10 Challenges for Pastors

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A while back I was asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the seventh in this series.

Pastors face the constant challenge of establishing and maintaining personal and church priorities.

We tend to drift away from, rather than towards, our priorities. It doesn’t matter whether they be personal priorities or church related priorities. Like a riptide that pulls us from shore, there are forces at play pulling us from the things that we value, from the primary, from our goals.

Do you have ‘established’ priorities? The word ‘establish’ comes from the Latin and means ‘to make firm.” Are your priorities firm, are they written down? Could you easily recite your personal values, or the values of your church? Could your leadership team quote the priorities/values of your church? If you, or they, can’t…then your priorities are probably not established.

One of the more common problems I run into with pastors and churches is a lack of focus, a failure to establish priorities. The pastor, or the church they lead, fluctuates from one focus to the next with no rhyme or reason. From here on out I’m primarily thinking about church priorities rather than personal priorities.

An earlier post of mine, ‘Learn from In-N-Out Burger, do a few things well.’, might be helpful for you to read after this.

So the first challenge is to identify and establish the priorities of your church. Prayerfully sit with a yellow-pad, or your laptop, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and show you what your priorities are, or should be. Write them down. Establish them. Make them firm.

After this, the next step, the one that is equally as challenging, is to focus on your priorities/values, and never stop. By ‘focusing’ on your priorities I’m referring to the means by which you will demonstrate or express your priorities. The expression of priorities can change. Priorities, or values, seldom change.

Identify, focus, establish, maintain. Identify, focus, establish, maintain.

One of the most common challenges pastors face the constant challenge of establishing and maintaining personal and church priorities.

How is this going for you?

 

 

 

 

 

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I was recently asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the seventh in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of moving their church towards an outward focus.

A church, left alone, will naturally lean towards an inward focus (What ministries and programs do we have to meet the needs of our current members?) rather than an outward focus (How are we reaching new people?). It’s kind of like a fire. A fire, left alone, will eventually cool off rather than heat up. I’ve never known a church that started out with an outward focus continue in that direction without a strategic plan and continual push by the senior leader and the leaders of the church.

In a sense, it’s a little easier for new church plants than it is for already established churches because in a new church the focus, in the beginning, is growing the church. But even in a new church, once they begin to grow, once they start developing some of the more common departments, (Children’s ministries, small groups, etc.) slowly…ever so slowly, outreach begins to suffer.

All of the above are reasons why I’ve added ‘The challenge of moving the church towards an outward focus.’ to my list of constant challenges pastors face. If this is one of your current challenges let me make four suggestions:

1. Do you, personally, believe with all your heart that the church exists to reach new people with the good news of Jesus? I know that seems like a stupid question to ask pastors but you’d be surprised how some need to be reminded of this. I’m not suggesting that the needs of your current people are not important. They are. You can have your cake and eat it to. The challenge for many pastors, however, is that the slice of (inward focus) cake is larger than the slice of (outward focus) cake. Part of this is because our time, as pastors, is often focused on maintaining inward focused stuff in our churches rather than outward focused stuff. The bottom line…if you are not passionate about reaching new people it is doubtful that your church will ever be.

2. Do your core leaders, church board, elders…whatever you call them, believe with all their hearts that the church exists to reach new people with the good news of Jesus? If your answer is ‘no’ then you will need to begin the process of reeducating them. This will take time. This will probably be met with some resistance. Be patient. The bottom line…if your key leaders are not passionate about reaching new people it is doubtful that your church will ever be.

3. Discover those in your church who are passionate about reaching new people. Get them in a room together for prayer and Spirit-inspired brainstorming. Questions can be discussed such as:

a. What percentage of our money and energy are spent on inward focused things rather than outward focused things?

b. When was the last time we reached, and kept, a new person? How many of our additions are Christians transferring from another church versus adding people previously unchuched?

c. What different ways might we gradually change our church culture to become more outward focused?

d. In what ways might our current Sunday morning service seem confusing, uncomfortable, or strange to an unchurched person?

e. The following question is particularly helpful if your church is primarily made up of elderly Christians. If we don’t reach new, younger people, how long before we die out?

