Encouragement 4 U

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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.


Last April I had the privilege of attending The Big Little Church Conference in Washington state. I shared the platform with Karl Vaters (The Grasshopper Myth…if you haven’t read his book yet, you really need to). During one of the main sessions I was listening to Karl speak. I’m thinking to myself, “Man, this is good stuff. Karl always has good stuff.” But then, instead of remaining focused on Karl, I drifted off into dreamland, or thinkingland or some land other than where I was sitting. The thought came to me:

There are some pastors here, and many who were not able to attend, who would not be able to implement the great ideas Karl was sharing because back home, in their church, there were so many problems and obstacles they were facing that it was like they had one, maybe even two hands tied behind their backs.

So many pastors are trying to lead with one hand tied behind their backs. Here are some examples:

A board that is difficult to work with
An influential leader who opposes them
The threat of losing their job
A church that refuses to change
A church that is sinking financially
One or two individuals, or families, that are really the ones running things and they’ve made that very clear
A congregation with a long history of chewing up and spitting out pastors

I bet you could add to this list. Anyway…

If you feel you are trying to lead with one hand tied behind your back, let me offer these suggestions:

  1. Pray. I shouldn’t have to say this but let me remind you anyway. Pray. Pray for strength, pray for patience (this isn’t going to go away over night), pray for wisdom and insight (Often times there are dynamics at play that we are unaware of, becoming aware of them can be a great help.) Pray for the removal of the obstacle. If the obstacle is a person then pray that either their heart be changed or they leave. And finally…pray for a plan.
  2. Develop a plan that will move you in the direction you need to go no matter how small. Don’t give up and accept the fact that you have one hand tied behind your back. What can be done? Any movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to go. I can help you with this.

What if you have two hands tied behind your back? Some of you might feel this way, and you might be right. If this is the case, you might need to move on. There are some dysfunctional and toxic churches out there and they will probably never be anything other than that. If God has called you to be a martyr then by all means be a martyr. But if not…move on. You must live to fight another day. The kingdom of God needs you. However, don’t make a decision as important as this without talking to a wise, experienced, and trusted colleague before you do anything. I can help you with this.


Here’s my latest.

As we wrap up this series, let me begin by restating that I like pastors of small churches and pastors of large churches. I coach pastors of small churches and larger churches (mostly small churches). I like small churches and I like large churches. We’re all on the same team. We’re in this together. God loves our churches all the same regardless of their size. This series was not intended to bash certain large church pastors and the advice they give to smaller churches or be a put down of big churches. In fact, if they had changed a few words of their advice-giving posts from ‘Ways to grow your church” to “Ways to have a healthy church”, I probably would be fine. I often find these articles to be helpful in the sense that the advice they give are, in my opinion, signs you would hope to find in a healthy church but not necessarily something guaranteed to make your church grow.

One big church pastor advised:

  1. Plan big days. I actually like this. Regardless of the size of your church you can plan a special service for your church members to invite their friends to. But…before you can expect your members to be inviters, you might have to train them to be inviters. I wrote on this here.
  2. Multiply small groups. And you’re saying, multiply small groups? We are a small group. And to show how out of touch the author is with the reality of the majority of pastors in our country he says, “People will often complain about not being cared for when the real issue is that they’re losing control. “There are so many people here, I don’t feel like anybody cares for me anymore” is a common complaint.” Maybe in a big church, but seldom in a small church. Now your church might only have 50 people in it and there still be some who feel neglected. But this is a topic for another time. And let me go on the record by saying that I really, really do believe in small groups…even if you have a small church, but this is a topic for another time.
  3. Expand your facility. Most of you reading this find it difficult enough to fill the facility you have, let alone expand your facility. The writer points out,”…we had over 10,000 members before we ever built our first building.” This is pretty good advice if your church is a larger one that is experiencing consistent growth, but most of us pastor small churches that have either plateaued or are in decline. Which is not to suggest that there is anything necessarily wrong with you as a pastor or with your church…it can…but not guaranteed.

In regards to the points above I would say: plan big days, incorporate small groups into your overall strategy for church health, and wait to expand your facility until your busting out at the seams.

