Interviews

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A while back I was contacted by Jessica Hanewinckel who is the associate editor of Outreach Magazine. She explained that she was putting together an article for their upcoming Small Church America issue and wanted to ask me some questions. I thought you might be interested in my answers. Don’t forget to read pt. 1.

Jessica: There does come a point with small churches, however, where small really is too small to survive. So some degree or growth, or at least retention, is desirable and necessary. How do we walk that line between celebrating small and working hard not to be too small?

Dave: First we have to agree on the definition of ‘church.’ Next we have to agree upon a definition of ‘survive.’ In many countries, including our own, a group of 8 people meeting in a home is regarded as a ‘church’. At this size very little is needed to survive.

But if we think of ‘church’ solely through the lens of our westernized definition of ‘church’, i.e. a building, a full-time pastor, children’s ministry, worship team, small groups, staff, budget, etc., then viability does become an issue.

I often help pastors of smaller churches determine whether or not their congregation is ‘viable.’ To determine viability I ask the pastor the following questions:

Do you (the pastor and their spouse) have enough energy and motivation to continue if nothing changes?

Does your leadership team have enough energy and motivation to continue if nothings changes?

Does the church have enough resources (time, money, volunteers) to provide the most basic of ministries one would expect to find in a church?

Questions such as these often reveal something that is hard for the pastor to admit, which is, ‘Our church lacks viability.’ This doesn’t mean that the church is not a church, (God loves them, they serve a purpose) just that the church is not a viable church, it will probably never be anything other that what it currently is. More times than not, however, this means that the church will suffer a slow and painful death. In my opinion there are many smaller churches like this in North America and they need to be given ‘permission to die’, but in a way that is honoring to Jesus and to the men and women who have invested so much in them over the years.

I don’t believe that a church is necessarily intended to live forever.

Jessica: Small churches just don’t have the resources to meet every single person’s needs who comes through their door or who is in their community. How should a small church go about deciding what to support and focus on, and what to ignore or pass off to someone else?

Dave: Smaller churches must be unapologetic about what they can’t offer people. I remember early on in one of my church plants, a family with teenagers visited and after the service the mother came up and asked, “What do you have for my teenagers?” All I could answer was, “Me”. I think I was more satisfied with that answer than she was.

I liked that part of your question that asked, what should we ignore or pass off? The word ‘ignore’ has a lot of negative connotations attached to it. For me, in this context, it simply means that there are some things we will choose not to worry about at this time. Sometimes small churches can partner with larger churches or other organizations that have developed certain ministries or programs people are looking for. It’s true, if you point someone to the big church down the street so that their child has a youth group to go to, and expect them to stay involved in your church, there is a real possibility that you will never see them again. We’ve got to be okay with this.

It all comes back to resources. What do we have to work with? What are the few things that we can do well? Capitalize on the strengths inherent in small churches rather than the perceived weaknesses.

Jessica: From your experience, are you seeing younger people interested in a small church environment? The perception is that small churches are often filled with older generations and a more traditional worship style.

Dave: I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to characterize young people and what attracts them to a particular church. I work with pastors of every denomination you could imagine, in all the regions across our country. What might attract and keep young people in one region often times does not have the same result in a different region. I work with many smaller churches that have a high percentage of young people. On the other hand, many of our smaller churches are filled predominately with older people. The problem with churches like this is not that they are mainly populated by ‘older people’, as if ‘older’ is inherently of less value than ‘younger’, the problem is when church members, regardless of age, are resistant to the changes often needed in their church to reach new people with the gospel. Resistance to change can be found in every size church.

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A while back I was contacted by Jessica Hanewinckel who is the associate editor of Outreach Magazine. She explained that she was putting together an article for their upcoming Small Church America issue and wanted to ask me some questions. I thought you might be interested in my answers.

Jessica: Explain the difference between small churches that are thriving as small churches, that are doing great ministry, that are really spiritually enriching their attenders and the community, from those that are flailing. Is the difference in programming, mindset, an understanding of the community, something else?

