Category Archives: Ministry
This year, our Louisiana Baptist Missions and Ministry Team held 10 weeks of Summer Network gatherings across Louisiana, and we tried to hit some of our more rural areas and associations. Though 75% of Louisiana is considered Urban by the Census Bureau. A few observations about ministry in Rural Louisiana in 2019:
- There is a growing shortage of pastors. There are associations in our state with 20-25% of their churches without pastors.
- There are more retirees entering the ministry. We met several amazing men who had retired from secular employment and are now pastoring churches! We also have several planting churches! How about ministry as an ENCORE career.
- Rural Pastors are finding innovative ways to meet the changing ministry environments they are in. Addiction, homelessness, poverty are major issues in rural areas, just as in urban areas, and on the minds of pastors. Churches are finding ways to address these. Encouraging.
- Rural Pastors are heroes. They do it without fanfare or abundant resources. I have been inspired by the enthusiasm of young and old pastors in rural areas this summer. Their church of 40 people may seem insignificant, but in a community with 600 people, they are a mega church!
- Relationships among churches and among pastors are lifelines for the stresses of ministry in rural areas. Associational coaching networks are forming. Pastors with education are mentoring pastors who did not have the opportunity. Encouraged by the kingdom mindset across our state.
- Smaller, rural churches have suffered from transfer growth as many older Christians choose to drive out of their community to a larger church in another town. Heard this observation several times from rural pastors this summer in relation to the struggle to find mature Christians to lead. There are seasoned Christians giving up on the small, local church.
- Rural communities are attractive to families and are growing in population and income level. From younger retirees to families that want more space and don’t mind a 45 minute to 1 hour commute daily, demographics are changing in many of our rural areas.
I am a product of rural churches. These churches gave me a great foundation of faith. Ministry looks differently, may move slower, but continues to be fruitful for life change and making disciples. Praying for our Rural pastors and churches.
For most leaders, including me, that moment when a complaint or criticism arises is like a cloud moving in and potential storm rising. Many church leaders have post-traumatic stress that paralyze us whenever complaints and criticism arise. While complaining is condemned in scripture (1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14-15; 1 Peter 4:9) and many complaints are selfish and from power seeking, disgruntled, hurting people; leaders must learn to see the opportunity in every complaint. That’s what the early church did in Acts 6. When “there arose a complaint,” they mobilized people to meet the legitimate need. The result was “the word of God spread”! Conflict is inevitable in relationships, on teams, and in churches. Don’t miss the opportunity!
- Mobilize gifted people to meet the legitimate needs that complaints may reveal.
- Sharpen the mission of sharing with your community through re-prioritizing ministry resources and gifts.
- Make room for new people that God will add as more people are mobilized for ministry and more needs are met.
- Correct, rebuke, teach, and train if complaints reveal prideful, competitive, divisive spirits in the church. 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15
- Say goodbye gracefully to disgruntled, negative influences that refuse to work for unity and solutions and may hold back the mission of the church. Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10. It’s not about who you keep, but who you reach.
- Be thick skinned. Listen to criticism. Learn from it. Don’t get distracted from the mission of spreading the message of Jesus. Proverbs 15:31-32
- Don’t try to do everything or feel like you must answer everyone’s complaints or try to make everyone happy. Gospel first – Acts 6:2. A clear conscience before God is our first responsibility – Acts 24:16.
Failure is pervasive in life and ministry. In his book Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, J.R. Briggs vulnerably shares his story and weaves together the stories of others who had experienced great ministry failure. The book provides a healthy framework for understanding failure, provides solid definitions of success for those in ministry, and connects with some pathways out of ministry failure. Briggs reminds us of the facts that inn our failures we experience God’s grace and power, God does not leave us alone, and God shapes our character. Great book to process if you’re going through a dry season or feel an overwhelming sense of failure in your ministry or career. You can overcome, you can fail forward, you can begin again.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
- Ministry is fertile ground for failure, and failure is fertile ground for ministry.
- Breakdowns often lead to breakthroughs – and sometimes failure can be the very thing that provides the breakthrough we need to experience true ministry.
