ETCH Conf 2016 – What I Heard Part 2


I am continuing a 3-part series of posts sharing questions I repeatedly heard at the ETCH Family Ministry Conference October 3-5, 2016 in Nashville, TN.

The ETCH Conference was invigorating as nearly 1000 kidmin, student, family and young adult ministry leaders came together to learn from each other.  Jennifer and I were privileged to share in a couple breakout sessions.

As I talked with ministry leaders after those sessions, several questions kept coming up.  It seems these questions are what next-gen leaders are regularly facing in their ministry leadership.

Questions I Repeatedly Heard

  1. What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?
  2. What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?
  3.  How can I respond to all the cultural issues that are flying at our kids/students?

Question 2:  What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?

Kidmin and stumin leaders are running into a consistent problem.  They are offering all these ministry programs at church, such as age-specific worship services, small group opportunities, weekend and summer activities, but the seats are remaining empty.

They want to see growth, but spiritually and numerically, but they fear their programming is not helping that happen.

They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is the underlying pressure to go hardcore, event-driven, using a host of attractional methods such as free Xbox giveaways, big promotional events, and outlandish gimmick-type things that can draw a large crowd.

The hard place is knowing that you can’t entertain kids and students to Jesus. Entertainment-based, attractional ministry efforts have a short shelf life.  No matter how big you go, it will never be big enough to sustain.  And if you start big, you’ll have to go bigger and bigger each year in order to keep the crowd that the gimmick initially drew.

So they find themselves stuck.

  • They know they must go outside the walls of the church to reach kids and students for Christ.
  • They know they have to be actively involved in the schools and community in order to make kingdom connections.
  • They know that in order to get the attention of kids and students in a day of uber-technology and crazy-busy schedules, they have to make an appeal to something fun and exciting, but at what cost.

They’re stuck and they don’t really know what to do.  Let me attempt to offer a word of encouragement for those who might find themselves in this predicament.

Going BIG Once in a While Is not Sinful

I would offer that doing something attractional on a yearly basis is not out of line.  If for no other reason than to get the message out that your ministry is still alive and kicking.

While cars might drive by your church day after day, most will swing by Monday through Friday when the parking lot is mostly empty.

Doing one or two attractional events in a given year lets folks know, “Wow, they’re open. We might check them out sometime.”

Additionally, kids and students have strong connections to their peers.  One benefit of the occasional attractional events is for the students in your ministry to have an easy invite to their friends.  We know they can invite their friends to any Bible study or worship service, but one attractional event can create an easier opportunity for them to be on-mission.

Never Expect the Crowd to Turn Into the Core

If you utilize an occasional attractional event, keep your expectations in check.  If you have 200 at the large event, expect 5-10 to come back the following week. Don’t expect 50. Keep your expectations reasonable.

Consider the fact that Jesus had differing levels of followers: the crowd, the crew (the 12) and the core (the inner 3, Peter, James, and John).  The same is true today.

An event can draw a crowd, it will be the Spirit and the seed of the Gospel that will bring them back.

“Outside-the-Walls” Ministry Takes Creativity

If you choose to hold-off on attractional events, you have my complete support.  I back you 100%.  It is not for everyone in every ministry context.

For that reason, you will want to be thinking about other ways to consistently connect with kids, students and families outside the walls of your church.  This approach is more organic and missional in that you keep your eyes open for ways to be an avenue of blessing to the students and families in your town.

You might…

  • Offer tutoring for students struggling in math.
  • Adopt a sports team and provide meals for them after home games.
  • Provide water and snacks during big tournaments weekends.
  • Host parent workshops & seminars on hot topics.
  • Organize service projects like cleaning a park or painting a building.

Creative, multi-faceted, missional approaches that change from month-to-month, year-to-year, will keep the ministry you lead from becoming insulated inside the building.

Remember, kingdom work is a marathon, not a sprint.  Be open to the Spirit’s leading and have your eyes open to where kids and students are gathering.  Then find a creative way to build a bridge into that gathering place.

This will work much like an attractional event but extended over time.

See the responses to question #1 and #3 in corresponding posts.




ETCH Conf 2016 – What I Heard Part 1

etchThis week my family and I spent a few days in Nashville, TN at the ETCH (Equipping the Church & Home) Family Ministry Conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources at the beautiful Music City Center.

Jennifer and I were honored to lead a couple breakout sessions and record a podcast for the LifeWay Kids podcast.

This is my fourth time to be a part of the conference; Jennifer’s second.

