasant thing happening in our church. We can overreact and jump in to put out the fire when all there really is is smoke. Is there anything you might be overreacting to?

Mole Hill Out Of A Mountain

We do this whenever we minimise something that really should be taken more seriously. Some worry too much and others worry too little. For example, and I can’t believe how often this happens, a pastor tells me about some belligerent church member or board member who is constantly talking behind their back and purposefully sabotaging every attempt of the pastor to lead the church. And then, they qualify, “Now don’t get me wrong, Bill is really a good guy, it’s just that…” I typically respond, “Bill doesn’t sound like a good guy to me. He sounds to me like a slanderer who has a problem with submitting to spiritual authority. As long as you try to convince yourself that Bill is a good guy you won’t deal with him like he needs to be dealt with.” Mole hill out of a mountain. This is only one example. I could come up with more. Is there anything that you might be minimizing?

Sometimes it just takes experience to know whether something is a mole hill or a mountain. Hopefully you have some wise leaders in your church or you know someone whose wisdom you value, who you could ask, “Is this a mountain or a mole hill?”

Never underestimate your ability to fail to distinguish a mountain from a mole hill.

 

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When I was pastoring I had my fair share of frustrations with certain leaders. Something tells me you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe they are consistently late to meetings.
Maybe they skip, what you think to be, too many Sunday mornings.
Maybe they don’t do what they said they’d do.
Maybe they are called leaders but they aren’t leading anything.
Maybe they are always negative.
Maybe they think the church is going to hell in a hand basket.
Maybe they challenge every good idea you come up with.
Maybe they talk about you behind your back.
Maybe they are the first to leave on Sundays.
Maybe they aren’t very friendly to guests.

I’m sure you could easily add to this list.

One of the most common things I discuss with pastors is…frustration with someone in their leadership. If you are frustrated with a leader the problem is either with them, with you, or a combination of the two. Discovering which it is will be very helpful in developing your next step.

Before you do anything, ask yourself questions such as:

Is there any way in which I might have contributed to this problem?
Are there any expectations I have that the leader might be unaware of?
When was the last time I met with this leader and the conversation did not revolve around the       church or their ministry?
Have I spoken to them or have I been holding in my frustration?
Has my frustration crossed the line and is now anger?
What response could I give that would bring the most pleasure to Jesus?

Never underestimate your ability to be a contributor to the problem but convince yourself blame rests solely on the other person.

 

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Many pastors are really focused on church attendance, more specifically, ‘regular’ church attendance. ‘Flaky’ Christians (at least in regards to being in church every week) frustrate, confuse, and sometimes make pastors mad. Pastors commiserate with other pastors about this, preach sermons (Five Reasons Why You Need To Be In Church) on it, and guilt their people by pointing out to them how messed up their priorities are. But what some pastors have failed to recognize is that something has changed and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it.

About five years ago I began to notice (mostly from talking to pastors…remember, that’s what I do) that a higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. No too long ago we were upset if someone missed one, maybe two Sundays a month. Now, more and more people are regularly missing two, maybe three Sundays a month. Remember, they like their church. They think their pastor is great. It’s just that they are really, really busy and the weekend is often the only time they have to rest and catch up. I’m not saying this is right, just that it is. And yes, we can complain that they have messed up priorities, or shallow commitment…this might be true, but busyness and overcommitment is the world they now live in. Most of the people in our churches are two income families which explains why they can feel so far behind and so exhausted on the weekends. For many of the people in our churches, the church is on their list of important things (which is better than not even making the list) but it’s not at the top…like it is for pastors.

The good news is that this cultural change needs to be taken into consideration if we are trying to figure out why Sunday morning attendance seems to indicate a drop or a plateau. The number of people in your church is probably higher than Sunday morning reflects. Your Sunday morning numbers might suggest that you are shrinking when really, it’s just that your people are coming out less often. You might actually be attracting new people but your numbers on Sunday have leveled off, why, people are coming out less frequent.

The bad news is that I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this cultural change. I’m not saying to give up (well maybe I am) talking about why church is important or why commitment to your church is important, but when we do so it often reflects an attempt to bring about change by using guilt and shame…and that seldom works.

There might have been a time when we could answer someone asking, “How large is your church?” by telling them our Sunday morning attendance, but those days are gone.

Back in the old days (I can’t believe that I am old enough to say something like that) we were told that if we had a good enough Sunday morning experience that people would be there. If people were irregular in their attendance, the problem was with the preaching, or music, or children’s ministry. It made sense at the time. It doesn’t make sense today.

A higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. You can choose whether or not to let this drive you nuts.

 

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When a church is doing well and growing, the people’s confidence in their pastor increases. This may be warranted, and maybe not. When a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader decreases. This may be warranted, and maybe not.