Dave: There can be many reasons why a small church can be thriving instead of flailing, just as there can be many reasons why a larger church can be thriving instead of flailing.

a. Thriving small churches are content without being complacent. They are ‘comfortable in their own skin’ and are not trying to be something they are not, i.e. a large church.

b. Thriving small churches focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. It’s been my experience that there is almost nothing a larger church can do that a small church cannot do, if the small church is willing to do it on a smaller scale.

c. Thriving small churches do a few things well. I compare this to the menus in restaurants. Some restaurants have three pages of menu with everything a person could ask for: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Out here on the west coast we have a very popular fast food chain called In-N-Out Burger. All they offer is burgers, fries, and drinks. On the company website they state their philosophy: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” Thriving small churches have an ‘In-N-Out Burger’ mindset.

d. Thriving small churches are made up of people who are on the same page. The problem in many churches, whether they be small or large, is seldom a lack of vision, but one of competing visions. The pastors of thriving small churches are constantly pounding into the minds of their people: who we are, what we do, how we will measure success.

Jessica: How can small church pastors be encouraged? Many feel they’re just failed large church pastors, or that their churches are less than the large church down the street. Where does the right mindset begin?

Dave: Unfortunately our Christian culture defines success using three words: bigger, more, and new. Therefore, if your church seems smaller, less, or old, you are not viewed as successful. This cultural definition, of which few of us can escape, contributes to our discouragement. It is ingrained in all of us to want to be successful. I think our encouragement and contentedness is in direct proportion to the consistency and meaningfulness of our time alone with God. And once again, this is true for pastors of larger churches as well.

It’s sad but some pastors might have to look outside of their denomination or affiliation to find genuine encouragement. I am seeing more and more denominations reaching out to their smaller churches but they often, inadvertently, do it in a way that still makes the pastor of a small church feel like they’re being looked down on, like they are something that needs to be fixed, like they don’t quite measure up.

Jessica: How should small churches measure success?

Dave: Mother Teresa said, “God has not called us to be successful. God has called us to be faithful.” Paul said, “…it is required of stewards that one be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)

A small church measures success by how faithful they have been with what God has given them. If they have 20 members then they will strive to be the best 20-member church on the planet. The trick is to find ways to measure success that has very little to do with ‘attendance-numbers.’ A great exercise for pastors of smaller churches is to ask their leadership team, “How could we measure success if we couldn’t use numbers?”

 

Bob Groth was a “coachee” of mine. Pastor Bob is 67 years old and has been pastoring for more than 40 years. A former Lutheran pastor, Bob now ministers at the Vineyard Community Church in Oregon, Wisconsin, a congregation he affectionately refers to as his parish.

There’s not a lot of ministers out there that have been pastoring for 40 years so the other day our coaching appointment turned more into an interview.

“Bob”, I said, “pastors, both young and old, often ask me what I feel the most basic, and simple tasks a pastor should invest their time in. If you were to come up with a list of the basics, what would that list be?” Here’s the list Bob came up with… I think it’s awesome!

1. The pastor must put his family first.

2. The pastor must take seriously his/her call to be a preacher/teacher, which means, investing an appropriate amount of time in his/her sermon preparation.

3. The pastor must be available for hospital visitation, visiting shut-ins, etc.

4. The pastor must attend to his/her own spiritual growth. The spiritual growth of the pastor will spill over into the parish producing a spiritually growing congregation.

5. The pastor must be available, and invest time, in ministering to the dysfunctional.

6. The pastor must be available to respond to crisis.

7. The pastor must make time to develop meaningful and supportive relationships with other pastors.

8. The pastor must be present to administer the various ceremonies and sacraments associated with his/her calling, example: Communion, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

9. It’s the pastor’s job to always remember, God is in control.

I then asked Bob, “Do you mind me asking you about a few typical responsibilities of the pastor that I could not but help notice were not on your list?”

Dave: “What about administration?”

Bob: “Oh, I don’t really do much of that. Things are so simple here there’s not much administration to take up my time.”

Dave: “What about leadership development?”

Bob: “Well… we have 2 small groups, one for men and one for women. Any leadership development that occurs happens naturally in those settings. We don’t really have any “program” per se.

Dave: “What about discipleship?”

Bob: “Once again, discipleship happens naturally in our small groups. No real “program” other than that.

How refreshing!

 

Dave: You’ve got a pretty interesting past for a church planter.

Lou: I spent over 31 years as an Army officer; during a 6-year break in service, I worked as a forester in remote locations in Oregon.

Dave: Tell us a little about your church.

