Things to Think About

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I had a friend who for years was plagued by poor health. She experienced fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness, muscle aches and pain, depressed mood…and could never find out why. She tried this and she tried that. One doctor told her one thing and a different doctor told her another, but still, no change. Finally she gave one more doctor a try. They ran a test to check her thyroid and (drum roll please) THAT WAS IT! The technical term is ‘low functioning thyroid’ or ‘hypothyroid.’

Does your church have a low functioning thyroid? And for the purpose of this article I’m thinking of a person or small group of people who are causing unhealthy symptoms?

If you are like so many other small church pastors there is a good chance you have someone in your church that is causing trouble for you. Examples:

a. A church bully

b. A church gossip/slanderer

c. A church member who purposely opposes change

d. A church critic

e. A church pastor critic

Never underestimate how one or two individuals can be holding your church back. The smaller the church, the fewer it takes to sabotage your mission and your joy.

Usually doctors treat hypothyroid holistically or with drugs. Occasionally they conclude that the best treatment is a thyroidectomy, the complete removal of the thyroid gland.

I talk to many pastors who have some low functioning thyroid person in their church. They avoid them. They try to talk to them. They pray for them to change. They hope that something will change. But often times…they tolerate them. Well…you get what you tolerate. If you want something different you’ll need to do something different. You might try to address it holistically, but chances are you’ll need to remove the gland.

These types must be told, “STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!”

It takes a brave pastor to tell someone this. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. You’re gonna make them mad. They might leave. They might take some people with them. You might get fired. They might cause a stink…but they’re already causing a stink.

Do you want a smelly church or a healthy church? Do you want a sick church or a healthy church. Do you need to treat a low functioning thyroid? If so, you probably need to say…

STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!


Let me begin by saying, yes, I am aware of Matt. 28:19-20. Having reassured some of you…

I was talking to a Pastor who wanted to discuss “making disciples.” This is not an unusual topic, in fact, this is one of the most frequent areas of focus pastors bring to a our coaching call. It goes something like this:

Me: So, what do you want to focus on today?
Pastor: How can I make disciples? I mean real, dedicated, all-in-for-Jesus, committed, fully devoted followers of Jesus…you know, disciples.
Me: Never gonna happen.

No…I don’t say that. I might think that, but I don’t say it.

One of my favorite questions to ask pastors is, “What is your plan to make disciples?” Nothing of any importance is achieved without having a plan.

The first step in developing a discipleship strategy is to ask, or determine, what is our (the pastor, the leaders, the church) responsibility? Where does our job begin and where does it stop? How much of this is on us, and how much of this is on them? These are very important questions.

It seems to me that many pastors feel an unnecessary degree of obligation to make discipleship happen. Notice that I said, “unnecessary degree?” We do have a part to play in this but it is my conviction that more of the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Christian. In other words, if the day comes that I stand before God (I’m counting on that happening) and he chastises me for my lack of commitment (I’m counting on that not happening…time will tell. Yikes!) that I will not be able to blame my church or my pastor.

Our people need to hear us say, “You are responsible for your own spiritual growth. We will provide tracks for you to run on if you want. We will try to give you encouragement and good teaching on Sundays. But…you have a bigger part to play in this than the church does, or I do. You will be as close to God as you want to be.”

Do you know where your job begins and where it ends?
Do you have a discipleship plan?
Do you have in place tracks for people to run on that will help them become disciples?
Do you take on more of the responsibility for discipleship than you should?
Do you regularly remind your people that a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus is their responsibility?

These are things to think about. Oh…by the way, I can help you develop a discipleship strategy. 😉



Do you remember the scene in that great military courtroom drama, A Few Good Men?

Lt. Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!



For a while there I was hearing a lot about the need for pastors to be more transparent with their people. They want to know that you are human, they said. They need to know that you struggle with the same things they struggle with, they said. It’s good for them to know the truth, they said. But the problem is…

THEY CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Or at least most can’t.

