Top 10 posts of 2015- # 1 –“now, this kind of church experience makes sense”

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….and here is my #1 post for 2015!!!     “now, this kind of church experience makes sense”

In my younger years of going to church, I did what many still do today. I attended the service and checked it off my mental list of to-do’s.
It would be an entire week (or sometimes longer) when I would again fulfill my expected duty to go to a church service.
Going to church was just one of many “rules of conduct” that I felt pressured to submit to.
What I was not seeing clearly was that no meaningful relationship can be established or maintained by forced pressure to follow external rules (with the threat of judgement hanging over your head).
Today,  I have come to a growing appreciation of a living and loving God who seeks to come alongside me to love, encourage, discipline, guide, and nurture me.  Being a follower of Jesus Christ is truly an adventure in doing life with Him.
Far from being a lifeless thing to do once a week, being a Christian is a 24/7 365 days a year experience  My Christian walk brings satisfaction, purpose, and meaning?  And going to church is a joy. It’s a time of celebrating His resurrection with others who understand the awesomeness of who He really is.
I think this picture of Jasonmy son-in-law Jason getting baptized, as a gesture of his commitment to follow Jesus captures wonderfully the joy of being a believer!
Let me encourage you if your past experience in church could be described as a draining, non-relevant usage of your time, then, try again.
Find a local church that has a reputation for being a place that is alive and find out why.
You will never regret doing so!

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Top 10 posts in 2015 – #2 -“A vital question for church leaders”

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… and here is my second most responded to post of 2015 –

A vital question for church leaders

A vital question for church leaders willing to ask:

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?:
“So, how is your church doing?”
“Well, we are growing. We just added another service?”
“well, you know, that’s great, but I don’t think necessarily increasing numbers at church is the best way to measure how a church is doing”
” maybe not, but what do you think a good measurement would be?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be the size of the church”

Maybe you’ve even actually participated in a conversation like this. If not numerical growth, what other measurement can be used? Like in the conversation, I don’t know what a perfect measurement stat would be for your church, however, just because finding an appropriate relevant standard can be hard to identify, it is still worth the effort to finding one.

The practical thing about measurements is that they give us a rough idea on how we are doing. Whether its a church wanting to measure their worship attendance, or a store like Walgreens or CVS counting their comps (how their sales compare to last week, month, year, or store to store), or in sports, such as baseball as batting averages, home runs, rbi’s or earned run averages, having measurements to compare movement and trends, whether an increase or decrease is helpful.

In looking at any statistic, there are always numerous considerations needed to get an accurate understanding of how one measurement compares to another. For example, Were people healthy both times that stats were considered? Were there any outside factors that influenced one stat more than at another time?

So, although measurements need to be considered among many potential factors that could skew one number over another, measurements are important. They give some kind of perspective to compare and give us some kind of guidance as to how we are doing in a particular area.

So, when it comes to the church, I want to suggest a measurement that I believe would bring many benefits. This key measurement stat is “how many people have you asked to church this past week?”
Why that question? Well, first of all to answer the skeptics that are out there, I want to pass along a few answers to objections that will surely come.

1) the church is not a business– so why should we have measurements? Does your church practice accepted accounting standards like a business would? Does your church staff treat their employees and volunteers in generally accepted ways that a Human Resource Dept. in a business would support? Does your church try to let your community know what time their service(s) is and do other forms of marketing that a business would also implement?

A measurement statistic gives a benchmark of current performance and it provides an opportunity to give a vision of improvement. For example, in this next year, how about increasing the number of our volunteers by 25%? Then, a year in the future, you have a very specific measurement that you can come back to and monitor the results. Did we hit that 25% goal? If not, why not? What could we have done differently to have hit that goal? If we did hit our goal, what did we do right in hitting that goal and is there anything we still could have done better.

In fact, this process of setting areas to monitor and looking to establish a culture of continuous improvement would be a worthy goal for any organization, including a church.

2) another person might take objection with the soundness of the question, “how many people have you asked to church in this past week?” They could say that question is not a totally accurate statistic to track. Why? Well, if I ask my neighbor to church one week, is it a good expectation for church leadership to want to encourage their attendees to ask their neighbor again, week after week to keep their numbers high?

Of course not. But, as we will see, it does measure how enthusiastic the congregation is to want to talk about their church and what is going on there. Surely, there are more people a church attendee can ask beside their one neighbor. Are there other neighbors, or family, or others who they associate with at their kids sports activities, or someone they talk to at the grocery store?

So what benefits are there to using the question, “how many people have you asked to church this past week?” as a metric to keep track of and measure the performance of the church over time? Here are some :

1) making this question as a key church priority can help increase boldness in the congregation to want to reach out and not be inward focused. It encourages the truth that we, as a church have something of value that people would benefit from—talk about it!
2) if we want people in our church to share their faith with others ( a difficult thing for alot of people), then encouraging people to just invite someone to church is a great first step in getting people just to talk about spiritual things with others. And as “success” stories come in, whether it’s seeing increased attendance at the church, or hearing about a specific person’s testimony as they have started to attend the church and participated in its activities, those positive stories can raise the bar of excitement at a church.