Lou: Our church is Hill Country Church (PCA), a church plant of the Presbyterian Church in America. My wife and I started with a Bible study in our living room four years ago. We now lease space for “church-in-a-box” outside the largest military installation in the Free World, Fort Hood. Nearly everyone in our church is military or former military.

Dave: How did your long career in the military help prepare you for your church plant?

Lou: Military experience helped me in many ways—I discovered my capabilities and limitations, practiced leading people, realized change was a constant in life, learned to develop and cherish teamwork to accomplish a mission, and loved working with people who understood commitment to something bigger than they were. Our move from seminary to Texas was our 23rd; we understand the pressures, unique challenges and hardships of military families. Having “been there and done that” helps me assist soldiers and families to deal with stresses of separation, combat, and reintegration. Nahum 1:7 is a great verse: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (ESV)

Dave: If you were starting over what would you do differently?

Lou: I would not attempt to plant a church without a team right from the start. Jesus pulled together a team of twelve; why do we think a solo pastor/church planter can do everything necessary all by himself? People often ask me how the transition was from commanding a 4,000-man brigade to studying Greek in seminary. I answer, “The hardest part was not having anybody to delegate jobs to—the guy in the mirror was the only one I had!”

Dave: What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Lou: Two pieces of advice: (1)Understand that ministry will probably be the hardest job you will ever do, and it involves much more than you learned in seminary. Are you prepared to suffer (all Christians should, but pastors live “where the rubber meets the road” when it comes to suffering)? Are you prepared for relentless onslaught from Satan and his minions and do you embrace the only source of strength to fight them off—the Lord Jesus Christ? The devil will attack every chink in your armor—physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Knowing your enemy’s strategy and tactics as well as those of “friendly forces” is absolutely essential to being an equipped, trained, competent warrior in the Lord’s Army.

(2) If married, make sure your relationship with your wife is rock-solid—sexually, emotionally, spiritually—because pastoral ministry will stretch you both. If you have problems, resolve them before starting ministry or pick another line of work.

Dave: Thanks Lou

Do you remember Peter Ueberroth? He was the commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1984 to 1989, after that he went on to become the director of Coca-Cola and chairman fo the U.S. Olympic Committee. Newsweek (October 20, 2008) did an interview with him on the subject of leadership. The interviewer was Richard M. Smith. Here are a few excerpts that stood out to me and why.

Smith: In the Olympics and in Major League Baseball, you developed a reputation for toughness. How do you decide when to be tough and when to be more relaxed?

Ueberroth: When there’s an integrity issue. We like to use the phrase “chalk lines.” In football and baseball there are white chalk lines on the grass, and if you cross them you’re out of bounds. We say, “Don’t get any chalk on your toes, don’t even get close.”

Leadership principle: Don’t get any chalk on your toes, don’t even get close.

Smith: What do you look for in a young leader?

Ueberroth: When you get past integrity, you go to curiosity. [When I observe young leaders] what I’m so surprised by is, everybody wants to talk, to make a presentation, to do something rather than ask questions. The smartest people are the ones who continue to drive for information.

Leadership principle: Talk less, ask more.

Smith: Do you think you can spot integrity when you meet people, or shortly thereafter?

Ueberroth: No. You mostly don’t see it until there’s an issue. There’s value in crisis, because you see who stands up.

Leadership principle: Pay attention to people during times of crisis or conflict. This is when a person’s character will show up. You don’t see integrity until there’s an issue.

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Dave: Marty, you and Sandy recently came back from a three month sabbatical. Why a sabbatical at this time in your ministry?

Marty: Dave, you are the guy who really planted the seeds in my heart and mind that a multiple-week sabbatical was not a luxury for pastors but a life or death necessity. Over 25-plus years of pastoral ministry, I’d never taken time for a sabbatical, nor was I ever taught that it was anything other than a vacation for pastoral weenies. Then, when the wheels started falling off my wagon three years ago, I started to listen to you say that it just might be time for an extended sabbatical. You were right. Still, it took me two years to finally get it scheduled on my busy calendar.

Dave: How did you prepare your leaders and your people?

