Last Letter to Hurstbourne BC

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Resurrection Sunday 2014

We knew it would eventually come to an end.   I am sure you have heard the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.” Well, I don’t think I like that saying any more, especially when it comes to the ending of ministry together.

I want every person at Hurstbourne BC to know how much Jennifer, the boys and I have loved being with you. You welcomed us with open arms from the earliest days and have treated us like family every Sunday we been there. Never once did we feel like outsiders. Instead, you made us feel like long-time friends and family.

I want to say a very extra special thank to the pastoral staff – Chris, Cameron, Jeff and Vince – along with office team of Carolyn, Carmen and Mike. Each one of these men and women are top-notch servant-leaders who remain kingdom-minded and Gospel-focused in all they do. Serving with them has been a tremendous joy.

I want to also say thank you to the Personnel Team led by Mrs. Jan Watts. From the beginning interview, through the entire interim, until today, this group, in general and Mrs. Jan in particular, have been so easy to work with and serve alongside. They have made this one of the best interim experiences I have ever had.

I believe there are very bright days ahead for HBC. I believe there are hundreds of people who will come through your doors in the coming months. I encourage and challenge you to treat them just like you have treated us. Introduce yourself. Make them feel at home. Show them around. Help them find the way to the gym, which I still struggle to find. Treat them to your warmest hospitality and friendship as you have done for us.

If you do that, HBC will explode with new faces, new ministry ventures, and news ways to be a blessing to your community. The ride is just beginning. I hope you are ready.

I love you all and will forever keep you in my heart.

Grace, Shane

5 Things VBS Is that Other Ministries are Usually Not

VBS Family Night at Hurstbourne Bapt Church, Louisville, KY

VBS Family Night at Hurstbourne Bapt Church, Louisville, KY

For me a conversation about local church ministry does not take long until the subject of VBS (Vacation Bible School) comes around.  It is no surprise to anyone who knows me and my story, that I am a huge fan of VBS.

I came to saving faith through the ministry of VBS and love to tell how thousands of lives are transformed each and every year through this powerful outreach.  I will always say “Yes” to VBS.

But if I put my bias aside and attempt to critically, analytically evaluate the benefits of VBS, I have discovered that this ministry does some things that other ministries simply do not.  VBS has some advantages, strategically, that most ministries in the local church don’t even compare to.

Such as…

1.  VBS is highly intergenerational.  Meaning all age groups, both young and old, and everything in the middle, interact and spend time together for one week.  They worship together, study together, fellowship together, and serve together.  What other ministry effort joins hundreds of volunteers from all ages for one week and structures an experience where they get to know one another and serve as one big, happy family?  I can not think of anything we present have that creates intergenerational connections as much as VBS.

2.  VBS is very collaborative.  When kids ministry leaders attempt to pull off a VBS week, it requires significant time planning, collaborating and communicating together.  There are various teams, such as preschool, crafts, music, food, administration, follow-up, etc, all working together to make sure all the details are managed.  Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds talk and share ideas together about what they should do and what they should avoid.  I would have to believe this week is the most collaborative ministry event on the church calendar.

3.  VBS is intentionally evangelistic.  It goes without saying that VBS far outpaces most other ministry efforts when it comes to intentional evangelism.  I have heard a leading VBS expert (from my SBC tribe) say that for the past 30 years there has not been any other ministry effort even come close to the number of salvations that VBS has seen.  Not revival meetings, not disaster relief, not food and clothing ministries come close.

4.  VBS is one of the remaining creative outlets in the church.  With the ending of the Easter pageants and Christmas plays, there are not many outlets left in church life where Christian people are encouraged to use their artistic gifts.  There are not times when sets are built, rooms are elaborately decorated, costumes are pulled out and put to use, paint brushes and construction paper fly wildly.  The Creator God has created us to be mini-creators, but there are not many ways to utilize these gift any more, particularly in the visual arts.  VBS provides this creative outlet each and every year.

