Month: April 2009

Find a need and fill it still works

Tonight I served as the “community host” for Family Night Out with No Reservations at one of our local restaurants.  Families were invited to eat dinner together, and the idea was to get parents and kids talking about drug and alcohol issues during dinner.  Kids under-12 ate free, and each family received a tote bag with lots of goodies, plus information on drug and alcohol abuse.

The idea for the evening came from research which shows that kids in families who eat dinner together regularly are less likely to drink,  smoke, or use drugs.

Our local Community Services and RASAP (Regional Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention) organizations sponsored the program in 10 area restaurants.  Overflow crowds packed all the locations as families with preschoolers-to-teens came to eat together.

My point in telling this story is this: when you meet a need, people do respond.  Several people thanked us for providing the tote bags and creating the event.  As we were leaving, one man came up to our group and thanked us. “Twenty years ago I was doing drugs and stealing to pay for my habit,” he said.  “This is a good thing you’re doing here tonight.” And then he went back to his table and sat down with his wife and kids.

Churches, too, can help in other programs like Family Night Out.  Earlier today I asked the president of our local Chamber of Commerce what our church could do to help during these hard economic times. Unemployment in Danville hit 14% and in our county it’s 12%.  The Chamber president emailed me later with an offer to bring several helping agencies together with us to work on meeting needs in our community.

I remember attending a seminar in about 1986 at Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.  Schuller spoke at one of the sessions.  His advice to the pastors was “find a need and fill it.”  That still works today.

Over 200,000!

Today this blog went over 200,000 views!  Of course, you get all the credit because without you — and a couple of hundred-thousand others — Confessions of  a Small-Church Pastor would never have reached this milestone.  So, thanks for stopping by, or for reading by feedreader, or email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or however you check in.  Oh, and thanks for commenting, too — your comments help others, me included.

One more thing: some big stuff is in the works for later this year.  Stay tuned. Tell your friends. I’ll keep you posted.  Thanks.  You made my day!

How Pastors Spend Their Time

The old joke is that pastors work only one hour a week — Sunday morning at 11 AM.  If I could get a gig like that, I’d take it, but the reality is that pastors, and other church leaders have very busy work schedules.  I was thinking about this the other day, and here’s how my week gets divided up:

  • Worship Services: 6-8 hours at church for worship and Bible study, depending on the season of the year.  We don’t have a Sunday night service; those who do will spend more time just at church for services.
  • Pastoral Care: 8-10 hours per week talking, visiting, counseling church members and others.  This includes hospital visitation, homebound members, nursing homes, in-office appointments, telephone calls, pastoral visits, as well as funerals or weddings.
  • Administration: 8-10 hours per week working on bulletins, newsletters, committee meetings, deacon meetings, preparing for meetings, calendaring events, going over finances, and meeting with church leaders.
  • Prayer and Preparation: 8-10 hours per week in sermon preparation, prayer, Bible study preparation, and general study and research for future sermons and Bible studies.
  • Outreach: 6-8 hours per week working with community groups, contacting prospective members, visiting with community members I encounter casually or intentionally to discuss community projects.

Some weeks I spend more time on some categories than others.  But I try to maintain a balance in ministry and a rhythm to my week.  I like to start my week with Sundays and work through Thursdays.  I take Friday and Saturday off, but the majority of weeks I usually have at least one event on at least one of those days.  That seems to go with the territory.  Of course, the all-too-frequent emergencies that send you off to visit the hospital or nursing home come at any time of the day or night.

I try to spend mornings in my office at church, and afternoons out of the office making visits when needed.  I publish my cell phone number, have an answering machine both at home and at church, and return phone calls as soon after I get the voice mail as I can.

In my personal and professional schedule I strive for a flow that gives me some time each day both to engage with others and have time for quiet reflection.  Most weeks that works out, but when things get really hectic I try to be flexible and responsive.  I remind myself that people come first, and other projects are secondary.

That’s my week. How do you structure yours? Or have you thought about where and how you spend your time?  Do you have time-management tips or practices that have proven useful in your own ministry?  If so, please share them with the rest of us.  Of course, if you only work one hour a week, the rest of us would like to know how to do that, too!

