FIVE PREACHER FAILS

October 26, 2016

I am intimately familiar with preacher fails. I have lived through a host of my own. Here are five common ones.

  • Lack of discipline. Usually the church world allows quite a bit of daily freedom for preachers to be about their ministry. This freedom can be easily taken advantage of—preachers staying at home and away—not being fully engaged in productive ministry. We preachers already put up with the “you only work three hours a week” barbs. Let’s not allow laziness and lack of discipline to give that any credence. Instead let’s fully “carry out the ministry God has given” us (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT).
  • Inattention to study. Lack of discipline can also lead to sloppy study habits, which in turn damages our ability to effectively speak truth in love. Don’t take shortcuts on sermon preparation. We should put the proper study time in—so that we can be both confident in our presentation and content; that we are in fact handling correctly the Word of God.
  • Inability to listen. I once was convinced that I pretty much had all of the answers and I was eager to share them! Failure on my part to appreciate and to listen to other’s council, to hear proper constructive criticism, to simply learn from wiser and more experienced people hurt my ministry at times. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak!
  • Complaining. Everyone needs a place to vent on occasion—the same is true for preachers, but be very careful not to be seen as a whiner or complainer. This can undermine ministry. I have participated in and heard my fair share of elder roasts, how-terrible-my-church-is conversations, and complaints about everything from salaries to worship style. If things need improving usually complaining or whining is not the catalyst to make it happen. Instead let’s try to do all things without complaining and grumbling (Philippians 2:14).
  • People Pleasing. We all desire affirmation—preachers are no exception. And as preachers we certainly want to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I may save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), but not to the point of compromising personal or biblical integrity. Ultimately we will give account of our life and ministry to God. We simply cannot allow a desire to please people set the agenda for our work. It can be harmful to us, to our families and to our ministry. There is a balance here that we all must find.

Preaching is one of the most noble and needed callings! Let’s do it with a passion for excellence. I praise God for good preachers!


The Growing Healthcare Crisis Among Ministers?

November 19, 2014

First, this post is not about partisan politics. I am not inviting any harsh rhetoric or political debates. This would be counterproductive.

I am inviting a dialogue. I am seeking information. Perhaps something you know could help someone else.

Those who are in full-time ministry occupy a rather unique tax status. We are considered self-employed when it comes to Social Security, but employed when it comes to income tax. That is one financial hurdle of our profession.

Another one–particularly for those of us serving in independent fellowships (such as the Churches of Christ)–is that there is no church-wide system to assist us in such things as planning retirement and healthcare. If assistance for these things exists they are negotiated through the local congregation in which we serve. And since most of our congregations of the Churches of Christ are not that large they cannot afford much more than just a salary. This leaves the minister alone to bear the expense of both retirement and healthcare and quite often either one or both go lacking.

I have seen and lived the consequences of this over the years. I know ministers who continue to work well past retirement years out of necessity (yes, some continue because they enjoy serving and could not imagine ever not being involved in ministry). I have also known (and this seems to be only increasing) ministers who have either no or very inadequate healthcare coverage (particularly if they do not receive it through the employment of their spouse).

Yes, there seems to be a growing healthcare crisis among ministers. While I do not know the workings of or specific details about the new Affordable Healthcare Act–the information I am getting from fellow ministers is, that it is only making an already expensive situation even more costly and more complicated.

(Personal disclosure: I and my family do have healthcare coverage which we provide for ourselves. Currently I have a grandfathered health insurance policy. It is standard stuff, but not widely accepted in my area. I am able to use it, but only with one hospital system in my city. This is not ACA related. This has to do with my insurance brand and how they do business with the local hospitals and doctors. My wife and kids have another standard type policy with another insurer which is widely accepted. They are good through 2015 and then (we have been told) because of the ACA will have to find other coverage. I disclose this to say that I yet have had to deal with the changes brought in by the ACA and therefore cannot personally speak to it. My conclusion of the ACA increasing costs comes from information shared by other ministers currently involved/enrolled in it.)

So, what can be done about this crisis? What can our churches do to help? What alternatives are out there besides what is offered through the ACA? Is the ACA actually working for any ministers?