We love seeing many familiar faces from the CentriKid world and the VBS Preview events.

The conference attendance was close 1000 people from all over the country.

As we shared with kidmin, student, family and young adult ministry leaders, several questions kept rising up in our conversations.  I thought these repeated questions were a good indicator of where nextgen ministries are these days.  These leaders are on the front lines of ministry with children, students, and young adults in churches small and large.

Questions I Repeatedly Heard

  1. What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?
  2. What do I do to get outside the walls of my church?
  3.  How can I respond to all the cultural issues that are flying at our kids/students?

Reflections about the Questions

In a series of three posts, I want to try and reflect and respond to these questions.  Not that I am an expert in any way, but these questions are really at the heart of disciple-making for kids and students – something near to my heart.

Question 1:  What if the parents of my kids/students are not believers in Christ?  How do I respond to them?

The issue of unbelieving parents should not be a surprise to any of us.  Kid and student ministries that actively reach spiritual orphans have been facing this for decades.  When children and students find their way into a local church without believing Christian parents in tow, some of our recent ministry paradigm shifts come to a screeching halt.

The paradigm shift of family ministry and moving the focus to equipping believing parents to be the primary discipler of their kids has been a wonderful shift.  There is no question that when kidmin and stumin leaders push believing parents away from their ministry design, they are making a terrible, unbiblical mistake.

The parent equipping shift, however, only works when you have believing Christian parents.  If the kid or student finds their way into your local church without believing parents, the family-based discipleship model is useless.  There are no believing parents to equip and encourage.

Even more difficult, but eternally glorious, is when an unbelieving child or student comes to faith in Christ without believing parents and the ministry now has the discipleship responsibility for that infant brother or sister in Christ for the long haul.

Kidmin and stumin leaders are seeing that the family-ministry shift, while necessary and good and wise, is based on the premise that believing parents will be available.  That isn’t always the case.

S0 how do you respond to unbelieving parents?  I offer you four suggestions: Introduction.  Information.  Conversation.  Friendship.

  • Introduction:  Introduce yourself to them.  Share your name, role at the church, cell phone number, email address.  Much like a coach introduces themselves to parents on the first day of practice, give them a chance to get to know you.  In their mind, you are kind of like a new coach or teacher for their kid, just in church-y things.
  • Information:  Keep them informed of what is going on.  The coaching metaphor works again.  Give them a schedule of the games, times for practice, and regular updates throughout the season.  You will never go wrong in sharing information with unbelieving parents.  They expect it from their kid’s teachers and coaches, they expect it from you as well.
  • Conversation.  As you share information, make yourself available for conversation. Send a note basically saying, “God loves your kid.  Our ministry loves your kid.  I know you love your kid, so if there is anyway we can do to help you and your family, just let us know.”  Then let the conversations naturally come.
  • Friendship.  Hopefully over time, you will become a trusted friend to the unbelieving parent. Maybe you will never be super buddy-buddy like you might be with a Christian parent who serves alongside of you in ministry, but a friendship and mutual trust will form allowing their child or student to remain in the ministry for the duration.

In my limited opinion, the number of kids and students in ministries without believing parents is going to rise exponentially in the coming years.  As our nation becomes more and more secular and the place of personal faith becomes more and more marginalized, churches will see a good number of kids and students coming who have no faith background or previous spiritual exposure in the home.

I see this as an amazing opportunity for Gospel advance.  It will require ministry leaders to be wise and savvy to recognize that their ministry efforts will have two parallel tracks – one track for students with believing parents and another track for students without believing parents.

The two tracks are not in competition or opposition.  They do, however, have different speeds.

See the responses to question #2 and #3 in corresponding posts.



New Lessons in Transitional Ministry

lessons-learnedThis Sunday, September 4, will be my final Sunday as Transitional Pastor of Monticello First Baptist Church.  We have served this loving congregation in Wayne Co., KY since March, 2015.  My longest transitional pastorate to date ending at 18 months.

As I pass the baton to Bro. Mark Helton, a fine pastor and faithful man of God, I am turning over some new lessons I learned in this church that I hadn’t picked up in previous transitional pastorates.

I thought I might share 4 of those lessons.

1.   Keep an eye on the financial health of the church.  There is a temptation in transitional ministry is to focus exclusively on the people and the preaching leaving the financial side of house to others to keep watch over.  This is not a good idea.