What do I mean by “may be warranted, and maybe not?” Very few people in our churches really know why their church is growing or why their church is shrinking. They think they know but usually their explanations are naive and simplistic. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is growing and they might attribute it to their dynamic worship, or the great preaching, or small groups, or the youth ministry. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is in decline and they might mention how they can’t offer the same ministries as the big church down the street, or our building isn’t attractive, or our pastor is a dear soul but the preaching is just ‘so-so.’ They might say, “We need to attract more young people.” Like that’s as simple as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Now it’s true, some pastors are better leaders than other pastors. Some pastors are better preachers, visionaries, better at leadership development, have better people-skills than others. There are really good pastors and really poor pastors (I’m referring to skills, not character) and all kinds of pastors in-between. But here’s the thing; it is seldom that I hear of a church growing or declining and it’s all because of the pastor. This is especially true when a church is shrinking. But, reality is, when a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader often decreases. How then might one regain their confidence?

  1. Occasionally teach on the dynamics of church growth and church decline, i.e. reasons why some churches grow and others don’t. Just make sure you mention that, for the most part, growth and decline can be a mystery.
  2. If your church is in decline, don’t ignore it, sweep it under the rug, or put a spin on it. You don’t want to give your people the impression that you’ve got your head buried in the sand.
  3. If your church is in decline gather a few of your best people and try to asses what is gong on. I often tell pastors, “Do you have a big P problem or a little p problem? Do you have a Problem or a problem. A capital P problem is when you know people are leaving because they are unhappy, disgruntled…and sharing this with others. A lowercase p is decline due to members moving out of the area or the normal attrition every church experiences…even that big church down the road.
  4. Every once in a while your people need to hear that our focus and fascination with numbers and church growth is mostly a western mindset and not necessarily a Biblical mindset. Big is not better than small. Small is not better than big.
  5. Evaluate if you have any ‘health-inhibitors.’ I help pastor with this all the time. ‘Health-Inhibitors’ are things we are doing or not doing that are sabotaging our attempts to grow a healthy church. Correcting said inhibitors is no guarantee that your church is going to start growing numerically, but it doesn’t hurt and you have more control over church health than you do church growth.

I can help. Drop me a line.

 

 

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In the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the  conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to. Never underestimate the importance of regular, clear, and sometimes if needed, honest communication.

Regular

How do you communicate what is going on in your church? Announcements? Bulletin? Newsletter? Facebook? Emails? Texting? Or better yet, all of the above? You see…I don’t think we can over- communicate. In my last church, each year I gave a ‘state of the church’ address, much like the President’s state of the union address. I shared what we accomplished the previous year, what goals we didn’t achieve, and what we’d be aiming at in the coming year.

Clear

Just because you think you’re being clear does not mean you are being clear. Never underestimate your ability to be vague and all the while think you’re being clear. Sometimes when we’re passing on information we accidentally leave out details, it’s all clear in our heads but something can happen when we communicate that results in gaps. It’s those gaps that can make communication of information less effective than we would like.

Honest

As a rule (and there are always exceptions to the rule…and I’ll probably hear some of them) our policy should be full disclosure…or at least close to it. If the church is struggling financially, our people should know. If our numbers have been shrinking, our people should know. If someone gets mad and leaves the church (and this is especially true if they are a leader or a person of influence in the church) the people should know, and they should know why they left. If you know why attendance is down, the people should know. If you don’t know why attendance is down, the people should know. If the pastor is struggling financially, the people should know. If the pastor and leadership are considering the need for the pastor to take a part time job…or full time job outside of the church, the people should know.

The smaller the church the more people expect to be kept in-the-loop. And this ‘loop’ can be positive things as well as negative things. If the church is doing well financially, the people should know. If you have added some people to the church, the people should know. If some ministry is really successful, the people should know. Communicate and celebrate victories.

Remember, in the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to.

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I think it was John Maxwell that said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” The tribe 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. That sounds a little like those ‘golden-keys’ we read about (Grow leaders and your church will grow…I promise.) so I’m not sure I agree entirely with it, but the first two statements I do…most of the time, agree wth.

Often pastors want to talk 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 certain level 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 you are going to call, or think of as a leader, than 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 your churches perception of the person. And…sorry to say this, sometimes people change, and not always for the better, once you are calling them a leader. For example, they might think this means more than you intended for it to mean. I suggest that you hold off on 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?
  4. Who are your helpers?
  5. Who among your helpers stands out the most?
  6. Who among your helpers comes in at second place?
  7. Pray over this/these people asking the Father to show you if he regards them as potential leaders.
  8. Begin to pour your time into them.
  9. 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. Don’t be thrown off if they immediately tell you that they think you are crazy. This can actually be a good sign.

Almost all leaders started out as helpers. Know who your helpers are and you will eventually know who your leaders are.

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