Marty: At first I was very ashamed to tell them that their pastor was slowly burning out. Pride, you know. That ugly thing inside each pastor that wants to believe that with Jesus all things are possible. While the Bible does say that, I don’t think the Scriptures call us to go down in flames trying to build the successful Americanized church we all envision. Actually I was thrilled, on one hand, to know that my board and leadership team fully agreed to my 10-week plan. On the other hand, I was scared to realize how obvious it was to each of them that their pastor was running on fumes.  So with your help, Dave, we charted a course with our church several months ahead of the sabbatical. Your help there was invaluable.

Dave: What did you do for those three months?

Marty: Assignment number one: Sandy & I didn’t go to church for ten weeks. Our goal was to stay away from anything that looked like a church. We did that fairly well except for one Sunday in July when we were visiting our two favorite people in the State of Oregon. You were preaching at your home church that Sunday and we didn’t want to miss that. Otherwise, our goal was to relax, spend time having fun, time with family, read, pray, talk to God and each other, and generally bum our way through ten weeks of bliss.

Dave: So now you’re back. How did your church do while you and Sandy were away?

Marty: In talking to some pastors who had done sabbaticals, I heard that getting ‘back in the saddle’ was tougher than leaving. On one hand, Sandy & I were ready to get back on board, yet things went absolutely super while we were gone, so we didn’t want to reverse any of that good stuff by coming back and grabbing the golden ring away from those new heroes who stepped up in our absence. All in all, we’re quite pleased how Jesus showed us once more how this church we planted 13 years ago is not really ours, but belongs to Him. A multiple-week sabbatical can really bring that subject front and center for all us insecure pastors!

Dave: What did your sabbatical do for you? How is Marty different?

Marty: That’s a loaded question. I feel so refreshed, yet I’m coming back with a whole different approach to ministry than when I left. Sandy & I took one author with us on our sabbatical and it was Eugene Peterson. The author of The Message Bible has always been a hero of mine, but I’d never taken much time to read some of his other books. His newest, The Pastor-A Memoir and his classic, The Contemplative Pastor absolutely messed up my life (in a wonderful way) and I’m coming back with a whole new approach to pastoral ministry. I recorded a lot of what God did in and through me during my sabbatical in my Blog. I entitled the series: ‘THOUGHTS & MUSINGS FROM OUR 10-WEEK SABBATICAL.

Dave: I noticed you have a new Facebook page up called The Small Church That Works. What’s the story behind that?

Marty: My gut feel is that there are thousands of pastors out there, faithful shepherds of God’s people in smaller churches across North America, who struggle with two primary battles: The first is aloneness. The second is significance. The Americanized church (as Eugene Peterson calls it) measures our success as pastors using what I like to call the 3-B Syndrome. It’s a measuring stick that evaluates us on three basics: BUILDINGS, BUCKS, and BUTTS. If we are doing well with our buildings, there is a good flow of money in the offering buckets, and if there are an ever-increasing number of people in the pews, bingo—we’re a success. Yet, if we struggle or fail in feeding any of these three sacred cows, watch out! The pastor of the smaller church in America knows well the hardships attached to these three barometers of church life. Yet my gut tells me, Dave, that ‘success’ in pastoral ministry, according to Jesus and the New Testament, is much different than the 3-B Syndrome. My heart is to gather pastors of smaller churches around a network of support where we all believe that SMALL can actually be BIG when using God’s economy. My hope is that we can re-discover, with the help of God, the small church that works, thus empowering pastors of smaller churches to feel much more confident about their lot in life and ministry! Check us out on Facebook. 

Dave: You just went public with a new blog. What’s the story behind that?

Ellen: I have always felt like there wasn’t much “out there” in the way of encouragement and support for women in ministry, especially church planters and pastor’s wives. I can remember being a young woman with a family, trying to plant and pastor a church with my husband and feeling like “where are all the ‘older’ women who know how to do this?” I really needed support and friends who were not also people that I was pastoring. Yet, I didn’t have much time for relationships with anyone other than my immediate family and church. During that time, I said to myself that I would try to be that support for other women when my time came. So, here I am with years of church life, raising kids and following God behind me and if I have anything to share that is helpful, I want to share it. I think we suffer as women if we don’t have other women in our lives who can walk with us and maybe have a little better vision of the path than we do.

Dave: How is the life of a pastor’s wife different than other married women in the church?

