5 Questions Answered in 5 Sermons

since you askedAt Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, we have recently finished a series of messages called Since You Asked.

Basically, I gave the entire congregation the chance to ask biblical, theological, and spiritual questions in which I would try to answer in a sermon.  We received nearly 30 questions and I attempted to answer five of them.

Maybe you have wondered about these things.  I have included the question and a link to the sermon audio if these have ever been questions in your mind.  Take a listen and let me know what you think.

  • How do we publicly and privately interact as the body of Christ with people who we significantly disagree with? sermon audio
  • When Christians leave this earthly life, do we immediately go and be with Jesus, seeing him face-to-face or will there be a waiting period for the second coming of Christ?  sermon audio
  • How do relationships work in heaven? Will we know and recognize our earthly family and friends? sermon audio
  • Does God control the small things? Such as does God give us one job over another? Does God determine where a student is accepted into college? Did God put my child in that teacher’s class? A fender bender that could have been a horrible accident, was that a “God thing”? The tickets to a sold-out ball game that are suddenly offered to us by a co-worker, is that orchestrated by God?  sermon audio
  • If a young man accepts Christ and is living a Christian life, has a Christian wife and two children. All is well. Time elapses, he gets involved with another woman, divorces his wife, gets into drinking and gambling. He drops out of church. His lifestyle never changes and he passes away. Is this person still going to heaven?  sermon audio

Proud Papa, A Father’s Day Reflection

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The 2014 CYB Phillies – Pee Wee League Champs. Isaac is on the second row, third from left.

My 8 year old son Isaac and his Pee Wee baseball team, the Phillies, are league champs, but that is not what is making this Father’s Day special.

They had a great year with a 13-2 record in the regular season, winning the league championship, and going into the year-end tournament a #1 seed, but that is not what is making this Father’s Day special.

Isaac learned more about baseball than we could have ever imagined.  At the beginning of the season he could barely throw 5 feet away and couldn’t catch a thing.  He was terrified to hit, run, or have a ball hit is way.  I am not exaggerating.

As an 8 year old who had never cared one day about baseball, he really only wanted to play because his 6 year old brother was stealing some of the spotlight.

From the very beginning, we knew he was in for a very different experience.  He was really challenged by the coaches to figure the game out.  Every rule, position, strategy, and technique of baseball was completely foreign to him.  He and I started playing Mario Super Slugger on the Wii just he could figure out the names of the positions and how you got an out.

Everything he learned about baseball, from the rules to how to swing a bat to how you run the bases, was all brand new and completely from scratch.  We played and practiced a lot in the backyard.  He did great, but that is not what is making this Father’s Day special.

He has a little plague now in his room that declares the world that he was on the 2014 Campbellsville Youth Baseball Pee League championship team, but that is not what is making this Father’s Day special.

This Father’s Day is special because on Sunday, the day before the championship game, my son Isaac leaned over to his mother during our invitation at church and said, “Mommy, I need to be saved.”

When he and his momma came to me in the front, my son was gripped by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  This was not him doing something we wanted, this was him saying “I need Jesus in my life as my personal savior.”

We have been talking and discussing this for quite sometime.  But this was his decision.  We knew nothing about it.  We had no clue it was coming like it did.

My Isaac, my little laughter, who is named for the son of Abraham and Sarah, a child of promise, a child of a new heritage, a child that God gave to begin a new spiritual legacy, is now and will forever be my brother in Christ.

That is making this Father’s Day very, very special.

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.

Church Ministry Resumes vs. Personal Advertisement Pieces

Last year, I was asked to help a church searching for a lead pastor.  They asked me to look through all the resumes they had received and see if I agreed with their top 5 candidates.  It was the first time that I, as a pastor who has my own personal church ministry resume, looked over so many other pastor’s church ministry resumes.  I was completely, utterly shocked.

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Binder Full of Ministry Resumes

The spectrum of difference in design and scope was unbelievable.