It’s true, Pastors need someone safe to talk to, but it is rare that a pastor finds such a person in their own church.

If you’re having a crisis of faith, you probably shouldn’t talk to a board member about it.

If your marriage is really struggling, you probably shouldn’t talk to a deacon about it.

If you’ve slipped into some type of harmful, addictive habit, you probably shouldn’t include this in one of your sermons.

If you’re struggling with anger or hate, directed towards individuals or the church as a whole, you probably should find someone outside of the church to reveal this to.

I’ve had pastors share with me all of these things, and more. The thing is…I’m safe. I’m removed from the situation, so I can offer some objectivity. They are not running the risk of getting fired with me. I’m not going to turn their transparency around and bite them on the….well you get the picture. Someone once said, “Don’t bleed around sharks.”

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’ve got some wonderful people or good friends in your church that you could tell anything to and you would not regret it. But if this is you, and I really hope it is, you are in the great minority.

In order to be spiritually and emotionally healthy, pastors need someone they can be transparent with, but chances are they will not find that kind of person in their church. This is sad, but true.

So is it hopeless? Are pastors destined to live a life alone, with secrets or hurts no one knows about except, maybe their spouse? I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. But let me suggest some ways you might find that ‘safe’ person.

  1. You might find someone in your local ministerial association.
  2. You might find someone outside of your church but inside of your denomination.
  3. You might find someone from your old college days, someone who might even live outside of the state but who you could connect with over the phone. I’ve personally seen this work.
  4. You could get a coach or a spiritual director.
  5. You could connect with a counselor.

Can you think of any other possibilities?

Don’t give up. Don’t assume that this is the way it is and nothing can be done about it. Come to Jesus, unburden your heart to him. Jesus is not a shark. Ask Jesus to lead you to someone safe whom you could be transparent with.

You can find someone who can “…handle the truth!”


Last week I read an interesting article on the subject of “dissonance.” Not dissonance in music (which I didn’t even know there was such a thing), but dissonance in relationships. I wrote down some of the main points and then deleted the article so please don’t ask me for it. Sorry.

Dissonance occurs when you think you’re coming across in one way but people see you in a totally different way. Dissonance works the other way around, too: it occurs when you think you perceive someone else accurately, but the other person doesn’t agree.

The author suggested that dissonance is a common culprit in marital disputes. And that made me wonder how often dissonance is a common culprit in church disputes.

Again, the author said, “The greatest single cause of dissonance is the fact that people behave their worst when they feel most powerless.” Think about that. Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever found that to be true with someone in your church? Have you ever found that to be true about you?

Dissonance keeps you from reaching people, and it keeps other people from reaching you. You are not immune to dissonance. You might not be the one to blame…but you could be.

I’m always on the side of pastors. This is my bias. I know it. I think there’s a need for it. This is part of who I want to be, i.e. the champion of pastors. But sometimes we’ve created out own problems…not the church member(s). Pastors can do dump things, say dumb things, and think dumb things of others. Often times this results in dissonance.

Never underestimate your ability to come across in a way you didn’t intend. Never underestimate your ability to choose the wrong word to use at the wrong time. Never underestimate your ability for body language and facial expressions to sabotage your relationships with others. Never underestimate your ability to contribute to dissonance.

But here’s the challenge: how can you know how other people perceive you? The answer is two-fold, simple, but uncomfortable:

  1. Ask God to show you how you come across to others. Yikes! I’d rather have God hold a mirror up to my face than someone else who might just smash it over my head. And speaking of someone else…
  2. Be brave enough to ask someone how you come across. This very well might hurt, but it will be worth it. You see…we don’t see what we don’t see and often times what we don’t see hurts and frustrates those around us.

Do you have someone like that in your life, someone who is for you, but at the same time will be honest with you? What if you asked someone on your broad, or someone on your leadership team, or the whole team, or your spouse, “What do you see in me that I might not see? If I had a blind spot, what might it be?”

Did I already use the word “yikes?”



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.

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