Encouragement 4 U

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imagesMatthew Wolfe had an article published in Newsweek entitled, Reaching My Goal of Having No Life Plan. It caught my eye. Matthew has earned two degrees in music and has a Ph.D. in literature. In his past he was a “goals junkie” who lectured on the value of long-term planning. Matthew even began writing a book that he hoped would be the definitive word on the subject. But then he was converted…converted from making long-term goals which he says are, “…an exercise in futility.”

What stood out to me about Matthew’s article had little to do with whether or not setting goals is good or bad, but the things Matthew said about our fast paced lives, which he claimed is fueled, by goals. “The world of goals is about fast-tracking your life. It’s about getting from point A to Z, ASAP. Do not linger over a cup of J. There is no time to smell the R. Just go! Go! Go!” This secular thinker made me think. “We’d all be more receptive to life’s opportunities if we weren’t trying to look so far ahead.” he said.

There is a lot said these days about our need to set goals for our church…two year goals, five year plan, etc. I’m not saying this is bad it’s just that when you detail your plan and then it doesn’t work out it can be discouraging. Or have you ever heard stories of new church planters who go from 20 to 200 in 12 months? Have you ever wondered why your church doesn’t grow like that? What do they know that I don’t know? Maybe they’re better at planning than I am?

It’s so easy to get depressed when your ministry goals don’t speed along like you hoped they would. But is it possible that in our push to go from A to Z, ASAP that we might be missing things that are far more important than the growth of our church? “When I tell people I no longer make long-term plans, more than a few hint that I am a slacker or even a failure. I think it depends on how you define success. Am I right? Hardly. Famous? Nope. Climbing the professional ladder? I’m not even sure where it is anymore. Am I happy? Yes. Life may be a highway, but I’ve tossed my maps and GPS. If something neat turns up along the way, I’m stopping to take pictures.” says Matthew. Maybe we can learn something from this “failure” with a Ph.D.

I’m not suggesting that we quit making plans. But I am suggesting that our obsession with growing our church is more an indoctrination from a culture that values success over significance and rewards size more than substance. I am suggesting you invest more in your soul than your church. I am suggesting you discover what you could cut out of your calendar which would make more time for quiet, solitude, time for thinking, reading, praying, playing. Matthew Wolfe found a way to slow down and enjoy the more important things. In so doing, he was able to say, “I’m happy.” Are you happy?

imagesA a number of years ago I did something I never dreamed possible. I donated all of my commentaries and bible study helps to my alma mater. There were a few really old or rare volumes that I kept for sentimental reasons or in hopes of impressing someone in the future who might see my personal library, but other than that, I boxed them up and dropped them off. I must admit, as I walked away I had mixed feelings. I felt like a parent abandoning their child on someone’s doorstep.

There were two reasons why I gave a big portion of my library away. First, online bible study helps were becoming so abundant that I hardly needed to open “real” books anymore. And second, I discovered that I so seldom needed to turn to commentaries in order to put together a good sermon that they didn’t justify the space they were taking up on my bookshelves. On those rare occasions that I needed to look something up I could do so online. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order, I have about commentaries and the place they play in sermon preparation.

If you spend more than an hour a week reading commentaries you’re probably spending too much time reading commentaries.

If you already have a Bachelors or Masters in Bible & Theology, or something similar, you’ve probably been exposed to an adequate amount of bible and theology classes and hours of commentary reading will probably not result in you discovering anything new, i.e. “new” from a scholarly, commentary, academic point of view. If you do learn something new (and there’s always something new) the practicality of it will probably not be so great as to justify the time spent.

Assuming that you have some type of formal training in Bible and Theology, the only time you might want to turn to a commentary is if you are dealing with a controversial or difficult passage and you feel a need for some other opinions on the passage.

If you have no formal training in Bible and Theology then go to the local Christian book store and find a few commentaries designed for laymen. These volumes are easier to understand, typically make the application for you, contain all the important stuff, and are less expensive than the larger more scholarly commentaries.

When you need input from commentaries then take advantage of the free tools online, you’ll save time and money.

