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.

Pulpit, Podium, Music Stand or Bistro Table

When you enter a church for worship, what piece of furniture do you expect to find on the elevated platform?  What you expect to find often speaks to what you believe about the importance and role of the preaching and teaching ministries in the local church.

When I say platform furniture, I am speaking of the wooden, metal, or Plexiglas structure that the pastor/teacher uses during the message.  I am talking about the pulpit, podium, lectern, or other make shift device that they stand behind.  Some call it the sacred desk; others refer to it as the hunk of wood that will never go away.

These furniture pieces have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  These days you basically have eight options to choose from.

pulpit potters house

The Potter’s House Pulpit. Dallas, TX

1. The Wooden Pulpit.  The wooden pulpit can be natural, stained or painted wood.  It is usually equipped with a hidden storage space, sometimes a clock, maybe even a lamp.

The wooden pulpit establishes a high view of preaching authority.  Since the Reformation, wooden pulpits have been placed front and center to project the importance of the preaching/teaching moment in the worship service.  In predominately African-American churches, pulpit are becoming larger and more elaborate.

2.  The Plexiglas Pulpit.  plexiglas pulpitFor those who wanted to move away from the behemoth wooden pulpit, the Plexiglas pulpit became the preferred choice.  It was lighter, easier to move, and allowed for the church logo to be etched in the front, creating a branding opportunity.

The Plexiglas pulpit is see-through, breaking down some of the distance between the pew and the pulpit.  For the first time in years, you could see the pastor’s legs while they preached.  It was meant to make the pastor more tangible, more human, more accessible.

3.  The Cellphone Tower.  A new addition to modern pulpit design is what a dear friend of mine calls “The Cellphone Tower.”  This pulpit is portable, modern, and gives the appearance of being industrial.  It basically a podium made of piping or stage rigging.

cellphone towerBoth the Plexiglas Pulpit and the Cellphone Tower communicate something different than the Wooden Pulpit. They communicate innovation and an appeal to close the gap between the preacher and the pew.  Most pastors bemoan the large, wooden pulpit and tend to move out from behind it while they preach.  They believe coming out from behind the pulpit make a closer connection with their hearers.  These newer designed pulpits attempt to do the same thing.

4. The Music Stand.  The thought behind this piece of furniture is ease and utility.  The music stand is already on stage, nearly invisible and projects that the sermon/message is more about the communicator than anything else.

Consider the musician or soloist who uses the music stand for their sheet music – no one notices the stand, they focus on the artist.  The same thought is at work when the pastor preaches with a music stand – focus on the message, not the furniture.

5.  The iPad Pulpit.  ipad pulpitEven newer than the cellphone tower, the iPad Pulpit has entered the church marketplace as more and more pastors toss out the paper notes and go fully digital.  This pulpit looks sleek, modern, and like a control panel on the USS Enterprise.

As with the music stand, the iPad Pulpit places more focus on the communicator than the furniture piece itself.  It can be moved to and from the platform with ease, making transitions seamless, perfect when the stage hand has to place stage props or move band instruments.

For younger generations, the idea of packing a leather-bound Bible to church and scribbling out notes with pen and paper may seem antiquated.  Everything is digital these days.  Open your Bible app, use Notes to keep ideas, Tweet good ideas.  If the hearers in the pew are going digital, maybe the pastor should as well.

bistro table6. The Bistro Table.  In the world of conversation and dialogue, a new pulpit concept has emerged.  Enter the Bistro Table.  The bistro table says to the hearers, “Welcome. Pull up a chair.  Let’s chat.  No judgment.  No tradition.  Just conversation.” 

Bistro tables are present in your local restaurant or sports bar, why not at church.  They are cheap, sleek, and very easy to move. They are high enough to hold your notes and Bible with without problems seeing what you’ve written down.

As with the music stand and iPad pulpit, the view of the preacher/teachers is more casual and laid back.  No suit and tie.  No formal robes and vestments.  We are here to worship God and to be in community together.  There is no better way to communicate community than to preach with a restaurant table.

7.  The High Chair and Monitor.  Tossing aside the podium, lectern, stand or table, the high chair and flat panel monitor are growing in popularity.  Probably made most famous by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, this removes the pulpit furniture altogether and embraces a communicator-teacher-presenter effect.