4. Gather a small group (even if it’s only you and your spouse) and begin praying, “Father, help us to have a greater outward focus. Father we know you love lost people. Forgive us for being so inward focused. Show us Father, how we might get better at reaching new people. We anticipate some resistance, possibly even from some of our own members, and ask that you would go before us. Father, give us the lost!”

I can help you and your church develop a strategy for moving toward an outward focus. Send me an email. Let’s talk. dave@smallchurchpastor.com

 

 

 

 

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I was recently asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the sixth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing The challenge of how to measure church health.

I have to admit that there does seem to be more talk these days about church health than church growth. However, sometimes church health is secretly the focus one employs to achieve what they are really after…church growth. The easy way to spot this is if you hear the person promoting church health make some comment like, “Church health will lead to church growth. A healthy church will be a growing church.” Sometimes this is true, but not always. You can have a healthy church that is not growing and you can have a growing church that is not healthy. Numbers are not necessarily an indication of health or lack thereof. How then can we measure church health? Percentages.

A church is healthy if there is a growing percentage of it’s members involved in things like small groups, serving in ministries, personal evangelism, personal devotions, tithing, etc. For example, a church with an attendance of 100 that has 35% of it’s members participating in outreach activities would be healthier (at least in the area of outreach) than a church of 1000 that only has 20% involvement. A church of 200 with 40% involvement in small groups and a church of 3000 with 40% involvement would be equally healthy in the area of small groups.

Pareto Principle ‘The Pareto principle’ (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparseness) states that, for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. Business management thinker Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population. It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.”

If the Pareto principle is true in business it is certainly true in most churches. Doesn’t it seem like 80% of your giving comes from 20% of your people? Don’t 20% of your people do 80% of the work? Therefore, 20% involvement in personal devotions would be normal (not necessarily good, but normal) and anything above that is movement up the church health scale.

Leadership Team Project.

Want an interesting and helpful activity for you and your leaders? At your next leadership team meeting:

1. Draw up a list of things you would hope your members would participate in, things that you think are healthy for Christians, i.e. small groups, serving in ministries, etc.

2. Figure out what percentage of your adult members are participating in each of the areas you identified.

3. Determine a way to track these percentages so that six months from now you can see if the percentages have grown, remained the same, or declined.

4. Score each area based on the Pareto principle. Below 20% is below normal. 20% is normal. Above 20% is better than normal. The higher the percentage shows the higher health.

Sometimes smaller churches are healthier than they realize. We must discover ways to determine health, ways other than merely looking at attendance. ‘Percentages’ is an objective and accurate way to measure the health of your church.

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I was recently asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of rejecting a culturally imposed definition of success.

(The following is an excerpt from my book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’)

“The western church defines success almost exclusively by numbers, i.e. how many were in attendance, and how much was in the offering?

There were times when I didn’t look forward to hanging out with pastors because I knew that eventually someone was going to ask me, “So…how are things going at your church?” This question is usually the way one pastor finds out if they are more or less successful than another pastor.

If my church was growing (which was seldom) then I didn’t mind answering their question. If my church was not growing (which was often), I asked to be excused, said something about the stomach flu, and ran out the door.

Seriously, it didn’t matter how many good things were happening in my church, I didn’t really feel successful if my church was in decline or had plateaued for a long period of time. Someone could have been raised from the dead and I’d be thinking, “That’s nice, but that church down the street, the one that is bigger than us, they’re more successful than we are.”

I like to challenge pastors to sit down with their leaders and discover ways to define success in their church that have very little to do with size or numbers.

There’s a difference between wanting to have success and needing to have success in order to feel good about yourself and your church. We need to detach from the need to be thought of as successful.”

Rather than asking questions like, “How large is my church?”, try answering questions such as:

Am I being faithful to my family?

Am I being faithful to my call?

Is my church healthy?

How will I determine if my church is healthy? (This is a topic I will be dealing with in a later post.)

What percentage of my church is involved in some sort of ministry?

Do my people seem to be growing in their relationship with Jesus?

Is there joy when my people gather?

Are my people inviting new people to church or other related events?

What are we doing to reach new people?

Are my people generous with their time, money, and gifts?

Can you think of any other questions?

I know you’ve been told, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, but this isn’t always true. I work with many healthy churches that are small, that are not growing, that have plateaued. My experience has been that you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing and you can have a unhealthy church that is growing.