Some resumes looked like full-color, 4-page media press releases.  Pictures, backgrounds, graphic designs, and interactive links.  One extreme resume had the prospective pastor in various tight-fitting muscle shirts, standing in intimidating poses with lightning bolts and thunder clouds surrounding him, like he was Thor or a WWE wrestler.

I promise you, I am not making this up.  He sold himself as a hell-fire preacher and prophet who brought with him apostolic signs and wonders.  I guess that is why he needed lightning bolts.

Others were really poor Microsoft Word resume templates with barely any information, no images, terrible spelling, and pathetic design.  These resumes communicated humility (which I appreciated) but also poor work ethic, no creativity, and lack of vision or skill.

So where is the balance?  Where is the middle ground between speaking to your experience and giftedness without selling yourself to the highest bidder?  How can a pastor selection team learn about your convictions and passion in ministry and yet not feel if they are being sold something?

Here are some ideas for the church ministry resume.

1.  Be honest and clear and minimize the hype.  Don’t exaggerate. Don’t embellish.  Be forthright and upfront.  Tell your true ministry experience and journey without hyperbolic language.  Remember it is God who is the giver of all good gifts and you are not a gift to the ministry world.  In the same vein, don’t be so humble, so contrite, so simple that the prospective church feels sorry for you.  You are a servant of the King – live in that calling with courage and confidence.

2.  Be helpful, resourceful and industrious.  Make the printed resume easy to read, easy to follow, and easy to access additional information.  While business resumes are usually no more than 2 pages in length, a ministry resume is not held to that same standard.  It can be longer and more developed without the perception of overkill.

I highly recommend creating an additional biographical blog site to go along with the ministry resume.  This site becomes a virtual repository of personal and theological information.  On the site, you can create links to Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, embed recent Twitter feeds, post and link any sermon video or audio available from any church, add your personal philosophy of ministry statement plus any doctrinal or theological statement you hold to.  You could add pictures or photo albums of your family to give a sense of who you are outside of ministry.

3.  Be visually-oriented and narratively-focused.  Every person under the age of 60 is visually-oriented.  They need pictures, images, and color to move their eyes across the page.  Without going overboard, your resume needs to have a visual appeal to it.  Consider your church’s bulletin.  What if it was only text and no images?  Would you want to read through it?

Also be narratively-focused.  While bullet points and jaunted sentences might appeal to the quick reader, your resume needs to tell a story.  The story of your journey with Jesus, call into ministry, and experience from the field.  It needs to have a beginning, a past, and a present flow.  Bulleted lists and strict outlines struggle in communicating time and story.

I am in no way an expert on church ministry resumes, but I offer mine as an example to start with.  My church ministry resume has gone through thousands of edits and redesigns.  The great part is, I am not looking for a church position so I don’t feel any sense of urgency.  If it helps, be my guest.

Church Ministry Resume 2014

 

Go Cross-Vo Not Bi-Vo

I have been involved in bi-vocational ministry for the past 6 years.  This simply means I work a normal, full-time job (for me on the faculty of a Christian university) and serve part-time in local churches.  I have loved every minute in this dual ministry role.

What I do not love is the terminology: bi-vo.  Bi-vo, short for bi-vocational, has a negative connotation to it.  To most people in the pews it means that their pastor or church staff member is split in two.  That your heart is divided.  That you have to focused on one job to the detriment of the other.  As if you are in a tug-of-war between two jobs – one will win, the other will lose.

tug-o-war1

In bi-vo ministry, someone wins, someone will lose.

While more and more churches are considering going bi-vo because of financial constraints and/or declining attendance, they feel having a bi-vo pastor or bi-vo worship leader is a sign of defeat and impending death.  In all actuality, bi-vo can be a huge boost in lay-ministry involvement, community engagement and potential outreach.

Therefore, I think we need to change the language.  I think we need to reframe the vision and conversation surrounding bi-vocational ministry.

From this point forward, I will use the phrase “cross-vocational” instead of bi-vo.

