What Pastors can learn from IN-N-OUT BURGER

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 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 to do? By adding more ministries prematurely 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 people out.

  • 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 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.”

Zombies make poor parishioners

Have you ever had some great idea, I mean, really felt God was leading you into some focus or direction for the church, but when it came time to communicate it to your congregation they just stared at you like zombies? Or maybe you have coffee with someone in your church because you think they’d be great at heading up some ministry. You lay out the need, explain the commitment and are overjoyed to hear them say, “Well Pastor, if you think I’d be good at it I’ll give it a try.” You skip away congratulating yourself on what an awesome recruiter you are. But then it happens…it might take a couple months, but it happens…they resign or end up needing so much handholding that you regret ever giving them the responsibility in the first place.

With both scenarios chances are your people didn’t have ownership. Ownership is when your people are as sold on and excited about an idea or project as you are. Ownership is important. Remember this rule: No ownership = zombies. And don’t forget, zombies, with very few exceptions, make poor parishioners. There are four steps to building ownership.

Step One: Be open to the fact that not all good ideas will originate with you or be carried out based on your conviction and enthusiasm alone.

Step Two: Be inclusive. Include people in the decision making process. If people feel like they’ve been included it is more likely they will feel they have ownership.

Step Three: Be willing to risk. If you include people in the decision making process you can bet they will come up with ideas you never thought of, many of them good, some of them bad. The temptation with bad ideas is for the pastor to quickly shoot them down. Usually it’s better to let someone try their idea and discover for themselves that it didn’t work than to see you close the door on it before they have a chance to try.

Step Four:  Be patient. It takes time to create ownership. Chances are your good idea is something you’ve been kicking around in your mind for some time now. Give your people the same time to think, digest, object, brainstorm, pray. This might mean your implementation will be slower but in the end it will be more solid.

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Dirty Harry on Pastoral Counseling

I doubt that Lt. Harry Callahan had even an ounce of pastoral gifting. But if he did I’m sure his philosophy of counseling would have been, “Kill’em all and let God decide.”  Normally I would not turn to someone known as Dirty Harry for advice on pastoral counseling but I have to admit that one of the best things I’ve ever learned about counseling I learned from this character played by the legendary Clint Eastwood. One line…one simple line: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Thank you Dirty Harry.

If you’re like most pastors you know that pastoral counseling can take up a lot of your time. Most would agree that this is part of your job. But the next time you’re ready to recommend Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries…make sure you’re comfortable with some boundaries of your own. After all, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

  • Be willing to admit if a person’s problem is out of your league. Yeah, I know you’ve got the Bible and you know how to pray for deliverance and all that, but some things are just best left to the professional Christian counselor. You can come up with your own list of situations you’ll pass off, but have your list and be willing to refer.
  • Don’t be too quick to agree to meet with a person long term. If the person’s problem is such that they need long term counseling…they probably need a professional.
  • Agree to meet with the person one time in order to adequately understand what it is they are dealing with and to be able to diagnose the best way to address it. Sometimes people think they need pastoral counseling when they need professional Christian counseling and vice-versa. Often times a person might think they need to meet with you for the next seven months when one or two sessions could be enough. I never agree to anything with the person who approaches me for counseling beyond the first meeting.
  • If your pastoral plate is already full, say so. I know we never want to turn someone away but there can be times when we say, “Right now I just don’t have the time to do counseling.” If you find yourself in such a time try to have ready a list of referrals (lay or professional) that you could give the person so that they can get help if they really want to pursue counseling beyond you.

Some ministers love counseling and some don’t. Some are good at it, some poor at it, and many somewhere in-between. Counseling comes with the job but sometimes it’s best to pass…or pass off. Don’t feel bad to refer someone to a professional. Don’t be afraid to admit that it’s out of your league. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you simply don’t have the time to meet with the person long term. And don’t forget the words of our good friend Dirty Harry: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

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Should a Christian bless a Buddhist?

Last Saturday night Ellen and I attended Dancing With the Rogue Valley Stars, a local fundraising event for Sparrow Clubs of southern Oregon. 800 supporters of Sparrow Clubs and the dancers performing had a wonderful time with this take-off from the enormously popular Dancing With The Stars show on TV. At the intermission I struck up a conversation with an elderly woman next to me named Stella. She shared a bit of her life with me. I learned that she was a former dancer and had once owned her own dance studio. She also told me she had been abused in her younger years and that this led to depression, alcohol abuse and even an attempted suicide.  Her life turned around when she embraced Buddhism. Stella was a delightful woman filled with life, love, and peace. I shared with her a bit about my past and present, the lights went down and it was time for the show to resume.

At the end of the evening as Ellen and I stood up to leave I turned to Stella and we joined hands. She told me how much she enjoyed our brief conversation. I agreed with her and said, “God bless you.” She warmly thanked me.

As we made our way through the crowd I realized…I just blessed a Buddhist! Can I do that? Should I have done that? If yes, why? If no, why? Questions for reflection.

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A Noble Fraternity

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

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

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

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

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


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Book Studies or Topical?

From the very beginning the norm for me has been book studies vs. teaching topically. I would teach topically (30% of the time) but usually I would do it the Chuck Smith* way, i.e. pick a book out of the bible and teach through it chapter by chapter. There are a few reasons why I think this is the best approach.

  1. With book studies you always know what you’re teaching on next. There’s no guessing. You know where you left off and you know where to pick up.
  2. Book studies insure that you are teaching the whole Bible, not just subjects you are comfortable with or topics that are your favorites.
  3. Book studies teach your people how to systematically read through the Bible pulling truth out of the scriptures. As they observe you exegete, they learn how to exegete.
  4. Finally, and this is particularly important for the pastor of the smaller church, book studies save you time.

As I stated in reason one, with book studies you always know what’s next. A pastor friend and I were laughing about those times you can sit there (for what seems like hours) staring at a yellow-pad trying to think up something to preach on next Sunday. Maybe you’ve already stolen more sermons off of the internet than your conscience will allow you to bear…so you’re stuck. Ever been there? Book studies save you time! There’s no guessing. You left off in chapter 5 and verse 11 so that means you pick up in verse 12…simple.

Pastors of larger churches have staff to work with. One person works with the youth, another with Children, another handles the administration, etc. Most pastors of smaller churches don’t have a staff (unless you count their families) and they find themselves doing it all, or close to it all. Anything that saves time is worth its weight in gold.

Why not try book studies? Maybe you can use the time saved to take a really good nap.

Do you focus more on book studies or topical and why?

* Chuck Smith started the Calvary Chapel movement in 1965 in Southern California.

Myths Only Pastors Will Get

1. The back door can be closed.

2. Teaching on stewardship results in increased giving.

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

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

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

6. “missional” is new.

7. Traditional church models are automatically ineffective.

8. Mission statements are really important.

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

10. Formal church memberships result in greater commitment.

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

12. Outreach events result in church growth.

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

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

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

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

17. Parishioners will follow the example of their pastor.

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