5.  Lastly, VBS has service opportunities for every believer in Christ, no matter their spiritual maturity level.  Everyone can serve somewhere.  Whether you have been a Christian for less than a year or you are nearing the time when you will see Jesus face to face, VBS has a place for you to serve.

When you put these 5 things up against almost every other ministry venue in the local church, VBS stands above.  While the music ministry is intergenerational, it is not intentionally evangelistic.  While Sunday School and small groups are very collaborative, those ministry venues are not overtly creative.  VBS stands above.  It has benefits that other ministries do not have.

So if you are a longtime VBS’er, I commend you to not give up.   If your church hasn’t done VBS in a while, consider bringing it back and see what it provides.  If you have never served in VBS, commit to giving it a chance in 2015.  I believe you will see that it is absolutely worth it.

A KBC Boy from CU, SWBTS, SBTS and back to CU with No Problems Whatsoever

In the midst of a rather weighty and public dialogue happening between Campbellsville University and the Kentucky Baptist Convention, I wanted to shore up a few personal things about my experience as a Campbellsville student (’99 alumnus) and as a CU School of Theology faculty member since 2008.

I can’t speak for everyone who has been through our doors, but here are the indisputable, unshakeable facts about my personal experience at CU and connection with the KBC.

- I was saved and baptized in a rural KBC church in 1987 – the Lewisport Baptist Church in Lewisport, KY – through the ministry of VBS.  I have been a member of KBC church every year of my born-again Christian life, except while in TX during seminary.

- My home church supported my decision to go to Campbellsville University in the mid-90’s and even helped me financially.

- My personal faith in Christ exploded while at CU.  My understanding and belief in the Bible grew 10-fold.  My love for taking the Gospel to the unreached peoples of the world “blew up” while studying here.  My call to ministry was significantly nurtured and encouraged.  The opportunities to serve in KBC churches and in God’s kingdom through all sorts of ministries was enhanced and elevated simply because I was at CU.

- After CU, I studied at Southwestern Baptist Theo. Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  There wasn’t one thing at SWBTS that made me question my academic experience at CU.  It only added to what was already there – biblically, theologically, philosophically, and practically – everything was in line.

- While in seminary, I served in two SBC churches as youth minister.  In those churches I used what I learned at CU and from SWBTS without having to modify any of my core convictions or theological roots.  They were perfectly in line with traditional Baptistic ways.

- After seminary, I served a KBC church in Northern KY.  Again, no problems whatsoever theologically, biblically or practically.  My training at CU combined with SWBTS was in sync with kingdom-building, Gospel-expanding principles of leadership and strategy.

- As I began my doctoral studies at the Southern Baptist Theo. Seminary, again there were no problems whatsoever.  Actually, what I had learned at CU, plus SWBTS, plus in practical church experience made my SBTS time even more fruitful.  There were no snickers that a CU guy was studying at SBTS.  Even as I finished at SBTS and started my first year teaching at CU, no one said a word.  No one hinted of any problems.  All in all, everything was positive as far as I could tell.

- Six years ago when I came to CU to be considered for a position in the School of Theology, I was asked lots of questions.  My theology, biblical interpretation, methodology, experience, and practice of the spiritual disciplines were all questioned in the interview process.  Not because I was a risky candidate, but because that is what we do with everyone who is considered.

- In the 6 years I have been in the classroom, I have never been told to do anything other than teach biblical truths with my theological convictions openly and honestly before my students Everyone knows where I stand on things and that has never been a problem.  Again, no issues whatsoever.

- In addition to teaching, CU leaders have overwhelmingly embraced and encouraged me to continue serving in KBC churches.  I have served four KBC churches as interim pastor: Parkway BC, Bethany BC, Lancaster BC and Hurstbourne BC.  There has never been any issues with me being a CU, SWBTS, SBTS and KBC guy.  Again, no issues whatsoever.

- Lastly, my wife is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. from SBTS in Family Ministry and has taught five classes at CU as an adjunct instructor.  Again, no problems or issues whatsoever.