3) it encourages practical actions to our faith. Too often, Christians can build up their knowledge and limit putting their faith into practice. Remember, we are supposed to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. Inviting someone is a practical activity that goes beyond having a good intention to do it at sometime.

4) for some people this question will be a great litmus test to helping them decide when its time to leave the church. If a person has been frustrated at their church and has tried to work things out with others, but with little success, what value does it bring to the health of the church if they refuse to invite people to the church going forward? If people are not excited about inviting others to their church, that should be an indication that something is wrong and maybe its time to move on.

5) this question of monitoring the congregation’s inviting people to church is a great one for moving people to unity–intent on one purpose. It is church-wide project that people can gather around, pray about, and see God work.

6) this question can lead to needed improvements at the church. Why? If I am holding on to a frustration over some issue at the church, or with some specific ministry, which prevents me from inviting people to our church (for example, we don’t have that great a Men’s Ministry, or Children’s Ministry, or whatever), then with a culture that is looking to make things positive, I can be moved to get involved and do something about my frustration and make it better. When people are active in the church looking to improve it, look for exciting things to happen.

7) thinking in terms of reaching out to others can also lead us to being sensitive to those in our church who have begun to “check out” and are on the fringes in their attendance. If the question of inviting people to church benefits the size of the church and gets more people involved, then we will be increasingly sensitive to those that we perceive might consider leaving and reducing the size of the church. Lay people, as well as staff will be encouraged to ask if there is anything wrong or if they can help in any way. (Please note that if this idea is implemented, emphasis needs to be frequently conveyed that numbers represent people.) A church’s activities should be ultimately meant to touch people’s lives.

8) being focused on inviting people to church will likely result in increased church attendance. As people consider who to invite to church, it should also lead to contacting people who have left the church, which can lead to some healthy reconciliation.

How to track?

Probably the best way to track a congregation’s participation in an initiative like this is to use a “Friendship Register”. Typically these books are passed down a row during the service. Attendees at a service are asked to sign their name and write down any specific prayer request they might have. The forms are pre-printed, so to have an extra column on it that someone can write down if they invited someone to church would not be much trouble. Whoever collects these sheets of paper can be asked to tabulate how many names were asked .

I have been to churches that are stagnant. Attendance has maintained a horizontal line (or even declining) for some time. Being in a service seems
automatic and cookie cutter-ish. When I’m walking down the halls, I’ll hear a lot of conversation, but I tend to rarely overhear anything church related. Outside the church, rarely do I hear of anyone talking about it, although it didn’t even exist.

I have also been exposed to other churches that just by walking through its doors, you can almost immediately sense energy. People seem to be excited to be a part of what’s happening there. Even outside the building, out in the community, if that church’s name get’s mentioned, people have thoughts about it.

I don’t know about you, but it is that second kind of church that I want to be a part of —and also invite others to be.

 

Top 10 posts in 2015 – #3 – “Concierge Pastors & the need they’d meet”

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… and here is my #3 most responded to post of 2015- “Concierge Pastors and the need they’d meet”:

“As the chairman of the Elder Board, I wanted to introduce you to our new Senior Pastor. He will only be able to endure staying with us for about four years, so please say “hello!” to him when you get a chance.”
Sound ridiculous? Yeah, but realistically, statistics show that a senior pastor’s longevity is only about four years. Church, we can do better than that!

You are probably familiar with stats like the following regarding pastors (taken from EXPASTORS. COM website) though I don’t think it would be hard finding similar stats by doing a Google search:

*Most pastors are overworked.

90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.

And 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

*Most pastors feel unprepared.

90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

*Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.

70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Wait, this is huge. Let’s pause here for a moment.

This means that half of the 1,700 or so pastors who leave the ministry each month have no other way of making a living. Their education and experience is wrapped up solely in the work of the ministry.

So, not only do pastors struggle with their choice to leave ministry, they have to worry about how they are going to feed their families.

Speaking of families, most pastor’s families are negatively impacted.

80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

-Many pastors are lonely.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

And then there is this:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.

From a Thom S. Ranier blog about the heavy pressures on a pastor and church staff, “the 12 biggest challenges Pastors and Church Staff face”, he writes:

1.Apathy and internal focus. “I have been in ministry for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
2.Staff issues. “I inherited staff from the previous pastor. It’s not a good match, but I don’t have the credibility to do anything about it.”
3.Leading and keeping volunteers. “It’s a full-time job itself.”
4.General time constraints. “I end every week wondering why I got so little done.”
5.Getting buy-in from members. “I spend half my time developing a consensus from members about decisions from the mundane to the critical.”
6.Generational challenges. “It seems like the older generation is determined to nix any new ideas or excitement from the younger generation.”
7.Finances. “You can sum up our challenge in four simple words: We need more money.”
8.Holding on to traditions. “I wish our members would put as much effort into reaching people for Christ as they do holding on to their traditions.”
9.Criticism. “Some leaders in the church have appointed themselves to be my weekly critics.”
10.Leadership development. “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
11.Majoring on minors. “We spent an hour in our last business conference discussing the fonts in our bulletins.”
12.Lack of true friends. “One of the toughest realities for me as pastor was the awareness that I have no true friends in the church.”

