Month: August 2010

Lead, Care, Proclaim

Years ago, LifeWay’s focus on pastoral ministry was contained in three words — lead, care, proclaim.  Lead included church administration with its committee meetings, planning sessions, and member training.  Care involved pastoral care of the congregation, and the pastor’s training of and relationship with caregivers such as deacons.  Proclaim covered the pastor’s preaching and teaching ministry both at Sunday morning worship, and in smaller group settings such as Wednesday Bible study.

To support these tasks, LifeWay (then called The Baptist Sunday School Board) produced periodicals like Church Administration and Proclaim magazine.  I don’t recall a pastoral care magazine, but maybe there was one. My point is these three words summed up the pastor’s work then.  I still find myself involved in these same areas — leading, caring, and proclaiming.

My week seems to be spent in sermon preparation, pastoral care ministry, and administrative matters.  I try to keep a balance of spending an equal amount of time on each.  My office hours are 9 AM to 12 noon Monday through Thursday (I take Fridays off).  I usually spend my office time on the phone, chatting with folks who drop by the office, or working on administrative projects.  That’s my leading time, although leadership happens all the time and in casual settings, too.

Most of my care ministry takes place in the afternoons when I visit the hospitals, nursing and rehab centers, and our members at home.  I can make most of my pastoral care visits in the afternoons, but in other churches I served those took at least two evenings a week.  Evening visits now are usually with prospective members, most of whom have daytime jobs.

In the proclaim area, I do most of my sermon preparation and study at home, but that wasn’t the case when our kids were small.  Changing life circumstances meaning changing our work, study, and leisure routines as well.

I think LifeWay captured the small church pastor’s ministry well in those three words — lead, care, proclaim.  That’s still what I’m about, and I imagine you are, too.  What does your ministry routine involve and how do you allocate your time?

Leading Your Church To Change

“How can I get them to change?”  As a small church pastor, I think I’ve asked myself that question at least once a day in every church I have pastored.  Wanting the churches we pastor to change is part of our DNA.  We see opportunities for improvement, expansion, growth, outreach, and progress, and we think everyone should see things the same way we do.

Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize everyone doesn’t see things the way we do, and that our members like things just like they are.  How does a pastor, whose heart beats to the sound of change, lead his congregation to make the changes necessary for the future of that church?

Here are five keys to leading change in the small church that I’ve learned, mostly the hard way:

1.  Listen to the stories of the past. Our church is 153 years old.  Three years ago we celebrated our 150th anniversary in a 7-month long sesquicentennial emphasis.  During that time I got to hear the stories of our past.  Leaders, traditions, memories, and accomplishments were highlighted each month.  I developed a new appreciation for the 150 years our church had existed before I arrived on the scene.  Your church has a history B.Y. — before you.  Listen to and celebrate the stories of the past with your people — that will go a long way toward leading them to change in the future.

2.  Link the past to the future. The theme for our 150th anniversary was “Praise for the Past, Faith for the Future.” The steering committee came up with that theme, and I thought it was great.  They sensed that the past was important, not just because it was history, but because it was a link to our future.  Mark Lau Branson of Fuller Seminary has written a helpful book, Memories, Hopes and Conversations, about how his church built on the traditions of their past to find a way forward for the future.

3.  Learn what type of church you have. By church type, I don’t mean “Baptist” or “cantankerous.”  Israel Galindo’s book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations offers several clues to learning about church types.  After reading Galindo’s book, I learned where our church was in the typical life cycle of churches, and I understood the particular challenges we faced more clearly.  There are other church characteristics that Galindo covers that can be helpful in learning how to lead you particular type and style of church.

4.  Love your people. This is advice everybody gives, but too few pastors follow.  Loving people means spending time with them, getting to know their stories, learning what’s important to them, and genuinely caring about them.  The old saying, “People don’t care what you know until they know you care” is still true.  If you care, and your members know it, they’ll respond to your leadership enthusiastically.

5. Lead with patience. Change takes time in a small church.  Actually, I think changing small churches is more difficult than changing large churches.  Traditions and memories are the stuff of small churches, and change threatens both.   I wrote a chapter in the LifeWay book, Deacons As Leaders, that tells the story of how one church I pastored changed our deacon structure to a more positive, servant ministry.  Pastors that lead with gentle patience can look back years later to see progress that is steady and sustainable.

Change comes in fits and starts in small congregations.  But it can come.  In churches I’ve pastored, we built buildings, bought property, revised our by-laws, hired staff, altered schedules, moved classes, created new programs, and started new groups.  Your leadership as pastor is the key to transformative change in your church.  Take the time to listen, link, learn, love, and lead, and you’ll reap the rewards of positive changes in your church.

Living Into vs. Talking About

Seth Godin asks How long before you run out of talking points? His point is that those who “live into” rather than just “talk about” (my words, not Godin’s) what they espouse are the real deal.  Then he says,

Then compare these passionate leaders to a pundit, spin doctor or troll (for just about any cause du jour) being interviewed on TV. After three sentences, they run out of assertions, facts or interesting things to say.