Ellen: Well, there is always a higher expectation on the pastors wife than other women. I don’t think people do it on purpose, I just think that people often have the misbelief that if someone is in ministry or leadership, they must have done something to deserve it, i.e. they are more spiritual, holy, mature etc. And while hopefully they are growing and maturing in their faith, pastors wives are not perfect by any means. When people expect them to always be a pillar of “Christian womanhood”, that is a heavy burden. I once had someone tell me that I was a perfect Proverbs 31 example. I could feel myself cringing in the “you don’t really know me at all” way. I mean, I had not risen before the dawn for a long time! Pastoring can be lonely and pastor’s wives can feel isolated.

Dave: You want to also focus on women in leadership, not just pastors’ wives. Have you been able to recognize different challenges women in ministry face than their counterparts?

Ellen: One of the things I have recognized with women is that we can easily substitute talking to our friends with talking to God. When you are in leadership position, you may often have women who want your perspective, your wisdom and advice. This can be flattering to our ego. As women leaders, we have to constantly point people back to Jesus and not try to be their “source”. I think because as women we tend to be relational and nurturing, it is hard for us to recognize when we are not helping someone to get closer to God, but to be more dependent on us.

Dave: Rumor has it that you are preparing to launch your own coaching ministry. How does one prepare for such a thing, what have you been doing?

Ellen: I have been practicing my listening skills! Seriously, I have been paying more attention to my conversations with people, learning how to listen for what is underneath their words. I think being listened to and understood is something we all need terribly. In ministry, we are used to being “tellers” instead of listeners. Most people who want coaching don’t need to be “told” anything else. They have heard it all!  They really need someone to help them see a different perspective on what they may already know. That is what I want to do in coaching. I believe in women and I believe that God wants to speak to them. Sometimes they just need someone else to push the clouds out of the way to get a better glimpse. As far as prepping, though, I have also been doing a lot of study and reading about coaching. Oh, and I went through this training with this guy Dave Jacobs…I guess he’s a coach or whatever? I had already heard pretty much everything he said.

Dave: Uh…ok, now for my next question. What will you be bringing to the coaching-table that will be unique?

Ellen: I don’t know of many women that started church planting as young as I did! I was just 20 when we planted our first church, moving across state with our first baby on the way. Then we proceeded to have four more children while we planted three churches over the years and were on staff in two others. I have planted with a newborn and planted with children in  three different schools. I have had to get five children ready for church in the morning while my husband was setting up the “church in a box”. I have wished that my husband was home more and wished that he would get his office out of the guest room! I don’t know that my experience is unique, but it does span a lot of church life scenarios that women can relate to.

Dave: If you could leave only one sentence to the women reading this interview, what would it be?

Ellen: Take care of your soul first, then you can see clearly what God is calling you to be and what He is not calling you to be.

Dave: Thanks. What’s for dinner?

 

You can contact Ellen at ellenpjacobs@gmail.com or find her on Facebook. And don’t forget her blog.

 

Steve & Carol

Dave: So what’s new at Live Oak Vineyard?

Steve: We are literally a church in transition, moving to the next city over.  We are waiting for our new facility to be completed (it has been an 18 month journey so far).  The move was dictated by demographic changes in the city and financial realities in the church.

Dave: You co-pastor. That almost never works. How is it that you and Floyd have beat the odds?

Steve: There are a few factors that have worked in our favor: 1) Floyd and I have known each other for over 35 years, 2) when we merged the churches we were both in our mid 50’s and neither of us “needs” to be in charge.  The co-pastor experience has been good for both of us.  It is nice to not have to carry the burden alone.

Dave: In addition to pastoring a church you are what they call a Spiritual Director. That sounds, well…really spiritual. What is a spiritual director and what do they do?

Steve: A spiritual director is one who enters into an ongoing relationship with another and journeys with that person in a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental way.  A director mainly listens to the other as they share concerning their journey with God, and in that process helps the person to identify and discern the movements of God in their life, with the intent that they can then respond to those movements.  In contrast to what the word “director” might imply, a spiritual director does not tell others what to do.  Thomas Merton describes the relationship well,

… the director is not to be regarded as a magical machine for solving cases and declaring the holy will of God beyond all hope of appeal, but a trusted friend who, in an atmosphere of sympathetic understanding, helps and strengthens us in our groping efforts to correspond with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who alone is the true Director in the fullest sense of the word.