The lead pastor, no matter permanent or transitional, has to keep an eye on the financial flow and pacing of the church.  This is part of what it means to be a good steward and a wise shepherd.  You have to watch the weekly, the monthly, and the annual trends.  Any major dips, swings, or abrupt turns must be addressed.

Additionally, there can be strategic steps taken during the transitional period that cannot happen when a pastor arrives.  For example, at Monticello FBC, we eliminated a building renovation debt during the transitional period.  We also adjusted the yearly budget to be more in line with the weekly giving trends.  We also took a hard look at future personnel needs and tried to balance what was needed versus what was financially reasonable.

Because we were in the transitional period, we were able to evaluate these needs while the budget was a little padded as we were not supporting a full-time senior pastor.

2.   Elevate different leaders in worship.   As a transitional pastor, you might feel you have to preach every Sunday because that’s what you were brought in to do.  But actually I have found that you can share the pulpit with great guest speakers, missionaries, lay-leaders, seminarians, and other trusted guests.

You have the freedom that a senior pastor might not have to share the preaching load.  As long as you are physically there and have secured someone solid, there isn’t much of a fuss if you are preaching 50 Sundays a year.  Especially if you are equipping people from within the church to use their gifts in public teaching and proclamation.

Beyond the pulpit, I have found the transitional period to an excellent opportunity to incorporate others in worship leadership, such as college students, kids, teenagers, outside musicians, testimonials, and mission teams.  There is an openness in to involving lots of different people “on stage.”

3.  Make pastoral care connections at church.  There is no way a transitional pastor can handle pastoral care demands, especially in a situation like mine where I lived 1.5 hours away.

Therefore, I had to make pastoral care a priority while in the building.  If someone was sick and after they recover are able to make it to church, you make a bee-line to check on them.  If someone has experience grief or loss and you’re able to go to the funeral, the next time they are back in church you spend extra time with them.  Sit down with them and give them the same time you would have given at the hospital.

I have found that most people understand your limits and recognize that you can’t be everywhere all the time.  Still, if you can, give them your undivided attention at church when they return so they know they are loved and thought of.

4.  Create collaboration pathways that the new pastor can immediately use.  When you are transitional and living a good distance away, you have to rely on numerous collaboration tools to keep the ministry going.

I use email, text, Remind, Slack, Planning Center Online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each one of these tools allowed me to plan, communication, and collaborate with my volunteers without meetings.  This is out of necessity.

The key is to transfer these pathways to the new pastor so that he can continue using them in the early days of his ministry.

There is a tendency for ministry volunteers to press pause when a new pastor arrives waiting to see what he wants, likes, and needs.  The problem is that this pause slows down the momentum of the ministry.

With these collaboration tools already in place, the new pastor can immediately see who the volunteer teams are, what they have been up to in the past 6-12 months, and what is the horizon.

In other words, they don’t have to wait to get their teams and communication channels in place.  They can bring their vision and direction to a good working system from day one.

These four lessons are now added to my ever-growing list of practical lessons in transitional ministry.  To read more, select these topics.

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

Pros and Cons of Interim Transitional Ministry

Interim No. 7 Coming to a Close





The Great 8:28: Eight Years in Review

Eight years ago (July, 2008), my family and I felt God’s call to leave our beloved Main Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, KY to serve in the Campbellsville University School of Theology.  I can’t believe it has been 8 years.  I still dream about Cincinnati chili and wonder who has claimed my Red’s clergy pass.

During these 8 past years, I have been so honored to serve alongside 7 churches as transitional pastor: Parkway Baptist, Bethany Baptist, Living Grace Church (2xs), Lancaster Baptist, Hurstbourne Baptist, Stanford Baptist, and Monticello First Baptist. We also were invited to do short preaching stints at Pleasant Grove Baptist & Hodgenville Christian.

We had no idea that transitional ministry was going to be God’s plan for us to stay connected in local church ministry all the while teaching full-time in the classroom at CU.

For three years, I traveled the country on the LifeWay Kids VBS training tour and for the past 5 years been a content developer and camp pastor for LifeWay CentriKid Camps.  These ministry opportunities still amaze me.  I am so unqualified to represent such a top-quality national ministry.

In the School of Theology, I’ve been so blessed to teach amazing students, travel to Israel and Jordan (2xs), Greece, and Turkey, and work with some of the most encouraging people on the planet.

Then, starting in 2015, God opened the door for me to try my hand at academic administration as the Dean of Online Education.  Again, I am humbled by the chance to stretch my leadership wings and explore what it means to lead & teach in the Christian university setting.