  • Cross-vocational means you are living equally in two worlds: the marketplace and the ministry location.
  • Cross-vocational means you have on-going relationships with two groups simultaneously – your brothers and sisters in Christ and those you serve in the workplace.
  • Cross-vocational means you are fluid, entrepreneurial, creative, willing to be flexible, able to lead and succeed in both contexts.

Cross-vocational ministry has been the calling card of our missionaries and church planters for centuries.  They all have had to work both sides of the ministry field, in the world and out of the world, serving those who have yet to hear and to those who are fully committed to Christ.  I believe the cross-vocational spirit will come to more and more pastors and church leaders in the days ahead.

I believe a cross-vocational shift is coming in America for three primary reasons.

1.  Significant differences between the Builders & Boomers and the X’ers and Millennials in giving and stewardship patterns will result in precipitous declines in church budgets.  There will simply not be enough resources to fully-fund church staff, especially in light of health care cost.  (See my recent post on the ending of full-time paid youth ministry.)

2.  As evangelism and baptisms decrease, pastors and church leaders will demand freedom to engage unreached people within their communities.  This access will only come from unhinging themselves from a pervasive Christian sub-culture inside the church and interacting with more non-believers out in the real world.

3.  As churches streamlining and simplifying their ministry efforts and programming (aka the winnowing effect), they will have to say “no” to the secondary, more peripheral ministries in lieu of keeping the essential ministries.  The end result will be less day-to-day work to do.  This means less needed, fully-funded paid staff.

I do not see any way around this ministry shift.

I do see a large number of churches really struggling with this new reality.  But if they want to be proactive, they might consider going cross-vo now when its their choice instead of going cross-vo later when they have no choice.

(To be continued. More on cross-vocational ministry in the days to come.)

 

 

 

 

 

The End of Paid Youth Ministry

Every two years I teach a class called Introduction to Youth Ministry.  And every two years, I wonder if it will be the last go-round.

I have been speculating and saying publicly for years that full-time youth ministry positions were going the way of the dinosaur.  I could see it in the job postings, hear it in conversations with Educational Ministry professionals, and watch it in the churches of KY, where I serve.

At one point (5 or 6 years ago), I was receiving two or three calls a week asking for resumes of young, graduating CU students looking to serve in full-time youth ministry.  But those calls are becoming less and less.  The vast majority of calls I now receive are for children’s ministry leaders.

While I knew a change was afoot, I didn’t have any other supporting evidence.  Until Group Magazine published its May/June 2014 edition with the front cover questioning “The End of Paid Youth Ministry?” I knew someone would eventually start talking about this shift.

The piece is written by Mark Devries, founder of Ministry Architects, formerly Youth Ministry Architects.

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Group Magazine May/June 2014 Edition

Devries tracks compensation and benefit packages for full-time youth ministry leaders over the past decade.  The trend showed that from 2005-2010, there was an increase in salary and benefit packages.  Yet after 2010, there has been a steady decline.

Since that point, the compensation packages have been moving downward, making the average compensation in 2012 – $37,500, which includes take home pay, medical insurance, life insurance, retirement, travel and resource expenses all in one bundle.  In reality, the take-home pay is much closer to $25,000 which is hard to live on in America, particularly in the cities, as a single income.  Its doable, but a stretch.

The other trend of interest is youth ministry leaders who work a second job, meaning the youth ministry is not their only source of income.  Since 2005 that percentage has increased from 17% to 36%.

Devries conclusion is simple and straightforward:  “It’s not the end of paid youth ministry, but the end of full-time, fully-benefited youth ministry.”  Churches, with tighter budgets and the insufficient funds to keep up with rising medical cost, are thinking differently.