Discover which website is good for what. For example, one site might be good for commentaries and another good for concordance. One might be strong if you’re looking for a parallel bible while another one excels in Greek and Hebrew. One might have a better selection of word study helps or Bible dictionaries than another. Once you’ve discovered the strengths of each website create a link to each one, change their names to reflect what you’ll use them for, i.e. commentaries, bible dictionaries, Greek, etc., and put them all in a folder on your desktop. And there you have it, your own custom library.

images-2I was on the phone with a new pastor who wanted my opinion. Apparently he had been experimenting on Sunday mornings with allowing time for people to “share” scripture verses, prayer, ideas they thought were from God that the church would benefit from, etc. This isn’t an easy thing to manage. You get good sharing and bad sharing. Some stuff is from God and some from… who knows where. Allowing a time like this and making it work can be like herding cats. Anyways…one individual in his church contacted him to let him know that he did not like this new change in the program. “This is weird. It’s out of control. This will turn off visitors,” said the squeaky wheel. The pastor told me, “Dave, maybe I should go back to the way we did things before. Maybe this guy is right.” And then, without even thinking, I said, “Remember this principle…never change your direction or practices because of one or two people.”

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep everyone happy. I’m not suggesting we try to make people unhappy, but you can’t please everyone. I remember one wise old pastor who told me, “You can’t avoid offending people. You’re going to offend. You might as well decide who you’re going to offend and offend them. They’ll leave, but they probably would have left anyway.” I wasn’t sure how I felt about his wisdom but it made me laugh, and maybe he’s not too far from the truth.

I don’t know how many times I changed something just because a squeaky wheel I didn’t want to offend didn’t like something we were doing. Eight times out of ten that person left anyway. Never change your direction, practices or policies just because one or two people squeak. Chances are a year from now they won’t even be in your church.

I’m not saying we don’t listen to people. I’m not promoting being head-strong and plowing forward no matter what others say. God can speak to us through our people. They will, at times, have good ideas and suggestions we need to hear. Having said all that, they can also misdirect us. So remember, never change your direction, practices or policies just because of one or two people. Don’t grease the squeaky wheel.

Have you had a similar experience?

Unknown-7Many small churches try to look and act like big churches. I’ve seen churches of 20 with multiple committees, boards, departments, and ministries that you would only expect to find in churches three times their size.

If you pastor a smaller church you have to be comfortable with the fact that you cannot offer the ministries and services that a larger church can. That’s ok. If you try to do everything the big church down the road is doing three things will happen.

First, you will burn out and your people will burn out. Second, you will end up doing a bunch of things poorly. Third, you will fail to take advantage of the things a smaller church can do that the larger churches find difficult to do. For example:

Smaller churches can provide an environment where everybody knows each other. Visitors can be enfolded more quickly in a smaller church. In a smaller church the members feel they have an accessible pastor. Smaller churches provide people opportunities to serve in areas that would not be available to them if they were attending a larger church.

Here’s the bottom line… Effective small churches do a few things well. If you don’t have the resources and leadership to start up some new ministry wait until you do. Yes, people looking for a youth group for Johnny will not stay at your church if you cannot offer this, but people are going to leave anyways. Figure out what you can do well and focus on that, making no apologies for what you can’t do. Maybe all you can offer right now is good teaching, half-way decent music/worship, one home group, and some warm and friendly people who care about each other. That’s ok. It’s ok to be an effective, healthy smaller church.

What are some of the other advantages of a smaller church?

imagesShortly before we were married, Ellen and I led a group of young people from our church on a winter retreat. The guest speaker was Jon Peterson and his wife Mindy. They would go on to lead the YWAM base in Amsterdam. That was a long time ago. I don’t know what Jon is doing today but I do remember one sentence that he said to Ellen and I. Jon said, “Mindy and I decided long ago that we weren’t going to let the ministry kill us.” Think of it…almost thirty years ago and I still remember that.

I believe Jesus is worth dying for. I believe my family is worth dying for. There might be one of two others that I would die for but, unless I’m sure I’ve been called to be a martyr, I don’t think it’s worth it to let the church kill me.

Have you ever felt like a part of you was dying within? Have you ever said, “This is killing me.” in relation to your ministry? If not…I’m happy for you. But I know I’ve felt this way and I know that many of those reading this article have or do feel this way. Now if you feel like God has called you to die for your church then suck it up and die with honor. If, however, you’re not quite sure you’ve been called to “death by church” then you have two options.