- Failure is the crucible of character formation.
- The gospel doesn’t keep us from failing but instead transforms it into deeper meaning and a more hopeful purpose.
- Often it is not a major catastrophic event that brings pastors down but the ongoing, unrelenting, oppressive stress on the treadmill of ministry, where we simply cannot keep up the pace.
- Faithful ministry is meeting people where they are and walking with them to where God wants them to be.
- The business-model approach to ministry is product oriented, a biblical approach to ministry is process oriented.
- When we live as faithful followers of Jesus, we are bound to fail – and yet this is a good thing. Failure can be a gift. Failure can be grace. Failure can yield hope.
- Our lives and ministries will be assessed by congruence, not efficiency. It is not found in productivity, competence or progress as much as in the development of Christlike character and coherence of our stories with the character of God.
- There are few professions more open to attack by vulnerability and shame than ministry.
- For pastors one of the most accepted and encouraged yet dangerous and potentially lethal numbing agents is busyness.
- Failure will define us, refine us or redefine us, but it will never leave us the same.
- How we deal with the brokenness around us depends entirely on how we deal with the brokenness inside us.
- There is no spiritual formation and maturity without difficulty and uncertainty. If we are going to continue to grow in our journey with Jesus, we have to continue to risk, opening ourselves up to the possibility of failing again.
I’ve spent most of my ministry in Church Planting, which has required a bivocational approach. I’ve had side hustles as a fireman and a commercial janitor, and the part-time and now full-time rolls as denominational strategist. For the Bivocational Preacher, time is always a challenge. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from 20 years of Bivocational Preaching:
1. Read through the Bible systematically and make outlines
Your devotional time should be separate from your sermon preparation. However, your devotional time should FEED your sermon preparation. As you follow Jesus, by spending time in His word and prayer, journal your thoughts, outline the texts that jump out at you, and develop a system where you’ll remember where that outline and those thoughts were for when you come to that passage in your preaching.
I love the story of the old preacher that was asked by the young preacher, “How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?” The old preacher said, “About 35 years.”
The older I get, the more my preaching benefits from a systematic reading through the Bible every year.
2. Get a handle on a few solid and simple tools
Sermon prep tools are plentiful. Bible software, commentaries, websites, etc. Most preachers love study, so we can get bogged down with so many tools. As a bivocational pastor I’ve had to cut through my love for the bells and whistles and pull together fewer and simpler tools for each sermon and series. Usually two commentaries, a free online interlinear tool, a Bible Handbook and Dictionary, and my devotional feeds do the trick for me.
This also helps me with one of my goals in preaching. I don’t want anyone to walk away from a sermon I preach and say, “I could never do that.” Simple tools that you can pass along to others for a small costs keeps the preaching ministry of the church reproducible.
3. Have a system for recording quotes, illustrations, and ideas
The morning paper for most of us has moved online. Preachers need a system for collecting data, articles, and quotes that we come across throughout our online lives. D.L. Moody did this with newspapers and books, amassing a collection of quips and illustrations that fathoms the mind. There are numerous online clipping tools and places for storing ideas. I like the Evernote Webclipper. It allows you to create categories and tags for easy location by topic later. I also follow hundreds of blogs and feeds daily in Feedly. Feedly allows you to save articles by categories for easy location by topic later as well. I also subscribe to Preaching Today for $69 per year, which includes an archive of illustrations from the news and history. There are other subscription based services that can be utilized as well.
4. Start preparing early
Monday morning is key to a prepared sermon. If I don’t have at least a rough outline by the end of the day Monday, I’m behind on the sermon the rest of the week. Ideally you can get two – four weeks out. And I recommend preaching series of sermons, where a team can be utilized in planning and the big ideas for the series along with the major tools to be utilized are planned out months in advance.
Smoked meat is the best tasting of all. The key to delicious smoked meat is TIME. Like that, I like to get my sermon outlines done far enough in advance (2-4 weeks) to give them time to fill with flavor and soak in thoroughly. A great Sunday for me is actually, a sermon that soaked for at least two weeks and delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then heading home to pull some delicious beef, pork, or turkey out of the smoker. Yes!