Let me wrap things up by saying that you don’t need to skip over articles on “How to grow your church”
but instead, change the points given to be advice on how to have a ‘healthy church’ and then see if you find the writer more helpful and an encouragement. And let’s remember, church health is not just a new way to grow your church. Church health stands on it’s own as the goal we all should have while leaving the numerical growth up to the Lord.


This is the fourth part in a series on my thoughts about big church pastors giving advice to small church pastors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that big church pastors have nothing to say to small church pastors. They often do. And often, unbeknownst to them, the things they have to say either don’t fit in a small church setting, or results in discouragement and frustration for small church pastors.

Actually, if an article entitled “Eight ways to grow your church” was changed to “Eight ways to have a healthy church”, much of the article would be far more beneficial to the pastor of a smaller church.

I’m not a ‘church-growth’ guy. I believe in the Great Commission. I believe that churches need to be reaching new people. But I am a ‘church-health’ guy. We have far more control over having a healthy church than we do a growing church. Often the points pastors of large churches make for how to grow your church are actually signs of a healthy church. And…hold on to your hats here…I believe you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing. Anyway…

In a recent article by a very popular megachurch pastor ‘Eight ways to grow your church’, he said, “Begin having multiple services – If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to seriously start planning for it. By offering people a choice of services, you’re effectively putting another hook in the water. And, multiply your staff – In order to grow past that 200 barrier, you must begin moving to multiple staff. You must begin to specialize the staff under your leadership.”

Three things, first, the vast majority of pastors have enough trouble filling up one service let alone think about a second one. In fact, I’ve known pastors move to a second service prematurely because of advice like this and it nearly killed them. I was one of them.

Second…staff? Multiply your staff? What staff? Your ‘staff’ is probably you and your spouse. Multiply leaders…yes. And if you want to call some of your leaders your staff, that’s okay.

And third, we’ve run into this before, “In order to grow past that 200 barrier…” I’ve already mentioned this in part one. Here’s something I wrote on ‘breaking growth barriers’. In a nutshell, who says there is a ‘200 barrier’ that we need to break through?

See what I mean. It’s not that the advice is bad. It’s just that the advice doesn’t fit for the majority of pastors. And it doesn’t help the pastors, and there are a lot of them, I know, because I work with them, that have done and are doing what these articles are telling them they need to do but still their church isn’t growing. That’s discouraging isn’t it. That’s frustrating isn’t it? I know, I’ve been there.

Fight the temptation to skip the articles on church growth from the megapastors. They have some helpful things to say. But when you do read them, look for principles for health rather than principles for growth. If you do this you will glean some great stuff that will prove to be helpful.


Here’s my latest

This is part three in a series about the advice pastors of larger churches give to pastors of smaller churches. Recently there has been a resurgence of articles on how to grow your church. Titles such as:

“Eight steps to grow your church:

“The four main reasons your church isn’t growing”

“How to increase your attendance by 40%…guaranteed!”

I wouldn’t have a problem if the articles were titled:

“Eight steps towards a healthy church”

“Four signs of an unhealthy church”

“How to increase the health-factor in your church by 40%”

However, I get nervous when anyone makes church health or church growth something that is simple to attain if you just follow the advice the writer gives. There are so many factors that are outside of the control of the pastor. You can have a great plan, but because the plan is dependent upon people, your plan might not, and often time does not, give you the desired results.

Another frustration for small church pastors is when they read said articles (you need to do this, and this, and this, to experience growth) and they think to themselves, “We do all that. And still my church is small.”

Ever felt that way?

Back to the recent blog I read a while back that inspired me to do this series which began here.

The writer said, “As the pastor of a little church, you know everybody; you do all the praying, all the baptizing, all the teaching; you know every family, every kid, every dog and cat; and you shepherd everybody personally. But there’s a limit to how many people you can personally shepherd.”

That’s true. So far so good, but then…

“As the church grows, you must change roles from Shepherd to Rancher.”

Whoa, take’er easy there pilgrim. (John Wayne)

It’s true that things will change for you if your church gets big. Most of us will never experience this, but still, it’s true. Going from Shepherd to Rancher might be nessesary and sound exciting, but it comes at a great personal price.