Over the past 5 years, Jennifer (my beautiful wife and ministry tag-team partner) started, finished and graduated with her Ph.D. in Family Ministry from Southern Seminary and began her teaching career also in the Campbellsville University School of Theology.  When we left Main Street 8 years ago, this idea wasn’t even in our wildest dreams.

Most importantly, above all else, both of our handsome, strapping sons have trusted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and have followed Him in believer’s baptism.

Isaac surrendered to Christ during a worship service at Hurstbourne BC saying during the invitation to his mother, “Momma, I need to be saved.”  He was baptized a few weeks later.

Ethan prayed to trust Christ during VBS at Campbellsville BC while his Momma was explaining the Gospel to the children.  He was baptized a year later in Monticello FBC.

We praise God for His work in the lives of our sons.

Eight years.  2008-2016.  Wow, what a ride.

In a few weeks, we will finish transitional pastorate #8.  And the question of “where next” is upon us.  But we are holding fast to the GREAT 8:28 from Romans 8:28.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Wherever He leads, we will go knowing that God’s amazing purpose for our lives is for our good.

He has worked.  He is working.  He will continue to work all things together for our good.

Why I Keep Saying “Thank You But No Thank You” to Full-Time Church Ministry

no thank youFor the past 8 years, I have served in cross-vocational ministry.  I have willingly, intentionally, and consistently turned down several gracious invitations to return to “full-time” church-based ministry.  “Why did you say no?” you might ask.  Please let me explain.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with full-time, church-based ministry.  It is a high calling and something I believe firmly in.  As a ministry professor, I am thrilled when I hear that my students have accepted their first FT position on a church staff or in a para-church organization.  I remember well my first FT ministry position and how it changed my life forever.

However, I am seeing some trends in the larger landscape of ministry today that compel me to stay in a cross-vocational role with no plans of making a change in the future.

What are some of those larger landscape trends?

1. Issues with insurance.  While none of us enter into ministry to make the big bucks, the reality that self-employed insurance premiums can  drain our monthly budgets very, very fast.  Even with new government-subsidized insurance plans available, the cost is still significant to a ministry family.

If there are on-going medical needs, monthly prescriptions, or the desire to have a large family full of little ones running around, you could see a fourth of your monthly take-home pay devoted to medical expenses.

Churches are doing their best in trying to help their ministerial staff, but in all honesty, they are only able to provide a small portion of what is actually needed.  Going cross-vocational can assure that a second employer is there to help with medical expenses and possibly even provide medical insurance as a benefit over and above the salary.

2. Access to influence.  Everyone knows that the community influence once held by pastors and ministers is waning in the US.  The church is being pushed further and further to the periphery of society, being displaced from the central position it once held.  A voice once sought after in community affairs is slowing being silenced from the public dialogue.

Yet, by remaining cross-vocational, you’re influence in not tied to your church position. It’s tied to the relationships and networks you’ve built within your community. Because you work in this industry or are a member of that professional group, your voice within community is held much stronger.

3.  Invitation to conversation.   There are two types of people never invited to the party: the pastor and the police.  Yet, Jesus was constantly being invited to gatherings of all sorts.  He was invited because people wanted to hear what he had to say.

When you’re only answer to the most avoided question – “What do you do for a living?” – is pastor or minister, you know the conversation will quickly end as walls go up and stereotypes flood in.  But if your honest answer is teacher, nurse, sales, event planner, web designer, then you have a chance for the conversation to move forward. You will be given the opportunity to build a relationship and engage in a conversation which eventually could lead to the topic of faith.  When your lead is “preacher,” the conversation is pretty much over.

4.  Financial freedom from the finance committee.  Lastly, I continue to say no to opportunities to return to FT ministry because, frankly, I don’t trust a committee or volunteer group to hold my financial future in the palm of their hands.

I am not opposed to churches utilizing finance or stewardship teams in making decisions on salaries and compensation.  I actually applaud congregational leadership and place value in seeking and hearing from wise counsel in decision making.

Yet, I don’t want an argument or disagreement I’ve had with one member of a single committee to become a foothold in my heart, creating fear and anxiety about my next paycheck or raise.   Nothing makes my blood boil more than a volunteer committee using the pastor or church leader’s salary as leverage to get what they want.

“If you don’t bend to my way, you will never see an increase as long as I am on that committee.”   This mentality is the exception to the rule, I assure you, but I have seen it with my own eyes and know it happens all the time.