5. Commit 30 minutes to 1 hour everyday
When you’re bivocational, often time does not allow for 4-6 hours of preparation at once. I try to budget 30 minutes to 1 hour each day for a “Sermon Look.” Take a look at your outlines, pray over them, consider any current events or news or quotes to include. For me, this mean getting up extra early or staying at the computer for an extra 30 minutes to an hour. I also like to include discussing the passage with my wife and kids, and maybe a few trusted friends, throughout the week to get their perspective and help me in thinking through communication of the truths to real people.
6. Depend on God’s Power
It’s usually when I’m least prepared and when I feel the delivery was the poorest, that someone comes up and says, “This message changed my life!” What?!?! This always reminds me, that it’s God’s work to use his messengers how he sees fit. All the preparation in the world can’t overcome the spiritual war we’re facing when we stand and proclaim God’s word. We need his power, his presence. To depend on ourselves is to fail in this task.
What other tips and tricks do you know that can help us Bivocational Preachers?
Bivocational ministry is an approach to ministry that includes the pastor or ministry holding a full-time or part-time job, along with a ministry position in a church or ministry of some kind. This has become a big conversation in North America as less money for ministry is available due to less percentage giving by church members, higher maintenance and facility cost, and an emphasis on church planting, which at least 50% of the time requires a bivocational approach. I’ve been bivocational for most of my ministry, holding down side hustles as a fireman, janitor, teacher, and now a full-time denominational strategists. In Louisiana, where I serve, I know pastors and church planters who do everything from rocket science to handy man work. It’s getting to where, talking to a Pastor, the conversation is not IF he is bivocational, but WHAT does he do on the side to make ends meet.
I believe Bivocational ministry will continue to grow as churches decline and new churches are planted. Here’s a few Pros and Cons for Bivocational ministry:
1. It’s Biblical. At least for apostolic, church planting type leaders; a bivocational ministry approach puts you on firm Biblical grounds. The foundation is the Apostle Paul who served as a tent maker, and while he sought and taught the churches the necessity of paying the pastor, did not demand salary for his ministry of church planting and leading the movement that became Christianity in the 1st century.
2. It’s a Reproducible Model. If reproduction is the goal, then accepting a bivocational approach as normative will be necessary. It’s reproducible because there are so many people that already have jobs they love, while wanting to engage in fruitful ministry. So equipping those with the gifts of teaching, leadership, apostleship to plant churches along side their day jobs is something we must aim for.
3. Ministers can serve the church without being dependent on the church for income. Pastors can feel hand tied by the need to make tough decisions and the need to keep people attending and giving. A bivocational minister with a full-time income is freed completely from this arrangement. The minister is also able to be an example of Biblical stewardship from the same perspective as those he leads.
4. The church can have a higher percentage of funds available for ministry and missions. The cost of personnel and facilities is often 65% to 80% of a churches budget. This leaves small amounts for the work of the church and the needs of the world. Take out the personnel line and it can drastically reduce that percentage and free up money for fruitful ministry.
5. Every member ministry is affirmed. When the pastor and staff are bivocational, every member is needed to make ministry happen. The gifts of the people are not something we consider once per year when the nominating committee is meeting. The gifts of the people are desperately needed for every week. The pastor needs to be freed up to use his limited time (due to being employed 25-40 hours per week) to prepare sermons, seek God’s will for the vision of the church, and reaching the lost. To work, churches with bivocational approaches must mobilize every one for ministry.
What about the Cons? If your pastor is bivocational here is what to expect:
- Things may move slower than churches down the road. Idea implementation may take a little longer because there isn’t people working on implementation for 40 hours each week. Bivocational / Every Member Ministry churches move at the speed of the team, not the speed of the pastor.
- The pastor WILL feel inadequate and struggle with his time. Most bivocational pastors would love to have more time for the ministry and may be working toward that. And they feel the pressure of comparison to larger churches with staff. He must take up the task of mobilization and the people must take up the task of affirmation and servanthood.