I bet when you said yes to the call of God in your life it wasn’t a call to be a Rancher. I bet you felt called to be a Minister, or a Pastor, or a Shepherd. I remember talking to a pastor who’s church had experienced substantial growth which required him to change his leadership style from a Shepherd to a Rancher. He lamented to me, “I’m almost doing nothing anymore that has anything to do with pastoring.” Another pastor told me, “Trying to become a Rancher killed my soul.”

But then, towards the end of the article, the writer says…

“You must be willing to let other people share the ministry.” I LIKE THAT!

Healthy and happy pastors train and equip the members of their church to share in the ministry. (Eph. 4:11,12) Healthy and happy churches have a large percentage of volunteerism.

What are you doing to multiply leaders? You may only have one person, but start there. And if your church happens to grow and you feel the temptation to go from a Shepherd to a Rancher…fight the temptation. Hold out as long as you can. And even if you are forced to become a Rancher, and most of us won’t be, make sure you reserve a portion of your work week to do the things Pastors do. Love people, pray, visit, meet one-on-one, mentor, take care of your soul and the souls of your people.


Get Your Copy Here.

Get Your Copy  Here.

In some small-church-pastor-circles it’s almost chic to criticize large churches. Small church pastors complain that the mega-churches are sheep stealing, preaching a watered-down gospel, they are tickling people’s ears, their services are like attending a secular rock concert, the pastor is like a celebrity.

Truth of the matter is that very few of us know very much about those churches. We don’t go there (oh sure, maybe someone talked to us who did), we haven’t sat under their ministry long enough to know what really goes on. We’re not friends with the pastor, we don’t know his/her heart. We might think we do…but we don’t. We might think we know what God thinks of their ministry…but we don’t.

Pastors of large churches have a lot to say to pastors of small churches. Why do I say this? It’s because, if I have decided to be a learner, then everything and everyone becomes my teacher. The opposite is true. Pastors of small churches have a lot to share with pastors of larger churches that would benefit them as well. The problem, of course, is that pastors of large churches don’t seek out the advice of pastors of smaller churches. Pastors of large churches tend to hang out with pastors of large churches. And add to this…it’s the pastors of large churches that get all the airtime. They speak at the conferences we go to, write the church-growth books we read, and have the newsletters we subscribe to. And in so doing, and I believe they mean well, they share their advice with small church pastors, usually about ‘how to grow your church.’ This can be frustrating for us because:

  1. It’s discouraging when all the advice they tell you are things you’ve already tried and still your church is small.
  2. It’s frustrating when the ideas they share with you (Here’s how we did it.) simply will not work in your unique situation.

I mentioned a few days ago that it seems like we’ve seen an increase lately in the number of articles online about how to grow your church. I’m not going to mention any names, but almost without exception, said advice comes from pastors of large growing churches. I’ve chosen one such article (articles like this tend to sound the same) to dissect. You can find the beginning of this series here. And as you read, remember, I like mega-churches and the pastors who lead them. I like small churches and the pastors who lead them. I coach pastors of large churches, but most of them are just like you, i.e. leading faithfully a smaller congregation.

In this article the writer sets forth his first ‘step to grow your church.’

“Decide you really, really want to grow – Believe it or not, the primary barrier to church growth is desire. Do you really want to grow? If the answer is yes, then you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes. And the people in your congregation must also be willing to accept changes.”

Two things come to mind:

  1. It makes me nervous when any pastor “really, really” wants their church to grow. You can easily cross a line from wanting your church to grow to needing your church to grow in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. “Really, really” is moving towards that line rather than away from that line.
  2. I’m sure they’re out there, but I’ve never met a pastor that didn’t want their church to grow. I know many pastors who don’t “really, really” want their church to grow but they do want to reach new people with the love of Jesus. But our writer points out, “…you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes.

Here the author has a good point. Many pastors keep doing the same things over and over but expect different results. Some pastors know that change is needed but they are not sure what exactly that change is. And…if they do know what changes are necessary they are faced with great resistant from their leaders and the rest of the congregation.

“And the people in your congregation must also be willing to accept changes.”

And here is where everything comes to a screeching halt.

I don’t care how much you want to grow and how much you know the need for change and how well you know what exactly needs to be changed…if your church is not willing to change the only thing that is going to change is that your head is going to be sore from hitting it against this wall.

If interested, I recently wrote an article on change. Here it is.