Are you seeing a running theme?  In summary, we are, and have always been, KBC connected.  My family are, and will continue to be,  members of a KBC church.  I will hopefully, if God wills, continue serving as an interim pastor in KBC churches.

Interim No. 6 Coming to a Close

Kids of HBC

Easter Sunday @ Hurstbourne Baptist Church

Next Sunday, Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville will come together to extend a call to my friend and current student pastor Bro. Cameron Debity.  If all goes well, this means interim pastorate no. 6 is coming to a close.

With each of these six churches and interim contexts, I have learned new lessons about this type of ministry and church leadership in general.  Here are a few lessons I picked up this time around.

1.  Even in the city, rural-like hospitality still works.   There is an assumption that when you live in a major city with hundreds of thousands of people no one wants you in their home or at their table.  While that can be true in some places, I found at HBC that there was still a sweet sense of in-home hospitality.  There hasn’t hardly been a Sunday in over 6 months where we didn’t have an invitation to a home for lunch.  Maybe this is only because I am the pastor, but it is so good to see that table fellowship is still alive.

2.  People of means have the same basic needs as people who struggle.   HBC is located in a rather affluent section of Louisville.  Many of the attenders are, or have been in the past, very successful men and women in their line of work.  One might think because of their status in life they don’t need anything, but that is not true.  It doesn’t matter how much is in the checking account or sitting in mutual funds, people are still people.  And people have needs.  No matter who you are or what you earn, people struggle with sin.  People struggle with relationships.  People struggle making Jesus first and foremost in their lives.

3.  When there are multiple staff members and a senior pastor moves on, the primary goal is to embolden and champion the staff who remain.  This was the first time in any interim where I had a rather large team remaining – 6 full-time teammates, each who were competent, flexible, and really strong in their particular areas of service.   I found the key in this interim was to let them loose.  To challenge them to go big or go home.  To praise them publicly and privately and encourage them to boost their ministry areas 5-fold.  The outcome was the church never felt like we were in an “interim.”  We were able to create momentum which turned the interim phase into a season of advance, not a season of survival.

If all goes well, my last day at Hurstbourne Baptist Church will be August 10.  This has been one of the best interim experiences I’ve had.  Lots of heart connections.  Lots of great times together in worship.  Lots of meaningful conversations.  This experience is going to be hard to match.

Who knows where interim no. 7 might land us next.

Worship Leaders Wanted – The Hardest Find in Church Ministry

helpTeaching pastors are a dime a dozen.  Youth ministers are everywhere.  Children’s ministry leaders are sought after all the time.  But where are the worship pastors?

Where are the music ministers?  Where are the creative-types that lead us each and every Sunday to the throne of grace?  Where are coming from?  Where have they gone?   The answer: no one knows.

As an interim pastor and frequent guest speaker in churches, I serve alongside all sorts of worship leaders.  Very few are full-time staff members; most are part-time, cross-vocational servant-leaders pulling two or three jobs to forge a living.  In smaller churches, you mostly have faithful volunteers with little or no musical training but who have a desire to serve God.

I love them all.  I love their heart.  I love their willingness to get up there and lead people who often look like marble statues with frowny faces :(.  I love when they partner with me as the teacher/preacher to make the entire service meaningful.

But their kind are going extinct.  They are dying away.  And the younger generation are not moving up to fill their spots.  It seems that the younger generation could care less.

Why is this happening?  Let me suggest a few possible reasons.

First, in our day and time theology is king and the teaching/preaching ministry of the church has become exalted as the highest order of church-based ministry.  While there is no doubt theology is critical in our culture with rampant pluralism, relativistic secularization, and a large segment of our population who are biblically illiterate, but does that mean the preaching and teaching ministry must command the majority of our worship time?  I would offer that most of our deeply held theological roots come not from sermons, but from songs.  (I’ve written on when pastors were the hymn writers.)