Speaking of time, the National Outreach Convention blog tour will drop by here on Thursday, April 23.  We’ll be talking small church stuff and taking questions. Stop in and see what’s happening!

Susan Boyle is an inspiration

susan_boyle_audition1You may have seen this YouTube video, but watch it again.  Susan Boyle, frumpy, unemployed, 47-year old church worker is the new media darling from Britain’s version of American Idol, called Britain’s Got Talent.

Unfortunately, YouTube has deactivated the embed feature for all of these videos, but click on the link here and watch it for the first time, or again.  Susan gives a stunning, surprising, and heartfelt performance.  Even Simon loved her.  What a wonderful story in this age of media cynicism.

Sustaining ministry for 7 generations

A friend of mine challenged me today by asking, “What are the elements of sustainable ministry?” Dennis then pointed to the Ojibwa tribe of Native Americans who considered the impact of their decision-making on the next seven generations.  Talk about sustainable community, they had it.

Our church was founded in 1857, and celebrated 150 years in 2007.  If you consider 25-years* a generation, then we are in our seventh generation.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, “What future are we bequeathing to the next 7 generations?”

In thinking about sustainable ministry, three characteristics came to my mind:

1. Everyone has a seat at the table. By that I mean that all voices are heard, all persons are valued and respected, and the congregation acts in love. This makes the process long, messy, and slow but the consequences of not hearing everyone are greater in my opinion.  The popular notion of the charismatic, “follow me, boys” leader who takes charge, rallies the troops, and leads the way single-handedly is a myth that continues despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Leadership hears the voices of supporters and opponents, considers all viewpoints, learns from detractors, and builds trust and confidence in others.

2. The future emerges from the past. I like Mark Lau Branson’s book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations, which is the case study of Branson’s church (Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary). Branson led them to use appreciative inquiry as a technique to recover the best of their past, and find a way forward in the future. The idea of the future emerging from the past is a very biblical concept, the most outstanding example being the transition Jesus uses in his, “You have heard…but I say unto you” statements.

3. Jesus is the head of the body, and the Spirit is its breath. I know that sounds very theological, but the practical side of recognizing this is not our church is that we can ask some tough questions. David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship, moves the conversation from “What would Jesus do?” to “What is Jesus doing among us now?” which is a whole different question. Discerning the presence and leadership of God in a congregation is critical.  Recognizing that we are the people of God, saved by the grace of God, and led by the Spirit of God creates a long-term view that is sustainable from one generation to the next.

When churches think about sustaining ministry for seven generations, the question is no longer, “What do I like?” but rather, “What is God leading us to do that will resonate for the next 175-years in this community?”

What do you think?  Have you considered the next 175 years of your church’s ministry?  What questions would you ask to discern God’s guidance into the future.  After all, we’re indebted to the wisdom of those who went before us, and the grace of God among us which has sustained ministry this long.

* Cultural generations are now considered 10-15 years in length, but Native Americans had their own families and their off-spring in mind when they considered the next 7-generations.

Easter Sunrise Sermon: You’re Not Alone

I realize that Easter is over, but here’s the Easter sunrise sermon I preached at 6:30 AM last Sunday.  The setting for our community sunrise service is spectacular — the Owen’s Farm.  The high hill where we stand faces east, and looks out over a magnificent valley where horses run across the pasture, the view stretches for miles.  Of course, this message is good anytime of year, and I hope it encourages you, too!

You Are Not Alone!
Matthew 28:1-10

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On this Easter Sunday morning, we stand amazed with the women who see the angel at the empty tomb. The angel announces to them, “He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Often we think of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event.  “He was crucified, dead, and buried” is how the Creed says it.  And it goes on,

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

But between Jesus rising and his ascension, some wonderful things happen.  He goes before them, just as he has always done, showing the way.  He goes before them to lead them, to guide them, to encourage them.  Just as God’s presence in the Exodus went before Israel in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, Jesus goes before his disciples, too.

And on this Easter morning, Jesus still goes before us.  If Easter is about new life, God’s new kingdom, a new beginning for all of creation, then Jesus still goes before those of us who celebrate his rising 2000 years later.

