8 Things I Am Thankful For at YCreek BC

Youngers Creek Church Elizabethtown, KY

As I am reflecting at the end of Resurrection Sunday on my back deck, I am so thankful to God for Youngers Creek Baptist Church in Elizabethtown.  This wonderful faith family invited my family and I into their lives in November.  It was a joy to spend my first holy week with them this year.

My heart is full of thanks this evening, but let me try and capture a few specific things I am thankful for.

1. The REACHOUT Effort.  We had 132 in attendance on Palm Sunday and 156 on Resurrection Sunday.  Numbers are not everything, but each of these men, women, kids and students represent a soul that God loves and Jesus was willing to give his life for. There were 3200 invitations mailed to our community and over 200 personal invites made to friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers.  For this I am very thankful.

2. The Family Egg Hunt.  We had over 40 kids and 4 guest families attend the family egg hunt.  I am so thankful for Ms. Stephanie Litton and the children’s ministry lead team for making this a HUGE success.  They prayed, planned, invited kids and families, and created a perfect atmosphere where families could come, have fun and hear about the message of the Resurrection.  For this I am very thankful.

3.  The REFRESH Efforts.  Many volunteers gave countless hours refreshing the exterior landscaping, cleaning up the parking lot, painting downstairs, setting up banners, and completely revamping the nursery, toddler room, and kids space in fellowship hall.  Everyone has been so willing to give their time and talents to make space ready for younger children and families.  For this I am very thankful.

4. Volunteers Galore.   Over 3 weeks (i.e., Serve Saturday, Palm Sunday and Easter), we had nearly 80 volunteers serving in all sorts of ways.  We had 30+ volunteers for Serve Saturday.  About 15 volunteers who organized, decorated, cooked and led the family egg hunt.  Volunteers served as greeters for our worship services.  Volunteers prepared music and media for worship.  Volunteers arranged for the communion elements.  Volunteers baked cookies to give out as gifts.  It has truly been a team effort. For this I am very thankful.

5. Tremendous Staff Leaders.  With an all part-time church staff, you might think we would go light and do the minimum.  That has not been the case at all.  I am thankful to Dr. Tony Cunha, Mr. Adam Hicks, Ms. Stephanie Litton and Ms. Pat Filyaw for their hard work over the past few weeks.  You make my role very easy because each of you are so committed and dedicated to your ministry calling.  For this I am very thankful.

6. The Warmest of Christian Hospitality.  If @YCreekBC is known for something, it is their gift of gracious hospitality.  From the homemade cookies, to the Easter bookmarks, to the lively, friendly, inviting atmosphere, they make everyone feel right at home.  Friends and family alike can never say YCreek is a stuffy church.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For this I am very thankful.

7. Dedicated Deacon Servant Leaders.  The six men who serve as deacons truly represent Christ-like servant leadership.  They pray, serve, guide and give without any hint of pride or arrogance.  They are humble, kind, and Spirit-filled.  They love Youngers Creek Church and do their very best to serve Christ in their words and deeds.  For this I am very thankful.

8. The Vision of Two Godly Women.  This whole 3-week effort was the dream of two godly women – Mrs. Bonnie Thompson & Mrs. Laura Mobley.  During a Wednesday night dream session, they shared their dream of letting the community know “our church is alive.”  From that dream came Serve Saturday, the community mailer, the refresh effort, the family egg hunt, and the various first impression improvements for Palm Sunday and Resurrection services.  Their vision has become the vision for our entire church.  For this I am very thankful.

Lastly, I am very thankful to God for the opportunity to serve alongside the Youngers Creek faith family.  This Easter ministry season has been truly blessed.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4:10 

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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

 

 

 

 

Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call

twixters

Photo from Time Magazine. Jan. 2005.

Have you ever experienced something you don’t want to be true, but in your heart of hearts you know that it has already happened?  Have you ever observed a visible, tangible shift in the tides and wanted desperately for them to stop shifting out from underneath you?

Every single day, serving, teaching, coaching, mentoring 18-22 year olds on a Christian college campus in the middle of the Bible belt, I see the shift.  It is real and present and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.

I haven’t heard anyone speak about it.  I haven’t seen anything published on it.  I haven’t even had conversations about it, except with a few of my closest colleagues. Nevertheless, I know it is there.  I know it is happening.  I know it is going to impact local churches and theological education for the coming generation.

What is it?  What is the shift I am so concerned about?  Here is my purely anecdotal hypothesis:

I firmly believe the prolonging of adolescence and the corresponding delay of entrance into adulthood is radically impacting Christian young people from hearing, discerning, and surrendering to the call of vocational ministry.