Ministers and their families without healthcare is not only a personal issue, it would seem to be a congregational one as well. What would happen in your congregation if an uninsured minister or family member became ill or were injured in an accident? Would the congregation feel compelled to cover the costs (or at least some of them)? Would it not be better stewardship then to help provide healthcare for you minister–before a tragedy occurs? What would the weight of healthcare debt do to the ability of a minister to serve effectively? Could this force him out of ministry into another profession that offers healthcare options? There are many questions here–including is there really a crisis?

Perhaps you know some of the answers to these questions. Your input on this is welcome.


Five Ways to Be a Healthy Church

February 12, 2014

For years I read every church growth book on the market. I hung on the testimony “experts” shared. I rode the waves of the church-building trends. I wanted my church to grow; to be relevent; to be on healthy churchthe cutting edge (as much as allowed within my congregational setting, anyway); and to attract others. Eventually, however, I learned that while all of this could produce activity, it was not always healthy activity. What was good for that happening church in the metropolis, was not necessarily good for my church.

Churches come in all shapes, sizes, and traditions. Before importing the latest and greatest from a successfully growing church, we all need to thoughtfully consider if it really fits into our church context. Some things may; some things may not. The key to me is in understanding our own church–and working within it to bring about congregational health–just as we are. I wholeheartedly believe that regardless of worship style, church tradition, location, etc., every church can be healthy and productive in the Lord. Here are five suggestions on how to be a healthy church–just as you are; right where you are:

  • Be Real. This is foundational. Churches that demonstrate a genuine faith struggle attract fellow strugglers. This is the opposite of Christianity as performance. This is church–not about how proud we are to be church; how exceptional our preacher is; how cutting-edge our worship is; how amazing our building and campus is; it is about real folks who have found forgiveness and fulfillment in Christ. It is about demonstrating and celebrating the real difference Christ has made in our lives. It is about being true to him, his will and who we are in him. No pretense; no put-on. Jesus is our identity. He is the reason why we worship. It is not trying to be something we are not. If we can learn to become genuinely transparent with our faith at our church–our church will be healthy and being healthy, ready to be used by God in fantastic ways.
  • Be Welcoming. Truthfully, many churches are not that welcoming. They think they are, but in practice they are not very sensitive to the experience of guests. To be welcoming means to be intentional about it. It is more than just a friendly mindset, it is an intentional atmosphere created within a church to make every guest’s experience as pleasant and encouraging as possible. All churches have people who visit. What is the reception they receive? Are they greeted? Are they assisted in finding their way around? Is there informational material to share with them? Is that material updated? Are church members interacting with the guests? Why is this so key to being a healthy church? Not only does it greatly assist guests–ensuring a great church experience for them and an incentive to return; it creates an outward focus for the church. Unhealthy churches have an inward focus. Healthy churches seek ways to serve others. Being a welcoming church is where an outward focus can start.
  • Be Your Best. This point really speaks to worship and worship styles. Perhaps nothing has harmed churches more over the last few decades than worship wars–people feuding within churches as to which worship style will be practiced. None of that has been very healthy. What is healthy is when we simply do our best (within our worship context) to worship God “in spirit and truth.” We put our entire heart and soul into our Sunday gathering. We do not hold back in our devotion and praise to God. Certainly, we use gifted people to lead and assist us, but it is also our best God desires. We can have the latest technology; the most gifted leading us; the most contemporary song selection and still not have healthy worship. Healthy worship is when we are all engaged–offering the best of ourselves to God as we worship. When we do, it will be a tremendous witness to our faith and relationship to God–a witness other’s will notice and from which they will gain strength. Healthy churches do not get lost in an over-focus on the latest worship bells and whistles–they engage the heart of the worshipper to bring out the very best we have to offer.
  • Be Grace-Filled. Healthy churches realize that there are none perfect (“not even one”- Romans 3:10) and operate in God’s spirit of grace. Forgiveness is fundamental among healthy churches. Healthy churches welcome everyone to journey as fellow grace travellers. Healthy churches are not judgmental nor self-righteous. Healthy churches offer a safe place of refuge for all who are weary in the world. God’s grace oozes from healthy churches.
  • Be Flexible. This may be the most difficult! Not speaking of any type of Biblical or value compromise here, just the ability to adjust to changing culture. Think Paul here–becoming “all things to all people” in order to spread the gospel to as “many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Healthy churches do not get stuck in the rut of tradition to the point that they fail to live in the present. The church is called out to minister in our time and place. Healthy churches have enough flexibility to adapt to their changing communities and offer a compelling contemporary message about the old rugged cross.