The pastor/teacher interacts with the stage props, the audience, and the monitor all in real time.  There are no notes, no Bible, no manuscript. The message is memorized and rehearsed. The sermon is a talk.  The pastor is the presenter.  This is conference style communication. There probably isn’t much of an invitation or call to publicly repent, but that is not the design of the service.

Andy Stanley

8.  Nothing at all.  Consider the apostles, the disciples, or Jesus himself who preached to thousands with no platform furniture at all.  No pulpit.  No cellphone tower.  No monitor.  The founders of our faith preached on hillsides, from fishing boats, seating in synagogues and in open public squares.  They preached without notes, without furniture, without iPads, yet they preached with passion, vitality, and full of God’s spirit.

All in all, whatever platform furniture piece you use, remember these items are not essential, nor are they sinful.  They are tools to use.

Simply put: don’t let platform furniture become a sacred idol.  We can preach the Gospel with or without them and be perfectly biblical and Spirit-led.

Cross Vocational Ministry Demands Organization Skills

cross vocationalIn recent months, my role as a cross vocational minister has changed. If you are not familiar with the term “cross vocational,” it’s because I made it up.

Cross vocational ministry is my invented term for what was once called bi-vocational ministry.

I prefer the term cross vocational because the ministry leader has an everyday, normal job and a ministry calling which are constantly crossing over one another.  At times, the day job is the primary focus and at other times, the ministry role is primary. The cross vocational minister is constantly attempting to balance the two.

I also like the idea of “cross” vocational in the implication of Jesus Christ, who went to the cross, dying for sin, making a bridge for mankind to “cross” over from death to life.

In recent days, my day job at Campbellsville University has become quite a bit more demanding. After seven years of full-time teaching faculty, I have now taken on a role in academic administration in addition to teaching.  Whereas faculty members have flexibility in their weekly teaching schedule, academic administration is more of a 40 hours per week, 8 to 5, kind of job.

What I am now facing is what most cross vocational ministers have faced for years.  They work a full-time job, then switch, or cross over, to the ministry in early mornings, evenings and on weekends.  The time demands are pressing when it comes to sermon preparation, church leadership, communicating vision, and attempting to perform some level of outreach and pastoral care.

The main lesson I am learning in balancing these demands is that organization and preparation must be way in advance.  Time is limited in a full daily schedule, therefore the cross vocational minister must use every free moment to be planning, preparing, and working far in advance.

You never know when your schedule is going to change at the day job.  You might be called in for training or need to make a business trip or be given an assignment that must be finished by Friday. In order to meet these demands and the ministry tasks, you have to utilize every tool available to be organized, prepared and focused.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered for organization and preparation in cross vocational ministry.

1. Use your breaks wisely such as Christmas break, spring break, or long holiday weekends.  Use these extra days off to plan ahead.  I know there are other things on your agenda, but this “free” day might be enough to prepare several sermons or put together a major outreach effort.

2. Be constantly taking notes and jotting down ideas.  Use your smart phone or iPad to track thoughts that might come at the gym, on the road, at a lunch break, or even in the shower.   Carry a ministry journal with you everywhere working on upcoming sermons or to-do lists for ministry projects.  Pack a few blank note cards with you and when you are waiting for a haircut or a doctor’s appointment, write a note to a new member or a family that is struggling.

3. Communicate using web-based tools.  Use group emails, group texts, and group document sharing tools to keep everyone in the loop.  The more you communicate digitally, the more your team (who is probably cross vocational as well) will be able to do their work without a face to face meeting.  Social media and email can also help you connect to the wider church family without being “physically” present for everything.

4. Plan worship services collaboratively using Planning Center Online (planningcenteronline.com).  If you are the primary teaching pastor (as I am), use Planning Center Online to let other worship leaders including your worship minister, media team, vocalist, ushers, etc., know what you are planning far in advance.  You might not get the opportunity to do a sit-down worship planning meeting, but at least they will know where you are going and what you are expecting weeks (or months) in advance.

I plan on writing more this week about cross vocational ministry and several new implications for this type of ministry in the days to come.  From all indicators, cross vocational ministry is going to intensify and grow in the coming decade.