I recently heard Dr. Meg Meeker, M.D., founder of The Strong Parent Project and author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters share research that the new entrance into adulthood is 25 years old.

For previous generations, it was much younger.  For the Builders and Boomers, it was 18 when you could vote, move out, and be drafted.  For Gen. X, it was 21 when you finished college and could legally drink.  For Millennials, it has shifted again to 25 years old when a young adult is finished with college, maybe finished with grad school, and is getting established in their first career position.

This change has been recognized by many, especially educators and employers of younger adults.  We see it everyday.  Calling an 20 years old an adult is socially correct because they are not kids and calling them such is offensive.  The label teenager is so passe.  Putting the “you are an adult” spin on it helps a bit, but they don’t feel like an adult.  They have no desire to be an adult at this stage.  Adulthood is some far off, distant experience that comes after you get out of college, find a job, possibly get married and have to pay real world bills.

This delay touches all sorts of things in our society.  It touches the economy.  It touches the first-time home buyers age.  It significantly touches the thought of marriage and parenting.

We have more students in graduate school than ever before.  More young adults living at home with their parents for years after finishing college.  More young adults pushing back repayment of their student loans because they can’t find adequate employment in the struggling job market.  There are jobs to be had, but they don’t pay enough to support independence.

The delay also touches something near and dear to my heart: hearing, discerning and surrendering to God’s call for vocational ministry.

When mature, faithful, Christian college students are considering their career and future, I am fervently praying God will speak to their hearts about the possibility of surrendering to the call to vocational ministry.  Whether in cross-cultural missions, church planting, church revitalization, pastoral leadership, kids ministry, student ministry, non-profit work, community restoration, para-church organizations or any  type of kingdom-building work.

But if they are not entering adulthood until 25, I believe they are struggling to consider, to discern, to surrender to the call God may be putting on their life.

As they are delayed in their social, emotional, economical, psychological maturity, I see a corresponding delay in their spiritual maturity.  I find this to be particular true among Christian young men.

The problem I face is that I teach Christian ministry and leadership to primarily 18-22 year old college students.  That is my mission.  That is what I believe God has called me to do in this world.  But I am seeing less and less of them stroll through our hallways and into my classroom.

I wonder if any other Christian college theology or ministry professor is seeing the same phenomenon among their students.

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.

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote

vote

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote.

While in seminary, I was given a book written by Dr. Paul Powell, former pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.  The book was called “Shepherding the Sheep in the Smaller Church.”  There was a little hidden gem in the back of the book that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Powell encouraged anyone shepherding a smaller (or any size) church to do things that didn’t need a vote.  He encouraged pastors and ministers to do the little things that didn’t need money or permission to be done.  Little things that as a pastor no one could say yes or no to like starting a small group in your home or visiting shut-ins.

Over the years in ministry I keep going back to that little mantra – “do things that don’t need a vote.”  I have added a few other suggestions to my list like…

1.  Send hand-written thank you notes.  Those still catch a surprised and grateful eye.

2.  Send small group leaders a mid-week encouragement email as they are studying for Sunday.  Their study and teaching preparation is as important as yours.  Don’t you love it when someone writes/calls and says “I’m praying for you as prepare.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It goes a long way.

3.  Personally invite people to come to your church.  Invite your friends.  Invite your family.  For me, I invite my students all the time.  When you brings guests, it encourages others to do the same.

4.  When preaching, communicate vision and direction in where you see the Lord moving.  Tell your people what you see happening.  While the church newsletter or blog is fine to share vision dates and details, your “face-time” on Sunday morning should be used wisely in casting the direction.  You only have their undivided attention for the first 5 minutes of the message, make it count in moving the ship forward.

5.  Pray for people who come to the altar by laying on hands.  If you believe in the power of prayer (as I do), encourage your people by praying over them.  If possible, invite some others to join you in praying for their needs.  There is nothing more unifying and humbling.

6.  Walk the isles before worship and spend time with your people.  Dr. Ken Hemphill called the 10 minutes before worship the 10 most important minutes in ministry.  Don’t seal yourself off in your office or “green room.”  Be among your sheep.  Talk with them.  Visit with them.  Sit down and pray for them if they ask you to.  Trust me, they all know you are thinking about the sermon and the service, but you have been called to be their “pastor”, not their professional Bible teacher or speaker.  A pastor spends time among their sheep.

I could go on and on.

I feel like church leaders, especially in smaller or mid-sized churches, feel as if they have limited authority in leadership.  While there might be policies and procedures in place for spending larger amounts of money or specific steps to take in securing prime real estate on the church calendar, there is much ministry that can be done without any red tape.

Spend your energies doing those little things that don’t need a vote and you will find greater success in your overall ministry leadership.