- The church must manage expectations of the role of the Bivocational Pastor and the work of the church. The pastor may not be the first one there when something happens. The church may not move as fast as the churches with full-time staff. But if everyone uses their gifts and the expectations are right for the situation, bivocational churches can grow and thrive in any community.
I was able to teach a session on Trends in Church Technology at the 2017 Total Church Life Conference on August 19th in Baton Rouge. Here are notes from the session:
Why Technology Matters to churches?
- Systems Matter – technology provides us with great systems that run beneath the surface and save time, energy, and resources.
- Deliver the Gospel to more people, more regularly – technology can help us with our main mission of delivering the gospel to everyone in our communities and world.
- Relevance – The language of the next generation is found in technology and social media. When we allow them to engage their faith in that language, we serve them well.
“The technological revolution we’ve seen in churches over the past 30 years is staggering. What’s even more remarkable is the speed at which technology in the church continues to improve.” – Jonathan Howe (Read Jonathan’s great article on Church and Technology Trends HERE).
Technologies Every Church Can and Should Consider:
1. Digital Communication Options – Connecting your church through texting and social media is essential. Examples:
- Email services like Mailchimp allows your emails to have a wider reach.
- Facebook pages for publicity and closed groups for coordinating and inspiring leaders.
- Texting is the preferred way for many to receive communication these days. Check out Textinchurch.com or subscriber services like Remind.
2. Cloud Based Church Management Systems – The church directory is now in your hand. Cloud based means the management of the churches directory, giving, and even bookkeeping is no longer on one computer in the church office, but can be a collaborative tool throughout the leadership community. Check out this article from ChurchTechToday.com that compares the 20 Top Management Systems. Our church has used Church Office Online and now Planning Center for great functionality in volunteer management.
3. Digital Giving Options – Online giving and now text giving can increase your churches giving by 25%. Multiple ways to give are necessary to reach new generations of givers who don’t know what a checkbook is and carry little cash. Check out our churches letter 5 Ways to Give at Bridge Church that is sent out with Quarterly Contribution statement and imagine the possibilities. Most church management systems have digital giving connections or clients that they work with. I’ve also heard good things about Tithely. Here’s a good article sponsored by them about trends in giving today.
4. Computerized Child Check-In – Being on top of child safety makes you more relevant to today’s parents. It was once assumed that the church was a safe place for kids, but not anymore. Child safety is something every church must think about and plan for. Again, most church management systems have digital check in connections or clients that they work with. Here’s a good roundup of possibilities. I’ve also heard good things about Kid Check.
5. Online Leadership Training – Years ago I heard that there were three reasons that people don’t volunteer at your church or why volunteers quit: 1) I don’t have time. 2) I didn’t feel appreciated. 3) I don’t know how. Today, instead of calling another meeting, leadership training is a few clicks away through services like MinistryGrid.com, Trainedup.org, and Rightnow Media. You can still direct and lead people’s training experience through selecting the right videos and clips for your church or making your own training videos and posting them on the above mentioned sites.
6. Live Streaming – Lights, Camera, Outreach! Live streaming can help people who travel out of town stay in touch with your church, as well as spread the message to more people in the community. No need for expensive equipment anymore. You can even live stream from an Ipad or Iphone. Using free streaming services like Facebook Live, Periscope, or pay for services like Live Stream or U-Stream. Here’s a good Beginner’s Guide to Streaming.
7. Video Announcements – Control announcement times and make them memorable and relevant to new generations, as well as make them longer lasting throughout the week as they are shared via social media, web, and email. All you need is a iphone or other camera, creative people, and editing software. Our church plant early on even created an Announcement character that helped capture attention. Check out one of E-Van, the announcement specialists videos. Imagine the possibilities. There is also whispers of services that will offer this to churches in the future.
See Jonathan Howe’s article for other future trends. Follow ChurchTechToday.com for other new technology developments helpful to the mission of the Church. Let me know if you’ve got something else up your sleeve in this regard.