There’s a lot to be said for being deep, scientific and informed.

There are lots of religious talking points, especially among pastors.  Several years ago I was attempting to have a conversation about the nuances of religious faith, but one of the three in our little conversation triangle kept offering up his “talking points” in response to every idea presented.  What I wanted was brain-storming and the exploration of our theological imaginations, but what he wanted to do was keep us all on the “orthodox” path by inserting his talking points.

Talking points are good, but as Godin says, if that’s all there is to our comprehension of any subject, and I think faith especially, then we might need to live into our faith more, and open our mouths less.  What do you think?

The annual Beloit Mindset List is out

I look forward to this every year — the annual Beloit College Mindset List.  Created by two of Beloit’s staff, the Mindset List was designed to give Beloit professors clues to their incoming freshmen class.  Professors who thought listening to Kurt Cobain made them cool, might be surprised to learn that Nirvana is now on the Oldies station.

To further peg this new digital generation, it’s interesting to note that the Class of 2014 has never written in cursive.  (Actually, I find that hard to believe, but I suppose they might not have written in cursive since they learned how back in 2nd or 3rd grade — or is it kindergarten now?)

Anyway, here’s the link —

I think you’ll find it interesting, especially if you work with these emerging adults who have never twirled the curly cord of a telephone handset between their fingers while they talked on a landline.

How I Spent My Summer

Where did summer go?  I’m sure yours has been busy, too; but, I can’t believe how summer has flown by.  School starts tomorrow here in our community, and we resume our regular Wednesday night schedule at the church starting this Wednesday.

June was taken up with Vacation Bible School — getting ready and then the week of VBS itself.  In July, I finished my last course paper for my DMin at Fuller on the subject of forgiveness.  Lots of reading and time in this last paper, but I hope to do my final project on forgiveness, so this was kind of an abbreviated trial run.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a Sunday School workers’ banquet at a neighboring church in Hurt, VA, and then preached a three-day revival last week at Mulberry Grove Baptist Church in Buckingham, VA.  In both places, they were some of the nicest folks I’ve met.  The pastor at Mulberry Grove is finishing his PhD from Edinburgh in early Christianity, so we had some interesting conversations.  Trey and Lou Ann are great folks that are enjoying serving a small church in a small community in rural Virginia.  While I was there, the local Baptist association of churches invited me to do a Tuesday morning seminar for pastors and lay leaders.  The association has 18 churches, all of them small, and 8 churches were represented among the 22 people in attendance.  We had a great morning sharing together about small church ministry, and I got some very good ideas from some excited pastors and church leaders.

So, that’s my summer so far.  Of course, like any time of the year, there are funerals, hospital visits, and church stuff that continues.  The garden shows the neglect of a too-busy summer schedule this year, but maybe next year I’ll have more time for the tomatoes.  I hope your summer was a good one, and I’ll be back here a little more often as fall moves toward winter.

A Must-read Conversation With Rick Warren

You need to read The Future of Evangelicalism:  A Conversation With Rick Warren over at The Pew Forum.  It’s long, and covers a lot of territory, but in it Rick talks about how megachurches do the small church thing (my words, not his).  Here’s a quick excerpt:

WARREN: For example, our church, while we have the big services on Sunday, we meet in homes during the week in small groups of six to eight people. We have over 4,500 small groups. They meet in every city in Southern California.

CROMARTIE: How many again?

WARREN: Four-thousand-five-hundred. They meet in every city in Southern California from Santa Monica to Carlsbad. It’s a hundred miles distance in our small groups. So on Sunday morning they’re coming to Saddleback or they’re going to Saddleback San Clemente or Saddleback Irvine or Saddleback Corona, but during the week they’re in small groups.

And it is in that small group – when you get sick, you’re visited in the hospital. When you’re out of work, the people help you out. There is a real tight-knit community. There is a longing for belonging in our community, and large churches have figured out it’s not the crowd that attracts; it’s the stuff under the surface that attracts.”

Bingo!  I love that line….“it’s not the crowd that attracts; its the stuff under the surface that attracts.” Of course, Rick points out that the largest churches in the world are not in the US, but in Asia, Africa, and South America.  Read the entire interview.  It’s good stuff about issues of interest to us all, no matter what size church you serve.

Blessing of the Backpacks for back-to-school

Pamela Gordon is the creative pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Paducah, Kentucky.  She and her church’s EcoFair outreach idea will be featured in an upcoming issue of Outreach magazine, in my column Small Church, Big Idea.

But apparently that’s not the only idea that Pam and her folks have had.  This past Sunday they had a special “blessing of the backpacks” service before kids head back to school.  The local TV station picked up the church’s story, and ran this article with video clip, which gave the church some positive press.