The FT minister can be stuck between leading with courage and boldness and facing fear about feeding their family all because of a disagreement with someone on a volunteer committee.  When you have an income coming from somewhere other than the church, you can lead far more courageously.

For these reasons, and others, I am happy to say “no thank you” to the gracious invitations to return to FT church-based ministry.

Personally, I see the cross-vocational calling aligning well with the words of the Apostle Paul,

For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)


What’s Been Up with You Lately?

whats-up-docI was in a restaurant the other day and a friend I hadn’t seen in a while came in to eat. We saw each other and approached warmly to give a handshake and a hug.

After exchanging pleasantries, he asked, “What’s been up with you lately?”  A very regular thing to ask to an old friend.  My response started, “Well…a lot actually.”

What would constitute a lot?  Well, my beautiful wife, Jennifer, finished her PhD in Family Ministry from Southern Seminary back in December, which was huge for us. This was a long 5-year long process that began with her being laid out on the coach recovering from a back surgery.  She defended her dissertation a couple days before Christmas and passed with high marks.  She will walk in May.

What else?  Well, back in July I made a switch from full-time faculty to full-time administration at Campbellsville Univ.  I still teach a two or three classes per semester in the School of Theology, but my main responsibility is to serve as Dean of Online Education overseeing 25 fully-online academic programs at CU.  I am only 6 months into this new role when, just over the new year, I was asked to take leadership of the Graduate School, which has graduate programs online, on the main campus, and in Louisville.  This has been a HUGE growing experience in academic leadership, vision casting, team building, and systems management.  The learning curve has been steep.

What else?  Well…I told my friend at the restaurant… I am still serving as transitional pastor at First Baptist Monticello.  We’ve been there right at a year.  It is such a healthy place to be.  Great people.  Sweet spirit.  Generous in ministry.

What else?  Well, my oldest son has to get braces and my younger son is really doing great in school.

What else?  We are just a couple months away from finishing off all our student loans. Hallelujah.  And Jennifer is planning a fabulous western US summer vacation to celebrate her completion.

What else?  Well…as I recounted all of these life developments with my friend, I began reflecting in real-time that I am as happy as I have been in years.  I am feeling the shine of God’s favor and blessing.  I am amazed at His goodness and kindness to me and my family.

So what’s been up with you lately?

5 Ministry Modifications for Cross Vocational Pastors

coffeeThe complexity of cross vocational ministry has be to addressed by each and every pastor pulling double-duty.  You have to evaluate time spent at work, at church, with your family, with your church family, in Sabbath and in labor.

No cross vocational pastor will be able to do it all.  They must make strategic modifications to their ministry approach  in order to maximize their time and their efficiency.

Let me offer 5 suggestions which might help you modify ever so slightly.

1.  Use your cell phone as a conference room channel for team meetings.  Get everyone on the phone using the merge call function and have them open up individual laptops.  Once everyone is connected, use a shared church calendar or virtual planning app and let everyone contribute in real-time.  You might not be able to pull off a full, in-person staff meeting because everyone is at their “other” job, but you can plan and connect as a team if you are thinking ahead.

2. Use text messages & social media to connect to people that you won’t see during the week.  With your day-job absorbing the bulk of your time, you might only see your congregation when you are in the actual building.  To make a connection without being present, send a personal text message, post on the church’s social media channels, or write a church wide email.  Each digital touch gives your people a chance to connect with you, even if it is only with a “like” button.

3.  Write stock notes to be delivered when others make hospital visits.  There is no way you will be able to make all the visits and surgery runs.  If you have a team helping you cover the hospitals, give each person a stack of pre-done hand-written notes to take with them sharing your concern and prayers.  You might think it feels impersonal, but I promise the person in the hospital will appreciate a card from their pastor.  It is something tangible that will go a long way.

4.  Record voice memos of sermon ideas, staff meeting plans, and future ministry strategies.  You might not have a chance to come back and write down your ideas while at work.  So pull out your phone and record your idea before it gets away from you. You can even send those memos to various team members as voice messages allowing them to start stewing on the idea.

5.  Choose family outings where your congregation might also show up.   When you go out to your local bowling alley, movie theater, community festivals, farmers markets, or ball games and see people from church, greet them warmly.  You don’t have to neglect your family to be in ministry-mode, but just say hello and show interest.  It is another connection that makes all the difference.

The key to cross vocational ministry is to be intentional and strategic.  You must maximize your time and take advantage of the little things that can make a huge difference.

What ideas or modifications would you suggest?  Leave a comment.