Dave: How did you develop a passion for this?

Steve: It really was not something that I was looking for.  I was invited to be trained as a director by someone who saw in me the qualities of a director.  I entered into the training not knowing if I would ever be a director, but the more I moved into it I found that it really was something that was “in me” but had not been uncovered.  Having been a director for the past 6 years I find that it really is a holy thing to be entrusted with sitting with someone as they unpack the journey of their soul to you… it is a great privilege and very humbling.

Dave: You travel all over the place ministering to pastors and missionaries. If you could wave a magic wand and change a couple things about pastors what would you change?

Steve: First, that they would carry out their ministry from the foundation of being deeply loved by the Trinity.  That the “doctrine / theology” of God’s love would be their deep personal experience, and their ministry would emerge from that reality.  Second, that they would understand how detrimental the busyness of ministry is to their spiritual lives, and they would be vigilant to establish regular times of retreat, silence and solitude into their schedules.

Dave: So let’s say a pastor comes up to you and says, “Steve, I’m interested in my own personal spiritual formation but I don’t know where to start.” In a nutshell, give me the top three things you would advise.

Steve: Every leader is unique and their situations and histories are all different, but here are a few things that have been helpful to a broad range of leaders… Starting their day engaging scripture through the practice of Lectio Divina… ending their day by practicing the prayer of Examen… establish a regular routine where they are spending time in silence and solitude, not trying to accomplish anything or achieve anything, just taking time to be present before God… to pray, to listen, to rest, to ponder, and to reflect.

Dave: Thanks Steve.

 

 

Dave: Danny, you were a pioneer in the contemporary Christian worship scene in the late 70’s and 80’s and you’re still going strong. How has worship, worship leading, and worship song-writing changed from when you started out?

Danny: I think worship is timeless, even though it changes with cultural and societal variations. The things I always look for are honesty, passion and a seeking to connect with God as his Spirit would lead. That means we keep trying to find out how he would be worshiped. As soon as we decide ‘this is it’, we might be starting to drift.

As worship leaders, we must start in private. If there’s no personal worship life experience, we can never be more than ‘song leaders’, and no one needs any more of those. If we bring a personal worship experience to worship leading we have the potential to bring others along into that experience. It’s like measles: if we got ‘em, somebody else can catch ‘em. If we don’t, no one can. There’s a subtle but huge difference between us playing and singing while others sing along, and us bringing folks into a place where we can all taste and see God and his goodness.

These are the days of the worship leader/band leader/personality. There are great songwriters and worship leaders in every stream, which is a gift from God. Sometimes the industry can be a problem as well as a great help. End of the day, though, anointing and obedience will show who’s really serving and who’s only in it to be the next___________. (Fill in with name of your fave)

Dave: I’ve known a lot of pastors who’ve had relational problems with their worship leaders…and worship leaders who’ve had problems with their pastor. First, what advice would you give to pastors about working with their worship leader?

Danny: When pastors realize that worship leaders are pastoring when they lead worship, they have made a great leap of understanding. They can then look for that heart in selecting a worship leader, as well as help the WL to develop more of a pastor’s heart, along with their musical skills. This will also help the pastor to know that the worship singing part of their services is not just a ‘warm-up’ for what may be the most important part to them, their message! If a pastor isn’t open to the Holy Spirit taking over the service and turning it into a song-filled variation, without bible teaching, or with a modified message to fit the situation, they may have something more to learn about worship.

Dave: What advice would you give to worship leaders about working with their pastors?

Danny: Serve the Lord by serving the pastor, his vision and goals. Be sure to make sure from God that these are also your visions and goals, but if they are, do your best to help reach them. Pastors and worship leaders need to pray together, and communicate honestly about what they want to see happen in the church family they share and serve. The worship leader needs to communicate these visions and goals to the rest of the worship musicians and sound people as well, so they can, along with the pastor, be praying about how to best reach them as the Spirit leads.

Dave: What do you like about the younger, new generation of worship leaders/song writers, and what advice would you give them about their craft?

Danny: God always raises up artists who can bring music and worship to their generation. It’s easy to get stuck in your own stuff, though. What I mean is that we should be relevant to our generation, but let God take us beyond that, since he is timeless. There’s a great bunch of WLs and song writers today. Just be careful to let God make you more creative than you could ask or think, and don’t let the cultural and industry pressure to imitate U2 and Coldplay run your life.