Another reason is perceived value.  As pastor/theologians view their role as the most essential for church health and spiritual growth, other ministry platforms are viewed as less valuable or subsequently inferior.  I wouldn’t say they are viewed as insufficient, but their value is not essential.   The common notion among many preaching pastors today is that as long as the teaching/preaching ministry is good, strong and biblically faithful, then other sectors of ministry will, by proxy, succeed.  I am not sure I agree with that conclusion.

A third reason is that it hard to find someone who believes God has called them into worship ministry.  You might discover someone with talent in vocal or instrumental music, or in songwriting, or even in leading people in corporate worship, but the last thing they are considering is using these talents for the Lord through local church ministry.  I teach hundreds of young adults preparing for future ministry and rarely do I have any student who believes God has called them to lead worship as their vocation.

Rewind back 25 years.  In those days, the music minister (or music director) was viewed as second most important team member on the church staff, far ahead of youth, children or education.  The role was highly important because of the amount of “face time” they shared with the teaching pastor.  The two-man team was like as Batman and Robin, Jordan and Pippen, Andy and Barney.  They worked as a tag-team planning worship elements, service designs, and ways to incorporate creativity into the plan.  This function is very rare today.

Today, the worship minister is not that important.  Most church leaders view children’s ministry as the #2 most important staff position to fill.  A poor children’s ministry equates to fewer young families and diminished growth potential.  Worship leadership might make it to the third or fourth slot on most church teams.

All these reasons (and many more) lead to lessened interest in exploring God’s call in worship ministry.

Fast forward 25 years.  I anticipate there will be few, if any, young people following God’s call into music ministry.  I believe there will be very few full-time worship pastors, only found on large church staffs with multiple services.  I sense that schools of music at the seminary and Christian college level will no longer prepare students in church music or worship leadership.  Those degrees will go away.

I believe the want ads will be filled with churches desperately looking for someone, anyone, to lead worship at their church, but no one will be applying.

These are just my predictions.  I hope I am utterly wrong, but I don’t believe I am.

 

Two Types of Teams – Church Staff and College Dept

Two groups of people dividedOver the past decade, I have served on two types of teams – a church staff team and an academic departmental team.  Five years on the first; six years and counting on the second.

In retrospect, these two types of teams could not be any more different.  Something I wish I could have understood way back when.

Here are some differences between the two.

1.  Church staff teams work very close to one another, while academic department teams have lots of internal space.

Church staffs usually share the same calendar with everyone fighting for dates.  They also have to share resources from the same budget, utilizing the same key people, reserving the same facility space, and sometimes even the sharing the same office.  Everything is close; everything is shared.  One thing done by a particular staff person effects everyone else in some way or another.  No one is an island unto themselves.

Academic teams are very different.  There is more internal space between the faculty members.  While they may have to share the departmental budget, they usually function from their own calendar, working independently from their own class schedule, making improvements to their own degree programs, and even separating their own students from others in the department.  The internal space within provides more individualism and less shared resources.  This can be both a good thing and a source of conflict if not managed properly.

2.  Church staff teams meet frequently, while academic department teams may meet once or twice a month.

Again, this promotes more internal space between faculty and their day-to-day activities.  Church staffs have to communicate with each other.  They have to know what the other team members are doing, so not to disrupt the delicate balance of everything.  Significant time meeting one-on-one with your senior pastor or sitting down together as a team is essential.

Academic teams do not have this requirement.  As long as you are doing your thing, teaching your classes, meeting with your students, you are good to go.  You also have the academic calendar and its scheduled breaks like fall break, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break.  There are times when it might be two or three months before I see any my colleagues on a regular basis.

3.  Church staff teams must be unified and functioning in a semi-healthy dynamic in order to succeed.  Academic department team don’t require the same level of unity. 

The indicators of success are so wildly different. For the church staff, success might be measured in spiritual growth or programmatic advancement or development of an effective outreach strategy.  For the academic dept., success is mostly measured in numeric growth, graduation rates, retention from year to year, new program development, and adding of faculty members.

The academic dept. team can say,  “Hey, we had a great year” and really not be united behind a singular vision or even enjoying spending time with one another.  That is not the case with a church staff.