When you talk to pastors in countries that have not been affected by our western brand of Christianity you soon discover that they are not very concerned with numbers like we are.

It’s important that we are able to recognize what are culturally imposed expectations for us as pastors and for our churches, and what are Biblically imposed expectations. These can be, and often are, different.

 

 

board

I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. After seven years of coaching pastors and thirty years of being a pastor myself, I know something about the on-going challenges most pastors deal with. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series. Here we go…

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of working with a dysfunctional board.

“Not me. I’ve got an awesome church board.” I believe you. I’m happy for you. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that all church boards are dysfunctional. I’m working with and have worked with many pastors who have wonderful leadership teams and church boards. However, I know enough pastors who have, in my opinion, a dysfunctional board, to add this to my list of my top ten challenges pastors face.

When I was recording a podcast for 200churches.com on this subject I was asked, “What do you mean by ‘dysfunctional board’? That’s a good question.

A dysfunctional board is one that sees their job as ‘business-focused’ rather than ‘spiritual’.

A dysfunctional board is one that fights and opposes every idea the pastor has.

A dysfunctional board is one that ties the hands of the pastor preventing the pastor from leading the church.

A dysfunctional board is one that is filled with spiritually immature board members.

A dysfunctional board is one that is unclear as to what their job is.

A dysfunctional board is one that thinks they know what their job is, but they don’t.

A dysfunctional board is one that has members that should have stepped down a long time ago.

If a pastor is afraid of or intimidated by any board member, he or she has a dysfunctional church board. (Of course, the pastor being afraid or intimidated might reflect a dysfunctional pastor but that topic will have to wait for another time.)

Unfortunately many congregations have an established polity that can easily contribute to a dysfunctional church board. For example:

In many churches board members are voted in by the congregation and often the congregation has no idea the type of person who is qualified to serve on a church board. In many churches the board’s job is to handle the ‘business-part’ of the church with little or no concept of being a spiritual calling requiring spiritual and godly leaders. In many churches there are no term-limits so dysfunctional board members serve until they resign or die. In many churches the board has too much power and authority over the pastor.

These are just a few examples of church polity that the pastor can have very little power to change.

So what’s a pastor to do if they find themselves in a situation like this? Here are four suggestions.

1. Pray. Ask the Father to change the hearts of your board. You could ask that the Father remove the dysfunctional board member (I’m not talking about lightening) so you don’t have to. Maybe God needs to change some dysfunction in you that is contributing to the dysfunction in the board. Again…another topic for another time.

2. Gear up for the long haul. Be patient. Leading a board from dysfunctional to functional is not going to happen over-night. This is going to take time. Sometimes it will seem like two steps forward and one step back…sometimes two steps back.

3. Invest relationally with the board members you find difficult to work with. Oftentimes resistance we experience from dysfunctional board members is the result of a lack of trusting relationships. Try to spend time together not to discus church stuff but to have fun, to get to know each other better.

4. Reeducate your team as to what the role of a board should be. Again…this will take time. I can help. I’ve developed six Church Board Training Modules. These one hour conference calls are designed to reeducate, refocus, and reinvigorate your board. To find out more go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fear

I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. I guess because I’ve now entered into my eighth year of coaching pastors they thought I might know something about this. What you’re reading is the fourth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge dealing with their fears.

A while back I began to notice how often pastors make decisions or take action motivated by fear or anger…and sometimes both. I’m going to leave ‘anger’ for another time. I hope that doesn’t make you mad.

When I was pastoring there were many things that I feared. Some of them I was conscious of and others not.

I was afraid of losing people.

I was afraid of people not liking me.

I was afraid of loosing my job.

I was afraid of loosing my paycheck.

I was afraid of a bad offering.

I was afraid of the church failing.

I was afraid of making a significant mistake.

I was afraid of my marriage suffering because of the ministry.

I was afraid of my children suffering because of the ministry.

I was afraid of my soul suffering because of the ministry.

If any of these fears are yours, I don’t fault you. Most of our fears do have a base in reality. In my opinion the list above contain legitimate fears.

I know, I know…Jesus said, “Fear not” but we do.