Dave: Your marriage to Cher (over 41 years now) has survived the ministry. To what do you attribute that, what’s your secret?

Danny: The first 10 years I thought, ‘This is a perfect marriage, thanks Lord.’ No conflicts, agreement on everything, peace in the home. Then, from out of nowhere, she started being really argumentative, picky and downright unfair! I asked God to change her heart. What is the problem? God spoke: ‘I told her she can stop taking abuse from you.’ For 10 years, God kept telling Cher, as she poured out her heart about my self-centered, egotistical side, ‘Just wait and trust me.’ Then, when he knew I’d be able to begin to learn and change, he let her start to put in her two cents worth. (actually, Cher put in about a dollars worth!) This began a learning curve for me, but also for her, in how to communicate with each other. How to listen more than speak, how to wait and pray for God’s timing. Cher was, and remains far ahead of me in these areas, but I’ve come along. We try to never go to sleep with a tension between us, even if it’s just to pray that God would keep the tension, and us, in his hand until it’s resolved. We’ve learned to desire to give mercy and forgiveness, rather than demand mercy and forgiveness. Best friends, lovers of each other by learning to be lovers of God, companions who enjoy being together, no matter what we’re doing or not doing. We have survived the ministry, by putting it down the list below God, each other and family, friends and church family, and those who need to know Jesus.

Dave: Thanks Danny.

Visit Danny’s site here.

 

 

 

Pastor, church-planter, and writer Steve Sjogren is the father of Servant Evangelism, a unique approach to outreach that was popularized by his groundbreaking book, Conspiracy of Kindness (Vine books, 1993).

 

 

Dave: Sorry that I haven’t kept up on “All-Things-Sjogren” but the last I heard you had planted a church in Florida, then I heard it was Portland and now it appears you are in Newberg, Oregon. What happened in Florida and what’s happening in Newberg?

Steve: We have been on the move in the past year. We planted a church in Cincinnati of course and were there for over 20 years. Following my catastrophic medical injury and recovery I stepped down from leading that church. Some years later Janie and I helped plant a church in the Tampa area. After a couple of years there we felt called to expand our borders by doing something more traditional. We had never attempted to lead an existing congregation — something 99% of pastors do! We prayed briefly and a door opened with the Free Methodists in Newberg, Oregon, located just southwest of Portland. We are with an established congregation that has a heart to reach out, but hasn’t had a model for it. I think this group, Northside Church, is like the vast majority of churches across the land with the typical challenges. It is about 500 on weekends. They had never heard of Servant Evangelism so we are starting from scratch in leading these folks into outreach and and outward discipleship. In short, this is all good for us and good for them! We are learning a tremendous amount about launching outreach at a church where none of it was going on. We’ll have a LOT to say about all of this in a bit!

Dave: You not only have a lot of experience in planting churches, you also have a long history of working with church planters. What would you say are the three most important foundations for a pastor to lay when planting their church?

Steve: 1. Train your people to get a heart for God. Soaking in Scripture and prayer are the keys here. I have a saying, “Five chapters a day keeps the pastor away!” Help them learn to value hearing God’s voice. Teach them in weekend series about prayer at various points each year. Make prayer illustrations common in your messages. As God speaks to you share that on Sundays.

2. Train your people to get a heart for people. The way you as the leader connect with people will show how this is done. As your heart goes so goes the people. It’s almost scary how much influence your spirituality influences your people. If you feel a lack of love for people ask God for more, then step out and begin to serve. Your heart will change. Start taking bags of groceries door to door. Give them away. Then ask if you can bless them. Pray a 10-second prayer for them. One pastor friends just says, “I bless you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” People often begin to weep. Talk about getting a heart for people!
3. Train and model to your people how to quickly obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit without reservation. If they think about this too long they will talk themselves out of obedience.

Dave: I work with pastors from every denomination you could imagine. I’m amazed at how many are doing Servant Evangelism. I say to them, “You know that was popularized by a guy named Steve Sjogren?” and they say, “Who?” Why do you think your approach to evangelism is so attractive to so many?

Steve: I don’t mind being a little hidden. I prayed early on that this would be the case actually!