A seasoned faculty member once told me that teaching on the college campus is like playing on the Ryder’s Cup squad – Everyone is collectively on the team, but you still play your match by yourself.  As long as you personally are doing your part, you don’t have to really like or even play along with your academic team mates.

4.  Lastly, church staff teams live in a highly emotional environment, while academic dept. teams only experience high emotion once or twice per year, usually around the end of term.

The discipleship and soul-care of saints and expanding the kingdom through evangelism form a very emotional environment for the church staff.  Everything is personal.  Relationships are personal.  Church politics are personal.  Team dynamics among the staff is very personal.  Not to mention living life together with church members whom you love and who love you in return.  The heart is always engaged.

Academic dept. teams are not like this.  While there are personal relationships among colleagues and meaningful relationships with students, the environment is not nearly as emotional.  It can be at times, but it usually is not.  Students move on.  Semesters move on.  Graduation comes every December and May.  The fall semester becomes the spring semester and then everyone leaves for summer break.   We start again in the fall and follow the pattern year after year.

As I look back over the past eleven years, these two types of team stand in stark contrast.  I never knew how different they really are.  I wrongly assumed the team I joined on the college campus would be very similar to the team I left from church.  I was wrong.  They are two completely different environments.  I don’t think one is better and the other worse; they are just wildly different.

 

When the Cost of Everything Goes Up and Giving Goes Down

I was listening to a church budget discussion a couple of weeks ago in a Budget & Finance Committee meeting.  For those who are not Southern Baptist, most SBC churches have a some sort of committee or team which is largely responsible for putting together and presenting a yearly church budget to which the congregation votes on.  They are also responsible for looking at expenses and giving trends throughout the year.

This particular church has noticed a trend line that is tracking toward a $100k shortfall for the year.  One of the vocal leaders, who happens to have a MBA in Accounting and 45 years in corporate management, said these words which have hung heavy on my heart for weeks.

He said (paraphrased),

“Everything we pay for is getting more expense.  From vehicle, property, and liability insurance, to all the food for the various meal, to the gas for the church bus, to medical coverage for the staff, to printing costs, literature costs, to toilet paper and paper plates.  We have been asked to give more to missions, support church planting, and update all our facilities to be eye-catching and seeker-friendly,  yet the giving keeps doing down.”

In other words, the cost of everything the church spends its money on is getting more expense and giving continues to decline.   If you created two trends lines, the expense line would be going up and up and the giving line would be going down.  All the while the church has maintained its average attendance over the past 5 years.

Giving-decline1Why is giving going down?  Many have pointed to a changing demographic in charitable giving.

It is largely generational with younger Gen. X and Millennial believers unable, or unwilling, to give at the same rates as Boomers and Builders.  When Boomers retire and Builders pass away, church contributions will never be the same again.

It is also simple economics in the home.  If the cost of gas, food, mortgages, insurance, and the like are getting more expense at church, the same is happening to families.  Individuals and families with significant student loan and credit card debt are absolutely strapped.

It is also a discipleship issue.  The idea of tithing or stewardship have lost their ability to be heard in our culture.  Everyone loves a Cold Water Challenge or a 5K Run/Walk for Cancer, but there is a hostile attitude toward consistently, sacrificially giving with no strings attached to the local church.

What solutions might there be for this giving paradigm shift?

I believe cross-vocational ministry is going to be key.  The single major expense a church normally has is personnel and staff.  If we could embrace a cross-vocational ministry approach to lessen personnel cost, there would more ministry funds elsewhere.

But cross-vocational ministry is challenging, especially for churches over 200 in attendance.

  • How is the church supposed to survive if no one is in the office 40 hours a week?
  • How is the church supposed to survive if all the pastoral staff work in other places alongside of their pastoral ministry?
  • How is the church supposed to survive when a church members needs have to be put on the back burner because one of the pastors is at work…their other work.

I hope to answer these questions more in the days to follow.

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