First, you could quit…but that’s probably not what God is asking of you. It could be…but probably not. So that leaves you with one more option. Something has to change, either in your church or with you or both. Something has to change or you’re going to die…maybe not literally, but something in your soul will die. Without change you will become something less than what you started out as. You will become less happy, less content, less patient, less joyful. You will love less, serve less, like people less. You will be less of a husband/wife, less of a parent, less of a friend. You will minister out of the “less” when effective pastoring requires ministering out of the “more.”

You might not be the most objective one to diagnose what it is that’s causing your slow death. You might need some help. Call a close, respected friend in the ministry…someone outside of your church. Maybe you have a supervisor in your denomination you could talk to. Maybe you know a good counselor that specializes in ministers. Contact me and say…”This is killing me, can you help?” I can help.

Unless you’re sure you’ve been called to be a martyr don’t let the ministry kill you. Reach me here: dave@smallchurchpastor.com

imagesPoor Elijah. He’s just come off of possibly the highest point of his career (single-handedly, with some help from God, defeating 400 prophets of Baal) and now he’s on the run, scared to death, fleeing from the threats of Jezebel, wife of Ahab the king. ( I Kings 19) I found verse nineteen of chapter nineteen funny, “…and he went into a cave.”

Do you have a tendency to retreat into a cave? Maybe it’s the cave of depression or discouragement, maybe the cave of isolation or self-pity. For some it is a cave of anger. Perhaps Elijah was feeling all of this. But for whatever reason, there he is, in a cave and God tells him, “…go outside and wait for me.”

First comes a great wind…but that wasn’t God. Then an earthquake…but that wasn’t God either. Next, a fire…nope, not God. Then, a still small voice. You know the rest of the story.

There are times when God seems to be moving in our churches and times when he seems to be stationary…or possibly even absent. But the truth is…God is always moving in our ministries. Oh it might not look like fire, or a mighty rushing wind…but somewhere, somewhere you’ll find the still small voice. Someone received direction or comfort from a word you spoke. Someone is making progress in his or her faith. Someone is becoming a better father or mother. Someone is a little closer to Jesus than they were before they began coming to your church.

It’s nice when the winds blow and the earth shakes but the norm seems to be the little things occurring in our church, with our people, the little things that add up over months and years. Welcome the fire but rely on the whisper of God’s work to see you through.

Why not pick up a pen and paper and draw up a list of some of the small things God is doing in the lives of your people and let the still small voice encourage you today.

images-4The word noble means: of excellent or superior quality. The word fraternity means: a group of people sharing a common profession.

If you are a pastor you are part of a noble fraternity. Senator John McCain, in his inspiring book, Faith of my Fathers, said “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” It’s easy to feel alone when you are pastoring a smaller church. But you are not alone. You are part of a special community. The members of this community share the joys and the sorrows you face…they are your fellow ministers in the gospel, comrades, soldiers, a band of brothers/sisters.

Each week I interact with pastors across North America and overseas. I’m constantly impressed with the superior quality of the men and women who are pastoring our smaller churches. Most are overworked, underpaid and under appreciated. They are invisible to a culture that values and rewards size over substance, success over significance. Along with you they understand the challenges unique to the smaller church. They have been disappointed, betrayed, accused, abandoned, and attacked by the very ones they are called to love and pastor. Like Rocky said in Rocky Balboa, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up.” This fraternity of which you are part of is filled with men and women who keep getting back up. (I think I can hear the Rocky theme.)

Paul said, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews…” (I Thess. 2:14) Paul is saying: Thessalonians…you are not alone. Your brothers in other places are suffering and struggling just like you are. Be encouraged. Hang in there.

I want to remind you that you are not suffering alone. Draw strength and encouragement from knowing that you are part of a noble fraternity. They call the men and women who served in WWII “the greatest generation.” I think the pastorate is the greatest occupation. Humbly take pride in who you are, even if your church is smaller than many others. It’s hard to pastor, that’s why so few do it. You’re doing it! Keep at it! Keep getting up! You are part of a noble fraternity.

If you’d like you can follow me on Twitter @thinkmonk. No fluff, just good stuff.