The number one answer to the question, “What is the current greatest challenge in your life and ministry?” on our Louisiana church planting growth reports is some version of Time Management. Everyone seems to struggle with time these days, but church planters deal with the added pressures of usually a second or third job, young children at home, clock ticking on outside funding, little to no administrative assistance, continuing education demands, etc., etc. A few thoughts from my failures of time management as a church planter and small church leader:
1. Learn the discipline of turning it off and going home.
The last two church plants I’ve been a part of, centered ministry around our home. The church office, the church phone, the church leadership meetings, the church supplies were all based at my address for the first 12-18 months. This made it extremely hard for me to ever turn off work. Coupled with the fact that it is never all done in ministry. Two ideas I had to get used to: 1) I will not get it all done everyday. 2) To be effective tomorrow, I need to turn it off and do something else today. The quicker you’re OK with these two ideas, the better off you and your family will be.
2. Develop a weekly schedule and stick to it.
Young pastors and church planters get in trouble with time management issues many times because we fail to create the accountability of a weekly rhythm and schedule. THIS STRUGGLE IS REAL!!! A friend of mine in ministry likes to say, “Winging it is not a good strategy.” But many of us wing it when it comes to our weekly rhythms. Your schedule should have flexibility in it because much great ministry happens in the interruptions and spontaneous opportunities, but creating a basic framework for time spent is a necessity. If you start this early, as you add staff and expectations of a growing congregation, you will be better prepared to say no and yes to added responsibilities and interruptions. It will also be beneficial for staff and congregation to know when they can expect to find an open door to your office and when they can call you without interrupting something important. A schedule will also help you make sure you are balancing your time with planting / pastoring priorities – i.e. Evangelism, Discipleship, Leadership Development, Community Engagement, etc.
3. Develop a system for To Do’s, Daily Scheduling, and Keeping up with Contacts.
Whether its Outlook, iCal, Google Cal, Google Docs, an old school Planner system, develop some tools that you can use in keeping the to do’s, appointments, and contacts handy at all times. And the technology out there is amazing in regards to personal productivity. Develop something that works for you and utilize it.
I’ve started accounts with so many different task management and scheduling services online that I’ve lost count. I finally developed my own tool that I print out and fill out each morning or the night before and return to throughout the day. Check it out HERE.
It’s to do’s, appointments on one page. On the back I list contacts throughout the day, with the goal of 20 contacts everyday, which is important to my work and a challenge for my introverted self. This helps me stay organized and focused and goal oriented throughout the day. (An editable Google Doc is HERE. Or Download a Word Doc Here – To Do_s – Editable – to create your own).
What do you use to keep organized and focused? What works well for you in time management? What tips and lessons learned can you share?
Next week I’ll share some lessons learned on managing preaching as a bivocational planter.
For Church Planters, Pastor Appreciation Month can be awkward. Here’s why:
1. New believers don’t know that they’re supposed to appreciate the pastor. They don’t know there are religious trinkets like eagles wings paper weights or books by Paul Tripp or coffee cups with Max Lucado quotes that they should buy the pastor. The vast majority of the church has probably never been inside of Lifeway or Family Christian Stores. They probably don’t even listen to Christian radio yet. So they miss all the hints to appreciate the guy that makes the coffee, sets up the chairs, shakes all the hands, and teaches from the Bible on Sunday’s.
2. In the early years of a church plant, the Planter is often setting the calendar, agenda, and order of worship for everything. So it’s a little hard to say – “In October, IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.” Or “at this point in the service, you all are going to surprise me with coffee cups and gift cards.” He hopes someone might have gotten the hint, but planters may see October come and go without appreciation.
3. New believers in the church plant are probably still trying to figure out whether they appreciate the pastor/church planter or not. “He’s challenged me to change my lifestyle and to give a portion of my income to God. It sounds right and I’m listening, but buy this guy a gift? Yea right!”
Pastors, we shouldn’t take this too seriously. Receive the encouragement of any Pastor Appreciation love, but remember our reward is in heaven. To receive it here may even be a loss for us in eternity (Matthew 6:2-4). And our reward here should be the privilege to serve and see the people grow in faith & knowledge of the Lord (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Pastors should be ENCOURAGED, not ENTITLED.