Your small church is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting. If you want to see something different, you will need to do something different, and that ‘something’ will probably require significant change. I can help you with that.


My latest book: a call for a new

anti-war, non-violence movement

between Christians.

I mentioned a few days ago that it seems like we’ve seen an increase lately in the number of articles online about how to grow your church. I’m not going to mention any names, but almost without exception, said advice comes from pastors of large growing churches.

Before I go any further let me be clear. I like pastors of small churches and pastors of large churches. I coach pastors of small churches and larger churches (mostly small churches). I like small churches and I like large churches. We’re all on the same team. We’re in this together. God loves our churches all the same regardless of their size. This series (I think it’s gong to be a series) is not going to bash certain large church pastors or be a put down of big churches. In fact, if they had changed a few words of their post from ‘Ways to grow your church” to “Ways to have a healthy church”, I probably would not be writing this. I often find these articles to be helpful in the sense that the advice they give are, in my opinion, signs you would hope to find in a healthy church but not necessarily something guaranteed to make your church grow.

I’m going to dissect one such article that I chose at random. If you recognize who it is please keep it to yourself.

One article began with, “Do you realize that if your weekend attendance totals about 90 people, you’re an above average church (at least in the United States and when measuring by such numbers)? If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier.”

First, I appreciate the acknowledgment that small churches are in the majority. Usually ‘above average’ is thought of as a good thing unless you live in North America where bigger is always thought of as better. With this writer, ‘above average’, although in the majority, still means something that needs to be corrected.

Second, why do we use numbers to measure a sussessful church at all? Allow me to pull a verse out of context:

“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” II Cor. 10:12

The church-world has been using numbers and size as a measure of success and legitimacy ever since the Church Growth Movement bust onto the scene in the 80’s.

If interested, I wrote an article on how to measure church success and health that has nothing to do with numbers on Sunday. Go here.

Next he says, “If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier.” Barrier? Who said there was a barrier to break through? What if there isn’t a barrier? Sorry, but I’ve written on this as well.

I’m not against church growth. But I must admit that I am more interested in church health than church growth and, we do have that thing called The Great Commission that cannot be ignored.  Each church needs to answer the question, “What are we doing to reach new people?” But for me, the right question is not “What must we do to grow?”, but “What must we do to be the healthiest and happiest small church in our town?”

I’m going to come back to this article on Wednesday. Leave a comment. Let me know what you think.


My latest book is a call for a new peace movement,

an anti-war movement…between Christians.

Get Your Copy Here.

Get Your Copy Here.

I like to check in with pastors after a major holiday like Easter to find out how things went. I also like to ask pastors a couple months away from a holiday service whether or not they are planning anything new. Some churches make a big deal out of holidays making a big push for members to invite their friends, and others, usually the ones who have not had good luck in the past using holidays as an opportunity for evangelism, don’t. I understand this. It’s discouraging to get your hopes up and then nobody shows up. If this happens to you a couple years in a row you just give up.

Anyways…all this month and the next I will be asking the pastors I coach “How was your Easter service?” I always get one of three responses:

  1. It was great! Lot’s of visitors. High attendance. People came to know Christ. Three people were raised from the dead. (Well maybe I don’t hear that too often)
  2. It was normal. Just like our usual Sundays.
  3. It was discouraging. Small crowd. No guests.

Which of the above best describes your Easter service?

If you are a #1…praise God! Give all glory to Him and move on.

If you are a #2 or #3…praise God that it was Easter whether your plans worked or not. Assuming that you at least preached about the resurrection, you reminded your people (no matter how few might have been there) that Jesus conquered death, and because of that, we will too. Give glory to Him and move on.

We have to reach the place where we don’t focus too much on our successes or too much on our failures. We do the best we can. Offer it up to God, and then turn around, walk away, and get back to work. Both victory and defeat can distract us from the simplicity of serving Jesus.

First Mary saw Jesus but the disciples missed out. Then the disciples saw Jesus but Thomas missed out. Then Thomas saw Jesus.

Do you feel like you missed out? Naw…you didn’t. That’s just how you feel. Don’t trust your feelings. Give glory to Him and move on.



My latest book is out!Find it here.