Servant Evangelism (I use the term Kindness Outreach when talking to newbies in my church — it’s less intimidating) has turned out to be a zeitgeist, that is, a timely message and discipline for our age. People have grown weary of talk and are incredibly hungry to do something practical to bring God’s love. Our culture is hungry for real spirituality. It might be realistic to say it demands that kind of spirituality. When we marry together the showing of God’s love with hopefully the verbalizing of the Gospel strong things happen. This is the model of Jesus and the Apostles. It works! Plus it’s so much fun it’s almost illegal!

Dave: Let’s say we have a pastor who has been at a church for a while and their church has never had much of an outreach mentality but the pastor wants to move them in that direction. What steps should they take?

Steve: That’s not too different from my current situation except that I haven’t been at this church for long. I’m learning how to take an existing church that has grown used to the status quo outwardly. Here’s what I’m learning:

A. Start to reach out yourself. As leaders we tend to immediately think in terms of delegation. Yes you will enlist others but the first step is to catch the outreach virus yourself!
B. Ask God to give you his heart. As you reach out notice the pain of those around you. His impression on your heart will give you an enduring spirit.
C. Develop a cadre of fans. You don’t need many to start a veritable movement in your congregation. In all the churches I’ve led — small and large (I’ve done a lot of both) — it has always been the small minority of gung ho Marine types that have led the way outwardly. I mean the minimal percentage of people. In Cincinnati we had over 6,000 on weekends, but our entire outreach team was only about 30-60 people. Here’s something amazing — that 30-40 served right at 1 million people one year a while back! Yes we did some larger outreaches now and then, but the lion’s share of the outreach was done by those several dozen people. It’s always about Gideon’s Army — which is the 1% (he had 300 out of 30,000).
D. Do outreach consistently for 6 months. I have seen it takes consistent outreaches (weekly!) for six months to rightly launch this stuff. That’s a LOT of course, but then again, who said reaching people would be easy.

I recommend you invest a little in this by joining my coaching site for more help http://ServeCoach.com for the help you will need to persevere in this.

Dave: Wow, you’ve got like five websites out there, not to mention Facebook and twitter. I can’t find any reference to the Vineyard. Are you still connected to them?

Steve: I was a part of the Vineyard longer than anyone until a year ago — that was a 35 year history (since 1975). The Vineyard was the only group I had ever been a part of. I dearly love the Vineyard movement. Prior to my assignment with the Free Methodists in Oregon I looked into taking an existing church within the Vineyard (again we wanted to try our hand at leading an existing church) but could find no open doors. We reluctantly stepped out of the Vineyard at that time. We are still highly connected relationally with Vineyard people. I’m sure those relationships will endure for our lifetimes, but no, I’m not officially connected with the Vineyard. I still speak at Vineyard churches now and then. Who knows — our lives might intersect with the Vineyard movement once again down the road. I’m pretty convinced we will yet plant retirement focused churches in coming years wherever that happens to be.

Dave: You used to pastor a mega-church but not any more. What do you think is an ideal size for a church and why?

Steve: I’ve led (or been on teams) churches of various sizes. Our first church experience was something that grew from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand in two years in West Los Angeles. We started something in Oslo Norway that eked out an existence by slowing growing from just Janie and I to about 70 people over a year’s time. We were in an environment that was downright hostile. Janie didn’t know the language at first. My word, church planting is a young person’s sport!

Having done it all I am now convinced there is an ideal size — for me it’s about 500 in weekend attendance (I need to clarify that versus “membership” which is often unclear). Looking back to my experience in Cincinnati, we were at our most efficient stage when we ran about 500. Not that 6,000 didn’t have its assets. All things considered, when it comes to evangelism (I’m convinced that is God’s main concern) we were at our most efficient at that stage. The mean average disciple we were producing was superior at the 500 stage than at any other stage. At 500 we had enough momentum financially that we could do some cool things that tapped into vision that wouldn’t have been possible with a smaller group. When you have 500 you don’t freak out when a couple of families leave in a huff (a predictable reality sadly). The church of 500 can spin off daughter churches without a tremendous level of pain and sacrifice as long as that is done with wisdom and is well-timed.

At this point my plan is to spend the rest of my life working toward building lots of 500-sized churches!

Dave: Thanks Steve

 

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