1. The back door can be closed.Unknown

2. Teaching on stewardship results in increased giving.

3. If you work really hard you can grow your church.

4. Great preaching and great music will bring great growth.

5. People with a background in business are the best people to have on your church board.

6. “missional” is new.

7. Traditional church models are automatically ineffective.

8. Mission statements are really important.

9. Pastors of larger churches must know something pastors of smaller churches don’t.

10. Formal church memberships result in greater commitment.

11. If you have a clear and well-articulated vision your church will grow.

12. Outreach events result in church growth.

13. The “attractional model” isn’t working anymore.

14. In order for an older pastor to attract a younger crowd he need to look and sound cool.

15. If a church isn’t growing there must, must be something wrong.

16. Every once in a while it’s good for a pastor to insert a moderate curse word into his sermons. This will communicate that he is cool and contemporary, and radical.

17. Parishioners will follow the example of their pastor.

Follow me on twitter @thinkmonk

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So here it is, the first day of December. Some of you pastors ill focus on the Christmas story each Sunday this month. Some of you will wait to focus on Christmas until the 21st. But all of you might be struggling to come up with something new to say about Christmas.

The same thing happens with Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. What to say, what to say? What to say that hasn’t already been said?

Maybe I’m just sentimental but I never get tired of the same old simple Christmas message. I like the baby in the manger, the angels in the sky, the shepherds checking things out, wise men from the East traveling far just to get a glimpse of this special child. I like it all. Over and over and over again…I like it. I never grow weary of it. Jesus taking the form of a helpless little child. The baby will grow up, tell us what the Father is like, and die on a cross to open the way to God. l like it. I don’t need a new twist on the Christmas message. I want the same old thing…again and again and again and again. And I’m betting that your people are the same.

Might I suggest that this year you don’t rack your brain trying to figure out a new was to present the old story. Just tell the old story. Tell them that God is with us. With all that is happening in the world we need to stare into the face of the Christ-child. With all the change occurring all around us we need to come back to that same old story that never changes. For unto us a child has been born.


In 2015 I will enter into my ninth year of coaching pastors and church leaders. At any given time I coach about fifty pastors and leaders a month. That’s a lot of coaching! Once in a while someone says to me,

“Dave, with all the pastors you talk to is there something you’ve seen that they all have in common?”

I always answer the same.

“For the most part, pastors, regardless of the size of their church or denominational affiliation, are over-worked, underpaid, and are not taking care of their souls.”


I was a pastor for twenty eight years before transitioning into full time coaching. I know the demands on the pastor of a smaller church. But the truth of the matter is that most pastor are putting in too many hours for their church and this means that other more important things are suffering. Whoa! What could possibly be more important than the church?

You and your personal relationship with Jesus is more important than the church.

You and your spouse are more important than the church.

You and your children are more important than the church.

Is the church important? Of course. But the church is not first, not second, not even third…the church is forth.

My experience in working with pastors has proven that when a pastor consistently works more than fifty hours a week other more important things begin to suffer. One thing I do is help pastors be better pastors in less time.


I think that with all the pressures on a pastor one of them should not be financial pressure. I think pastors should be paid well, at least as well as their congregation can pay them. I’m not talking about extravagant but well enough that they and their family are comfortable. Some church boards are very generous with their pastor’s salary, and many are not. Some churches simply do not have any more money to pay their pastors, but many do yet don’t.

Sometimes I’m brought in to help a church board determine what the spending priorities of their church should be. This is what I counsel them.

First, money must be set aside to pay the general operating expenses of the church, rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.

Second, money must be set aside to provide a comfortable living for your pastor and his/her family.

Third, whatever is left is open for prayerful debate.

Lack of soul care

Would you be surprised to hear me say that most pastors (that’s right, I said most) do not have a consistent and meaningful devotional life? Their lives are stretched a mile wide but their souls are only an inch deep. Hey…I wrote a book on that!

When your day is spent doing spiritual things (preparing sermons, counseling, planning church events) you can fool yourself into thinking that you are spiritual because of the spiritual things that you do. Some nutrients are derived from our ministry duties but not enough for us to maintain the vibrancy of intimacy with Jesus that we all want and that our people need from us.

Which of these three can you relate to the most? Over worked? Underpaid? Neglecting your soul? I can help. Contact me: dave@smallchurchpastor.com

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