  • Jesus goes before us in good times. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, his first public miracle, Jesus rejoiced with a bride and groom, and showed that God saves the best for last.
  • Jesus goes before us in lean times. When thousands gathered to hear him preach, staying long past the dinner hour, Jesus fed them.  Jesus feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 tells us that in God’s economy there is always enough and to spare.
  • Jesus goes before us in sickness. He knew what it was to touch those thought to be broken and outcast by disease and illness.  He made lepers whole, opened blind eyes, healed with only a word. Jesus goes before us in our sickness and pain, offering the touch of his hand, the encouragement of his presence in the midst of our physical limitation.
  • Jesus goes before us in conflict. He knew what it was like to be rejected by his own townspeople, but religious leaders.  He did not come for the purpose of creating conflict, but his presence was a threat to the systems of greed, corruption, and dead religiosity.
  • Jesus goes before us in doubt. He welcomed Thomas with his doubts, and assured him of his place in God’s kingdom.  He was patient with disciples who did not understand, fled in fear, and acted as though three years with Jesus had never happened.
  • Jesus goes before us when friends fail us. He knew what it was like, not only to be attacked by enemies, but to be abandoned by friends.  All the disciples fled, except Peter, and he denied he knew Jesus.
  • Jesus goes before us in sorrow and death. He wept for Lazarus at his grave, then raised him to life.  He mourned for a city that would not listen, wept tears of grief at his impending death, cried out in agony from the cross, and suffered in silence before his accusers.
  • Jesus goes before us to heaven. His death and resurrection breaks the hold of physical death on this world and ushers in the age of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  He goes to prepare a place for us, and if he goes, he will come again and receive us unto himself, that where he is we may be also.
  • Jesus goes before us into hell. The Apostles Creed says, He descended into hell. Jurgen Moltmann, renown theologian from Germany, says that because we have a Savior who descends into hell, there is hope.

But Jesus does not just go before us, he invites us to meet him in Galilee.  Galilee, where it all started.  Where Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors, where he taught beside the sea, and where he would meet his disciples again for breakfast on the beach.

Galilee is a place of memories, but also a place of ministry.  Galilee is where the world was given a glimpse of the kingdom of God, a new kingdom established by love, empowered by the Spirit, and including all who follow the King.

Galilee, where Jesus lives a life of love before those who come to love him; where he puts before the world God’s great plan to make all things new.

Bennett Cerf, writer and social commentator, told this story one year at Easter:

A little girl was orphaned when her family was tragically lost.  She was placed in a foster home, where unfortunately the couple who was charged with her care was more interested in the check they got, than in the little girl.  While they provided for her basic needs, the atmosphere in that house was cold and impersonal, and the little girl was left for hours on end alone in her attic room.

With little to do and no friends, the little girl soon spotted a squirrel in the tree that rose up by the window in her room.  Each day she would greet her new friend, and managed to sneak small pieces of bread and fruit from the table to him.

One day, the woman of the house heard the little girl talking.  Thinking someone must be in her room, she burst through the door, only to find the little girl at the open window, talking to the squirrel who was perched on a nearby tree limb.

Furious, the woman slammed down the window, and ordered the little girl never to do that again.  She left the room and waited on the stair for what she knew would be an angry outburst from the child.  Instead, nothing happened.

Peeping through the crack in the door, the woman saw the little girl bent over her desk, writing carefully in large block letters.  She watched as the little girl finished her writing, folded the note tightly several times, and them pulled on her coat.

The woman hid in the hall as the little girl made her way from her room, down the stairs, and out the backdoor of the house.  Quickly she pulled herself up on a low-hanging limb, and pushed the folded note into a fork on the tree.  Then, she came back inside, and went to her room.

The woman had watched the little girl carefully.  When her husband got home, she told him the story, and badgered him until he got the step ladder and retrieved the note from the tree branch.

The woman opened the note and to her amazement, read what the little girl had written:

“Whoever finds this, I love you.”

And that’s what God has done.  Sent Jesus, filled with God’s love, sent him ahead of every difficulty we might have in life, sent him into a world that did not receive him, turned on him, and killed him.  Sent him to say, “Whoever finds this, I love you.”