Not only is fear an unpleasant burden to live under, fear affects how we lead, the decisions we make or don’t make. It’s hard to think clearly when you are fearful. It’s hard to hear from God when your ears are plugged up with fear.

So what’s a pastor to do? What steps might one take to loosing fear’s grip?

First of all, admit it to yourself and a trusted friend. Hear yourself say to yourself, “I’m afraid of…” Hear yourself tell someone else, “I’ve noticed that I’m afraid of…”

There is something freeing about admitting our weaknesses.

Next, bring the specific fears to Jesus in prayer.

I always fear (see, there it is) coming across condescending when I remind pastors of scriptures but here goes:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6,7)

I don’t want to be simplistic. The stronger the fear the harder it can be to dislodge it. But here’s the thing. Notice the connection Paul makes between prayer and peace? In our solitude with God we will find peace, courage, faith, wisdom, and healing for the things we are afraid of. Fear can be weakened. Fear can be overcome. It might take some time for prayer to ‘work’ but prayer works. Keep bringing your fears to Jesus.

The Father doesn’t want your soul or your ministry to be weighed down with fear. Take the steps necessary to move away from fear. You can do it!

 

 

 

worry

A while back I was asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the third in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of living under financial pressure either personally, corporately, or both.

Typically if the church is doing well financially the pastor is doing well financially. By “well” I mean the pastor is receiving an appropriate salary that his/her family can live on comfortably.) However, if the church is doing poorly, financially, then it will eventually effect the pastor in the form of a reduced salary, benefits, or both.

One pastor recently said, “Dave, I always feel like I’m one bad offering away from not getting a paycheck.” I’ve been there. I know how that feels. Constantly living under this pressure is no fun, it wears you out. Another pastor said something similar, “If we don’t have a good offering this week we won’t be able to pay our church bills.” Again…been there.

One of the advantages the bivo-pastors have is that they usually don’t have to worry about their personal finances as much as the fully-funded pastors. But still, even if you are bivocational your church can be struggling financially and it effects you.

I was recording a podcast for 200churches.com on the topic of ‘Working with a dysfunctional church board.’ The question came up, “What, in your opinion, is the purpose of a church board?” Good question.

I believe the first job of the church board is to take care of the pastor. This means many things, one of which is to make sure the pastor receives a salary enabling their family to live comfortably without the worry of finances. A pastor has enough to worry about. They shouldn’t also have to worry about how they will pay their bills and buy food for their children.

Many church boards try to give their pastor as generous a salary as they can but they only have so much to work with. You can’t give what you don’t have. However, my experience in working with pastors has proven that many times church boards could give the pastor more but choose not to. There are many explanations for this but time will not allow me to comment here.

So if you are among those pastors who are experiencing financial pressure what can you do?

First, and forgive me for shameless self-promotion, you could bring me in (via conference call) to talk to your board and do some training with them. I have 6 training modules for church boards one of which is titled: Spending priorities and the pastor’s pay package. To learn more go here.

Second, you and your spouse need to go into your prayer closet where there is only enough room for you and Jesus. In that crowed place, as the three of you bump into each other, the peace of Christ will rub off on you. It might take a few visits before you’ll begin to feel better. The closet might result in a change in your circumstances (more money available to you) but even if it doesn’t, one thing is certain, the burden, the worry, will begin to weaken it’s grip on your emotions.

Finally, hang in there. You are not alone. Pastors all over this country are experiencing and feeling the same things you are. God has promised to meet your needs. Try to trust Him for that.

burger

A while back I was asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. I guess because I’ve now entered into my eighth year of coaching pastors they thought I might know something about this. What you’re reading is the second in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of maintaining a limited focus.

Smaller churches lack the resources of larger churches. This does not mean they will not be able to provide meaningful ministry to their members and community, but it does mean they will have to be more selective in what they offer.

In 1948, the first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. Harry’s idea of a drive-thru hamburger stand where customers could order through a two-way speaker box was quite unique. In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry’s idea caught on and California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand was born.