I have served on church leadership boards in three different churches over many years and have had very close relationships with several senior pastors. I can personally affirm all of the above pressures and worries mentioned above.

So, what’s the solution? Three tangible ideas come to my mind (though there are many more ideas out there if church leaders would give it more thought):

1) continually support your church staff with prayer. Because of their high visibility and all the pressures they have in their leadership position (not to mention the presence of spiritual opposition) make every effort to frequently look for opportunities to pray by name for your pastors

2) offer them regular time away to recharge their batteries. Provide additional pulpit support so that they have time to get away from constantly having to prepare messages and so they can just soak up a message by someone else (even to get away and attend a church service somewhere else for fresh perspective and minimal distractions)

3) Initiate a “Pastoral Concierge” position, or area of responsibility. What is a “concierge? Typically, it would be (taken from Wikipedia) – ” a hotel employee whose job is to assist guests by arranging tours, making theater and restaurant reservations, etc.” In simple terms, a concierge is one who attends to the specific needs of a guest.

Considering the reality of all the above-mentioned concerns, which will affect a pastor’s health and effectiveness AND recognizing that many pastors are lonely, not knowing who they can trust, I would suggest the idea that this “pastoral concierge” is someone appointed by the Elder Board. This pastoral concierge needs to be a trusted person, with a recommendation from the trusted leaders in the church.

A Pastoral Concierge would be helpful to a pastor, who needs to have someone in the church they can trust, who they can vent to, who they can turn to for prayer support and encouragement.

So much of a healthy fellowship is about healthy relationships. Having a revolving door for senior pastors (like we see so often in churches today) surely does not promote a healthy environment.

I’ve been a believer for over 33 years and have never heard of a “Pastoral Concierge” position, but considering the horrible stats on the health and longevity for senior pastors in churches, what do we have to lose, and how much more does the church (and God’s work) have to gain? And if a position is not created, maybe just the talk of it will encourage church leadership to be very proactive in coming alongside our pastors for marathon church longevity, instead of 3-4 year sprints.

2016 top ten posts -#1 – “Urban Meyer’s formula for success”

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#1 post of 2016  top-ten

 

With the success of Ohio State’s College Football championship, I found this an interesting philosophy from their coach Urban Meyer:
—for two years, he has had his players and staff wearing wristbands with a simple equation on them:

E+R=O (The Outcome (O) of something is always determined by your Reaction (R) to an Event (E).

 

How aware are you of the way you react to your circumstances?

How willing are you to consider your own responsibility to the health of your relationships?

Is there any room for improvement for you in this area of “reacting to others” and your “reactions to difficult circumstances” for you in the year ahead?

Top 10 posts of 2015- #5 (“Leaders don’t …)

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Here is the 5th most responsive post of 2015:

“Leaders don’t blame, they take ownership”.

Dr. Henry Cloud

Top 10 countdown

 

Friends, whatever has happened in your past, learn from it, and move on with your life. Forgive others if you need to, but let today be the first day of your life. Consider all the areas of your responsibilities and take ownership of your decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry: Angry Pawns

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For those who are used to receiving my typical posts, you will find something different in this poetry post. This is a poem that is a part of a Poetry collection that comes from a time of my searching.

Angry Pawns

The game is being played

but it just does not seem fair,

there are two sides that are conflicting

of this I’ve become aware.

There’s a living filled with hope

attaining your wildest  dreams,

a world filled with happiness

Where the sunshine always beams.

But then, there’s  also a reality

with responsibilities and sadness,

some getting away with anything,

while others live in madness.

For us paupers in this life

we’re just pawns in a game,

the players tell  us what we can do

to them we’re simply  tame.

These masters  of life’s chess game

have been at it way too long,

They  know the values of the rich

their name and clout too strong.

For us to make our stand

we must take them by surprise,

appearing to them as fools

while plotting beneath their eyes.

The situation  that we have

are pawns  that are angry and bitter,

tired of being stepped on,

just wishing to see the glitter,

even for a moment,

We’re  just longing for the time,

Where the smiles from our dreams

Come true in perfect rhyme.

 

Top 10 posts of 2015- #6 (practice the art of…)

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Here is the 6th most responded-to post in 2015- “Practice the Art of Quitting” (this is an excerpt from Michael Hyatt): Top 10 countdown

I love this excerpt from Michael Hyatt’s “Shave 10 hours off your workweek” :

“My parents taught me, “Always clean your plate” and “always finish what you start.” But let’s not fool ourselves. The first one is a recipe for gaining weight. The second one is a formula for not getting much done.”

* you don’t need to finish every book you start
* you don’t need to complete every project you begin
* you don’t need to continue habits that no longer serve you

We need to cultivate the habit of non-finishing. Not every project you start is worth finishing. Sometimes we get into it and realize, ” This is a waste of time.” So give yourself permission to quit.