You know me…I’m a big cheerleader of small churches. I’ve dedicated the last ten years of my life to encourage and resource pastors of small churches. With very few exceptions, big churches have no real advantage over small churches. By this I mean that small churches can do everything that larger churches do if they are willing to do it on a smaller scale. Our fascination with numbers and size has nothing to do with the Bible, and everything to do with our Western culture.

Christian Schwartz (Natural Church Development) popularized the concept that we must focus on health instead of numbers. He surveyed 1000 churches and discovered 8 common areas that indicated health or lack of it. He developed a tool that churches can use to discover how well they score on these areas so that they might focus on their weakest areas. The only thing I don’t like about NCD is it’s assumption that healthy churches will grow. This often times is the case but not always.

The eight areas:

  • leadership that empowers laity
  • serving according to giftedness
  • a passionate spirituality/enthusiasm
  • small groups
  • evangelism done by those with the gift
  • loving relationships
  • structures in place that work.
  • inspiring worship services.

Schwartz discovered that small churches out-scored larger churches in all but one of these eight area: inspiring worship services.

Schwartz reports, “…there is a diminishing quality with increasing church size.”

Having said all this, let me suggest the one big problem of small churches.

Small churches are more fragile than larger churches. By this I mean that it is easier to kill a smaller church than it is a larger church. And by this I don’t mean that if you kill a small church it necessarily closes it’s doors. A person can be dead but placed on life-support for some time. Only a miracle will bring the person back. A miracle, or some new medical discovery.

Some churches are on life-support. Only a miracle or some discovery will bring them back. It’s really, really hard to turn a church around once they reach this place. It can happen, but not very often.

All of this explains why gossip, slander, pastoral failure, one or two key families leaving, a sudden drop in giving, etc. can be more devastating in a small church than it might be in a large church. Larger churches can rebound easier than small churches.

Because of this, the pastor of a small church must work harder at growing a healthy church than the pastor of a larger church. In a small church, often times church health is the key to church survival. Focus on growing a healthy church and leave the numbers to God.

imagesI just got off the phone this morning with a representative from Compassion International. You’ve probably heard of them, if not, go here. The staffer who interviewed me is also working on a Masters and her thesis is on How Organizations Overcome Obstacles. Kristin shared with me how CI has done pretty well in reaching out to and working with larger churches but have recently admitted that they have not done so well with small churches. She wanted my help in understanding better the ethos of small churches.

I asked Kristin what did she mean by ‘small church?’ She replied, 250 or less. I told her that this wasn’t a bad definition as long as she realized that more than half of churches under 250 would be under 100. Further more, I explained that a church of 50 is significantly different than a church of 250. And if you think about it, a church of 100 can be different than a church of 250. Because of this, I shared that CI’s desire to understand the culture of a small church would be difficult. There are different subsets of the 250. I would identify these as, 0 – 50, 50 – 100, 100 – 175, and 175 – 250.

What range of ‘small church’ does your church fall under?

My experience in working with pastors of small churches is that many will never break the 50 barrier, or the 100 barrier, or the 175 barrier, or the 250 barrier. But wait a minute…where does it say that there is a ‘barrier’ that we have to break through? The Church Growth Movement of the 80’s and 90’s told us there was a 200 barrier to break through, and then a 500 barrier to break through, and on and on and on. I’m not convinced that there is such a barrier to break through. Having said that, I’m not suggesting that we quit trying to reach new people with the good news of Jesus, but that we learn to be content without becoming complacent.

I think the biggest barrier small churches need to break through is the barrier of self doubt.

We can be small and think small. We can focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. We can listen to our church-culture that tells us because we are small that there is something wrong with us, we are broken and need to be fixed. We can be made to feel invisible, insignificant, and pathetic. But these are all lies.

Each subcategory of 250 has it’s own unique beauty and challenges, it’s own strengths and weaknesses. What if we’re more concerned about breaking ‘growth barriers’ than God is? What if God is more concerned about having the healthiest church possible regardless of it’s size? Once again, a healthy church will want to reach new people, but that is a focus all churches are having a hard time with, even if they are above 250.

I expect to have more discussions with Compassion International as they try to understand your world better. They seem very sincere. I don’t think it’s about getting you to partner with them. They want to learn how to partner with you. Kristin called the small church, “an untapped resource.” I agree.

Break through your barrier of self doubt.

You’re okay.

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