How all of this will look– lived out in churches is as different as the churches themselves. It is not presented as some exhaustive check-list–just what I have observed over the years within healthy churches.

 

 

 

 


Five Things Preachers Would Like You to Know

February 10, 2014

preaching_cartoon_1*The following information is based on years of conversations with preachers; years of being a preacher; and a more focused dialogue I had with a select few preachers. It is not a scientific study, nor does it represent all preachers. 

Don’t you like when a disclaimer starts things off! It was necessary, however. Each preacher’s experience–while sharing many similarities–is also unique. Just like each church is unique. So, I am not pretending to speak for all preachers in this post. The five bullet points I share do, though, speak for many (including myself).

  1. Preaching is our calling. For most of us, preaching is not just a job. A job is usually something you can take or leave. It is necessary, of course, but not necessarily life-defining. Preaching is life-defining. It is not just what we do; it is who we are. Preaching knows no nine-to-five mentality. It is not something we can leave at the office. It is what we feel compelled by God to do. Ask your preacher about this. He will tell you.
  2. Our goal is to “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is a part of our call. We must be faithful to Jesus; to preach him; to have a cross-centered message. It is not primarily about preaching church. It is first and foremost about preaching Christ. He is our main agenda. For some preachers this, unfortunately, has brought them into conflict with their churches–when other agendas developed within those churches. As preachers, we realize that ultimately it will be Christ who will hold us accountable for what we preach (James 3:1). So, our aim is to lift him up in order for all to be drawn unto him.
  3. We love the church. Most preachers of my acquaintance would do everything in their power not to bring harm or disunity to the church. It is the precious bride and body of Christ. Our desire is to see the church flourish and grow; to see it be relevant to its community; to witness spiritual lethargy turned into spiritual energy; to be a part of changing lives; of renewal; of revival. This is one reason why we do what we do.  Few things matter more to a preacher than the health of his church.
  4. We often feel insecure. Preachers feel vulnerable quite frequently. It seems to come with the territory. Whether it is connected to our own personal weaknesses; our own perceived feeble efforts in the huge responsibility of proclaiming the gospel; or the atmosphere and attitude within our congregations; preaching does not usually come with lots of job security. Most preachers agree that it is better than it used to be, but still insecurity lingers.
  5. We just want to be accepted as family. It may come as a surprise to non-preachers, but many preachers (and families) find it difficult to make friends. One preaching brother told me that one of his college professors (who had been a preacher) expressly told his class not to make friends where they preached! Even though I do not agree with that reasoning, I understand it. The best thing you can do for your preacher is make him feel at home. Get to know him. Spend time outside of the church building with him and his family. Trust me on this one.

God places an extremely high value on preaching and preachers:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Value your preacher. Let him know you appreciate his efforts to preach “Christ and him crucified.”

 


Five Observations About Urban Ministry

November 8, 2013

First up, just so you know–I am no expert on this topic.

I am, however, blessed by being surrounded by folks who are on the front lines of urban outreach.

My church has a dedicated group of men and women who give so much of themselves in serving the urban neighborhoods which surround our campus. River City Ministry is not far away. They do an incredible job in the inner city of North Little Rock, Arkansas–as does the Silver City church. I praise God for them all. Their vision and passion is unstoppable.  I hang out on the edges of these ministries. Occasionally I assist them in small ways, but mostly I observe their tremendous work. And here are some of those observations:

  • The poor will always be with us. Well obviously, this is not an original observation (Matthew 26:11). The plight of poverty will never totally be solved. We can move away from it. We can pretend it does not exist. We can insulate ourselves from it, but it remains. What also remains is our divinely mandated call to respond to it. If we truly want our churches to look like Christ, then embedded in our outreach must be the preaching of the good news to the poor (Matthew 11:5) as well as the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the care of the needy (Matthew 25:31-46). If we are the hands and feet of Jesus this is among what those hands and feet will be doing.
  • There are no quick fixes. This is a long-haul ministry. It is hard work. It is full of disappointments. No way to sugar coat it with pithy platitudes. Helping people who struggle with not only poverty, but with its underlying causes takes lasting commitment and a huge servant’s heart.
  • It goes beyond handouts. Handouts are immediate needs-based responses that sometimes are absolutely necessary, but healthy urban ministry approaches have a larger vision. The goal is to attack poverty by helping those in it, begin moving beyond it. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways centered in relationship building. but is a crucial component of urban outreach. Two books detail a vision for this– When Helping Hurts and Toxic CharityIf you are considering become involved in urban ministry, I suggest you check those two books out.
  • Be careful of burnout. In such a ministry that demands so much, burnout can beckon. Those on the front lines of urban ministry need our prayers, support, help, and encouragement.
  • It is a transformative ministry. Earlier I mentioned disappointments, but there are also triumphs. Lives are changed–sometimes dramatically. Not just talking about finding homes or jobs, but finding Christ and being totally transformed by his grace. This is at the heart of urban ministry. Christ does change everything! This can be true of churches also. Stagnant, self-absorbed churches can be transformed into vibrant, others-minded servant churches through the difference making of urban ministry.

It is easy to become hardened and cynical toward poverty and those in it. Try seeing them as Jesus does. This is the vision that drives urban ministry.

I thank God for those with this vision.


Changes Along the Way

November 5, 2012

As a young preacher I was preparing to preach a gospel meeting. In a conversation with the older local minister he shared his conviction that unless a sermon had at least twenty-five biblical verses in it– it really was not a true “gospel” sermon. Absorbing that bit of wisdom I revisited each planned sermon and added more verses to ensure I had my twenty-five. After all, I wanted to preach the gospel! 🙂

Well, that was then. Since, that time I have made some changes along the way in my approach to preaching and ministry:

  • I no longer have twenty-five verses in a sermon. Usually, I concentrate on trying to teach one text. Not only is this easier for the listeners to process, the value of stopping to unpack one section of Scripture is tremendous.
  • I try to go into Bible study unfiltered (I say “try” because this is never totally possible. We all bring along preconceptions to the study process.) Earlier in my ministry I quite frequently went to text to prove a point or reprove a doctrinal position. While reproving is still profitable when needed (see 2 Timothy 3:16) I no longer believe it should be primary in approaching Scripture. Now I do my best to let a text inform me (rather than me inform it) by spending time with it in context. It takes more time then the “concordance” approach I used to take, but it is so much more valuable.
  • I no longer obsess over Sunday attendance or bang the congregation up over it. Sure, I still want as many as possible every Sunday, but instead of getting upset over who isn’t here, I rejoice over those who are. Attendance remains a gauge, but not the only or even primary one. Had I understood this earlier I would have spared myself (and my church) major grief!
  • I finally figured out that what worked so well at that workshop speaker’s or famous writer’s church usually did not work so well at mine. There simply is no “one size fits all” church growth plan.
  • I learned that God is much broader, bigger, more awesome, and encompassing than the little box I kept him in for a while. Along the way I constructed bigger boxes until finally realizing I had to throw them all away. Then I begin to see how truly little I am and how incredible it is that God has been mindful of me.
  • I try to no longer take myself and what others say (positive or negative) as seriously as I once did. What I try to take more seriously is that whatever I do or say, I do it to please God and to his glory.
  • More and more I embrace Paul’s approach to teaching and preaching and that being to simply preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The scandal of the cross was his solution to the Corinthian situation and it remains central to redeeming our human condition. In the end it is that empty tomb that matters most.  That is where I want to take people in my preaching. I cannot always say this has been so.
  • Finally, I have discovered that the more I learn, the less I know. Although occasionally I long for the days when I knew it all. Life was easier then!

I am reminded of this quote from Augustine: “The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.” I do pray that my changes along the way reflect this.