There is also great value in Pastor’s Appreciation day for our churches, as they learn to obey verse like Hebrews 13:17:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
And 1 Timothy 5:17:
“The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
And 1 Thessalonians 5:12:
“Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you”
So, here’s some ideas for helping the church plant learn to appreciate their Planter/Pastor:
- If you’re a sponsor church, encourage your church to remember your planter(s) on Pastor’s Appreciation Month. Maybe lead them to all sign a card for Planters in the area. Send it with a date night gift card to a planter family (I promise they need it desperately).
- If you’re a sponsor church, send a staff member to one of the gatherings of your church plant in October, and take a moment to share about Pastor’s Appreciation Month and lead the plant to give a round of applause for their hard working planter then pass a card to the planter and his spouse. This simple act will probably plant seeds in the congregation for the rest of the month or for next year.
- If you’re a Pastor, take the initiative to show appreciation to a Church Planter by taking them to lunch or coffee during the month of October. Or inviting them to join your staff for lunch. Tell them thanks for the big risk they’ve taken and offer your insights on the community.
- If your church has a large staff, adopt a planter for prayer and encouragement during the month of October to extend the Appreciation that your church extends to you.
- Invite a Planter to share at your Wednesday night or Sunday night gathering during October & let your congregation appreciate them for the hard work they are doing.
This is a starter list. Imagine taking a big risk to start something from scratch, working long hours, having a lot of difficult conversations, maybe working a second or third job, and seeing slow developing fruit for a few years. These guys need and deserve our thanks and appreciation.
- Find and connect with Planters working all over Louisiana HERE.
- Find and show love to planters working in the North American Mission Board’s 32 Send Cities HERE. Pick a city and click the link for Planter Profiles.
- Check out a few Planter Appreciation ideas from our New Orleans Send City Missionary George Ross.
Looking back at church plants that I’ve been a part of & thinking of things I wished I’d done a better job keeping up with. Like:
- Number of volunteer hours spent in the community. We’re trying to keep up with that now with Bridge Church with a goal of 10,000 per year. What if you could say, “In the 3 – 5- 10 years of our church’s history, we’ve mobilized ____ volunteers who have served ___ hours in our community.”
- Number of total individual who have attended. Most churches track average attendance each week & each month, but few track total individuals that attend. We’ve started tracking total individuals over the course of a month, because fewer people attend weekly than ever before. What if you could say, “Since the beginning of our church plant, ____ people have attended a gathering.”
- Number of individuals that came on Volunteer Mission Trips to serve through our church plant. Each of our plants were blessed with a lot of great partners who spent weeks in our community serving. All I can say is, it was a lot! Didn’t keep good track of how many with each team. What if you could say, “Since the beginning of our church plant, ____ people have come from out of town & volunteered in our community.” Add on how many hours of service for this group as well.
- How many pounds of food we’ve given away. Our church has had a food closet & different food related ministries. Wish we knew how many pounds we’ve given away over the life of that ministry & other opportunities. Other similar ministries of the church could be counted for their total impact over the years.
Church Planter – Pastor – Missions Leader, keep good records & find ways to communicate the impact of your ministry over the years.
I am a Christ follower today because of God’s grace and because in hopes that I and others would receive God’s grace other Christians…
>> prepared and taught kids sunday school lessons
>> prepared worship services and sermons
>> got to church early to turn the lights on, make the coffee, get things ready for me and others
>> in relationship ask about my spiritual life
>> opened their home for Bible Studies
>> picked me up when I didn’t have a ride
>> organized youth camps and took a week off to go with me to youth camp
>> gave money sacrificially to their church
>> made Christ like decisions that challenged me and showed me what it means to be a Christian in the daily
>> prepared mission trips and on mission experiences
>> took me to breakfast and lunch and talked to me about what it means to be a Christian man
>> called me when I went through difficult times in my life
>> took a chance and ask me to serve on a church team
>> took a chance and ask me to teach a lesson
>> didn’t laugh when I flopped and failed
>> encouraged me not to quit
>> hugged me and patted me on the back regularly
>> prayed for me when I got discouraged
>> and so much more
Lord, please don’t let it end with me. I don’t want to be a cul-de-sac on the highway of God’s grace. Church, let’s keep it going!