Devries goes on to say,

When we assess all the ancillary expenses required for a full-time employee, it’s not hard to understand this shift – health and other benefits for a full-timer can run as much as 30 percent of salary, making two part-timers (without benefits) a much better ‘deal’ for many churches than one full-timer. (emphasis mine)

I have seen this trend everywhere.  Churches can hire two interns or two part-time youth leaders, say one for middle school and one for high school, or one for children and one for teenagers, and not provide any benefits, insurance or time off.  In a sense, they get two (or even three) for the price of one. I have been seeing this for years.

To all my Ed. Min. students (and anyone else interested in youth ministry), if you want to serve students in the local church then find a great job doing something in the public or private sector.  Something you love.  Something you can live on.  Something you can find fulfillment in.  And then seek out a youth ministry position to serve teenagers and students in the local church.

Devries seals this revised vision when he says, “Working a second job to support our ministry calling doesn’t mean we’re bi-vocational – it’s a single vocation, expressed in different ways.”  Absolutely on-point and will be essential in the future.

Thank you Group Magazine for bringing light to this change.  We needed to hear it.

One Year as CU Faculty Chair

Dr. Frank Cheatham, Dr. Joseph Owens, Congressman Ed Whitfield, Dr. Michael Carter, myself, Mrs. Paula Smith, Dr. Mark Bradley

Commencement Breakfast, May 3, 2014 at the President’s Home. From Left to Right: Dr. Frank Cheatham, Dr. Joseph Owens, Congressman Ed Whitfield (KY-1st District), Dr. Michael Carter, myself, Mrs. Paula Smith, Dr. Mark Bradley

For the past year, I have had the great honor as serving as the Campbellsville Univ. Faculty Forum Chair.  With only 5 years of faculty experience, I was completely shocked to be asked to serve on this role.  There are many qualified, experienced, and much more adept faculty members at Campbellsville Univ., but I was asked nevertheless.

I’ve learned when an opportunity is presented, you can either accept the task and try to rise to the occasion or run from it.  In this instance, I chose to walk through the door and allow God to grow me through the experience.  And God certainly had some leadership tests along the way.

We began the school year in difficult days.  Prior to the start of classes, the university family lost two dear members of the staff.  While a new school year should feel hopeful and full of anticipation, there was a shadow of darkness and grief over us all.  When two employees pass in the prime of their lives, it is hard to understand.  One of those beloved saints was my next door office buddy, Mr. Paul Dameron, a Druien Hall brother.  I still miss hearing his booming voice coming through our paper-thin walls.

The fall semester progressed with both ups and downs.  Great enrollment on the main campus, yet some programs (including several that I oversee) took a dip.  But we pressed on and tried to rely on God’s grace, good decision making, wise counsel, and see every challenge as opportunity for improvement.

The December Faculty Forum meeting included the announcement that Dr. Frank Cheatham, who has served at CU for 41 years, would be retiring at the end of 2014.  If you want a picture of faithful, steady, integrity-filled leadership over the long haul, Dr. Cheatham would be that picture.  I love being able to say Dr. Cheatham has been my professor, my boss boss, and now a friend and mentor.

The spring semester culminated in our SACSCOC 10 year accreditation visit.  This evaluation process for academic institutions is rigorous and extensive.  We were thrilled to hear we came through in very good shape.

The year ended in the commencement services over the weekend.  As faculty chair, I was invited to offer the benediction prayer.  It occurred to me on Saturday during the undergraduate ceremony that it has been 15 years (almost to the day) since I walked across that grey, noisy stage in J.K. Powell Athletic Center.

In 15 years, I went from being a student in the seats anxious to receive my diploma, to the CU Faculty Chair seated on the platform watching my students receive theirs. This included one of my Ed. Min. students doing a standing back-flip on the stage and nearly causing me to have a heart attack.  (Thanks Rico!)

Fifteen years from one seat to the another.  This, to me, is absolutely unbelievable.  I am so thankful and humbled.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have pictured what God might do.  To serve my school, my alma mater, my fellow colleagues, and my God in this role of leadership has been such a blessing.

Thank you Lord for opening doors for the most unqualified, undeserving, ill-equipped academic leader in training.

 

 

 

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