Or it could be like a friend tells me, “Just because you are older does not mean you are wiser!”


Becoming a Visitor Friendly Church #2

September 26, 2012

Just how does a visitor view his or her time with us? Is it easy for them to find classrooms and seats in the auditorium? How are they greeted? What type of information is available to them to answer questions they may have about our church? What are their impressions of our worship?

These are all essential questions to ask and answer if a church is to become truly visitor friendly. Ignore them and a church will never (regardless of a friendly spirit) maximize  the outreach opportunities visitors present.

A growing church is one that purposefully and prayerfully plans to grow, commits the needed resources to grow, equips members for the planting and watering process and then enjoys the God-given increase. A growing church is a visitor friendly church. A growing church has a visitor friendly worship

WHAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN

A visitor friendly worship does not mean a compromise of any biblically defined worship practices. Yes, there is a consumer driven mentality present in our religious culture today. We need to understand that and respond to it, but not to the point of losing our identity, destroying our traditions and undermining our biblical convictions. Being a visitor friendly church does not mean “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

WHAT IT DOES MEAN

Simply stated it means examining every aspect of our worship time from the eyes of a visitor. Is it easy for visitors to find seating? Do we have any designated seating for visitors? Do visitors understand what we are doing when we commune? Do they know what might be expected of them when the collection plates are passed around? Do they know exactly what to do with their children?  Are they confused by our announcements? Are they warmly greeted after services are over? Do they receive an invitation for lunch? These are extremely important questions for us to consider. The goal of a visitor friendly church is to make their worship service not only uplifting and inspiriing, but also understandable to visitors. Let’s examine these one at a time:

  • Seating. Finding a seat in a busy, crowded auditorium can be challenging and stressful for visitors- especially first-time visitors who may not know their way around and may not know anyone in the church. Many visitor friendly churches provide reserved seating for visitors and ushers to escort them to that seating. What better way to make a visitor feel at home and feel wanted than to give them this kind of personal attention?
  • Welcome/Announcements. Often during this part of a service many things are discussed (some in great detail) that have absolutely no meaning to visitors. Obviously there are occasions when church business must be shared, but visitor friendly churches try to limit getting lost in too many details. There are other avenues for communication of family news. Rather, visitor friendly churches focus on the greeting- welcoming and providing information key to help the visitors feel comfortable. Compare it to having guests in your home. You know your way around. They do not. So you go out of your way to be hospitable. So do visitor friendly churches.
  • Singing. Worship leaders should always be thinking in terms of a visitor friendly worship in planning song selection. New and unfamiliar songs should not be often sung during the assembly with the largest number of visitors. Like it or not, visitors will form an impression of us from their worship experience with us- from the moment they are greeted- to the actual worship- and until they drive away. What better way to make a good impression (not to mention encourage each other) by singing familiar songs with all our heart.
  • Communion. Many visitors will not have a clear understanding of communion. They may not know what the elements mean and why we practice it. It is so very important to provide a simple and concise explanation of this time together. This is a beautiful and celebrated part of our worship so we should want our visitors to understand it. The focus at this time is on Christ. He is who we want our visitors to remember.
  • Offering. Again a simple explanation is important for visitors. It is just helpful to direct them as we go through our worship. Again, information in written form should be provided to supplement this.
  • Sermon. Church growth studies consistently indicate that positive pulpit presence is vital for a growing church. Visitors respond to timely, biblical and practical messages. Preachers must be visitor aware and never assume a visitor knows a Bible story or where a passage is.
  • After Worship. Back to greeting here. Greeting not only happens before church but afterward as well. Are we making sure to catch visitors on their way out? Do we make sure they are leaving with pertinent information about us? (church bulletin, brochures) Are we inviting visitors to lunch? This all takes extra effort but visitor friendly churches make this effort.

Other elements such as the total time of a service are important to consider from a visitor’s perspective. Church growth studies indicate that visitors are not necessarily clock conscience as long as the worship relates to them and moves at an energetic pace.

There are many aspects of becoming a thoroughly visitor church. Having a friendly spirit is definitely the foundation, but the work is in the details. It will not happen by accident. A visitor friendly church is one that purposefully prays and plans for it to happen