The Snyder’s business philosophy was simple: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” These principles have worked so well over the years that they are still the company’s fundamental philosophy. In-N-Out Burger has basically three items on their menus: burgers, fries, and drinks. There are no salads, no burritos, no chicken sandwiches. Think of the huge variety most other fast food chains offer. You would think In-N-Out made a mistake in limiting what they offer but they continue to be one of the most popular food chains in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

I think smaller churches (and the pastors who lead them) need to follow the example of In-N-Out…do a few things well and, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

What do you have the resources and time to do? By adding more ministries prematurely, or by taking on responsibilities you don’t have the time to take on, are you running the risk of providing a poor product and equally as bad, burned out workers? It would be better to do a few things well than a bunch of things half-baked that burn out you and your people.

  • If you can’t do multi-media well…don’t do multi-media.
  • If you don’t have the manpower (usually it’s womanpower) to do a full-on Sunday school program, don’t do one.
  • If there are not resources and interest for doing small groups…let it go and wait until the time is right.

You get the point. Smaller churches, and smaller church pastors, need to copy In-N-Out not Dennys. Dennys offers everything you could ever want. In-N-Out…burgers, fries, and drinks. Since mission statements are so popular these days, perhaps your mission statement should be In-N-Out’s: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

 

 

 

busy

I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. I guess because I’ve now entered into my eighth year of coaching pastors they thought I might know something about this. What you’re reading is the first in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of being too busy.

In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson says, “In order for there to be conversation and prayer that do the pastoral work of meeting the intimacy needs among people, there must be a wide margin of quiet leisure that defies the functional, technological, dehumanizing definitions that are imposed upon people by others in the community…”

Remember that phrase, “…a wide margin of quiet leisure…”

Having interacted with hundreds of pastors in North America and around the world I have observed that most of those in the ministry are too busy. There is simply no time for the “wide margin of quiet leisure” that Peterson speaks of. Because of this many pastors feel tired, stressed, and spiritually dry.

How can we lead others into deep waters if we ourselves live in the shallows generated by constant activity? Few people are more constantly active than the average pastor.

The pastor’s week is filled with phone calls and follow up, meetings and mentoring, emails, sermonizing, problem solving, people placating, visitation and vision-casting, drop-ins, counseling, planning, and dodging bullets.

Richard Foster commented in Celebration of Discipline, “In contemporary society our adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness” he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked, “Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”

Great pastors are organized and focused and productive without the sense of being driven, hurried, or busy.

“Life for many leaders is a blur of activity and planning, with sparse occasions for reflection (margin), replenishing (margin), rejoicing (margin), and responding to (margin) the relationship the Lord is inviting them to experience and enjoy in Him. The urgent crowds out the essential. Doing ignores being. Developing skills becomes more important than shaping character.” (TransforMissional Coaching)

Can you think of any good things you could take off your plate in order to make margin for better things such as: spiritual formation, thinking and planning, and cultivating key relationships? Notice, I said good things.

For most of us the challenge is not to take bad things off our plate. Bad things are obvious, they prick our conscience. What pushes us over the edge are good things that crowd out better things. Our calendars are not filled with too much bad, but with too much good.

God will give me all the time I need to do the things He wants me to do. ‘Too busy’ is an indication that there is something in my life that did not originate from God.

(This article is an excerpt from my first book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’ to be released this year.)

challenges

A while back I was asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com to come up with my top 5 challenges pastors face. I guess because I’ve now entered into my eighth year of coaching pastors they think I might know something about this. 😉

I thought, “That’s a good question. What would be my top 5?” 1, 2, and 3 came easily. Then 4 and 5…then 6, 7, and 8. When I was done I had 10. Looking over my list I realized that this could be a good series for me to write about. So I’m going to start. But before I do I wanted some ideas from you. Below you’ll find my top 5, I mean 10, challenges pastors constantly face. If after looking over the list you feel I’ve left something out (and I’m sure I have) leave a comment. Here’s my list:

1. The challenge of staying close to Jesus.

2. The challenge of not being too busy.

3. The challenge of staying focused on doing a few things well rather than many things mediocre.

4. The challenge of living under financial pressure personally or corporately or both.

5. The challenge of working with a dysfunctional church board.

6. The challenge of rejecting a culturally-imposed definition of success.

7. The challenge of how to measure church health.

8. The challenge of facing and overcoming various manifestations of fear.

9. The challenge of moving the church towards an outward focus.

10. The challenge of establishing and maintaining personal and cooperate priorities.

Let me know if you have any questions about my list or if there is anything you’d like to add to this list.