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

 

 

 

 

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The Pharaoh Effect in Leadership

10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” Exodus 5:10-13

pharaohHave you ever been confronted with the workplace concept of “do more with less.” For example, be more efficient with less people. Or be more productive with less resources. Or make more sales with a smaller sales force.

Pragmatic leaders can often look at efficiency, productivity, and task management through the lens of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the days of Moses.

We read in Exodus 5 that after a confrontation with Moses, the Pharaoh, or king, ordered the Hebrew slaves to continue their brick making, but without their daily supply of straw.

To make bricks you needed mud, straw and lots of sun.  Pharaoh’s punishment was to remove one of the necessary elements, normally provided to them, so that their work would be harder.  They would now have to gather the straw AND  make the bricks.

Yet, they were to keep their same quotas; meet their same daily goals.  Do more with less.  Keep up the same productivity levels, but now with less resources.

I call this the “Pharaoh Effect” in leadership and I see it everywhere in organizational life.  Do more, expect more, demand more, but with far less resources, staffing, and support.

How can this be considered good strategy?  How can this not be considered what it was in Moses’ day – cruel and harsh punishment.

As a mid-level leader myself, one of my goals is to constantly advocate for my team to the upper-level executives.  To show their value, efficiency and productivity to those who make the highest decisions.   I must work hard to never become the task-master who sees their work as inferior or secondary to my own.  The minute I begin barking orders and cracking the whip on them as slaves, I loose my leadership influence forever.

In other environments, I find myself as a first-chair leader.  I would never go as far as considering myself anything like a Pharaoh or king, but in some situations I sit atop of the organizational chart.  In that role, I must never, no matter the budget shortfall or the climate in the boardroom, choose to remove necessary resources from my team with the hopes of greater productivity.  I simply can’t take away the straw and expect the same number of bricks.

“Sorry team, our computers are gone until we pick up the numbers.”  “Sorry team, vacation and sick days are gone until we see third quarter gains.”

If the straw must be removed, competent leaders must find other ways to encourage their teams toward ingenuity, creative pragmatism, and out-of-the-box thinking to rebuild and grow.

The Pharaoh Effect in leadership is everywhere, but it should be avoided.  Give your teams the resources they need to succeed otherwise they might take an “exodus.”

 

 

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.

Lead Like Jesus – 9 Characteristics of Servant Leadership Pt. 1

Adapted from World Changers for Christ (CrossBooks, 2012)image

Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25-26)

The Christian model of leadership demonstrated in the life of Jesus and consistently taught throughout the New Testament is that of servant leadership.

Servant leadership looks very different compared to many other leadership models in our society. Servant leadership stands in contrast to much of what we see in the news, in big business, what we hear at leadership conferences, and even among top-tier church leaders. It’s more than a concept or a strategy. It’s a philosophical and practical foundation with which to see the world around you and particularly those you lead.

Jesus challenged his followers to look around them and take stock of what true leadership is not.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” (Matt. 20:25). The rulers of the Gentiles (or all non-Jewish persons) were men like Caesar Tiberias, the ruler of the entire world seated in the vaulted Roman Forum. Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, who sentenced Jesus to be flogged and gave way to the crowd calling for his death. Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who feared the kingdom of his father – Herod the Great – would fall if any revolt was left unchecked. Or the Roman centurion, overseeing the crucifixion of Jesus, yet in a moment of clarity confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54)

These Gentile rulers “lorded” or dominated over the people. They exercised their authority with a sharp sword and iron fist. They controlled the populace through fear, coercion, threats, and torture. These monsters, who invented crucifixion as a form of punishment and the gladiatorial games as entertainment, controlled the masses like ruthless barbarians.

Within these societal leadership structure, Jesus speaks out, cutting through the haze when he says, “It shall not be so with you” (Matt. 20:26). For his followers, all present and future disciples of Jesus, there would be another way. There would be another leadership style at play.

There would be servant leadership where “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27).

But what does that look like? How does one lead like Jesus? What makes servant leadership, particularly for Christian people, so different from all other leadership models in our society?

Nine Characteristics of Servant Leadership

1. Servant leaders seek the benefit of others before themselves. – The core conviction of the servant leader is the desire to place others above themselves no matter the outcome. They seek the good of those they lead and those they follow. A heart of service towards others permeates every action and deed.

2. Servant leaders view people not as products or cogs in a machine, but as valued persons made in the image of God. – Servant leaders view each and every person, believer and unbeliever, man, woman, and child, as a valued creation of God himself. Each bearing the image of God, equipped with gifts and talents uniquely bestowed by the Father, meant to be used for His greater glory. People are not products; they are not little machine in your leadership assembly line. They are image-bearers, and therefore, should be respected as such.

3. Servant leaders recognize God is in control of all things and we are but stewards of the leadership opportunities He has given to us. – Servant leaders know that “leadership is stewardship.” (Stanley, 2009) Stewardship means caring for some else’s property. It is a share-cropper term. One owes the field; the steward cares for the field under the authority of the owner.

When the servant leader confuses stewardship for ownership, they are on very thin ice. We must understand God is fully responsible for any and every leadership opportunity we receive. He is the owner; we are the steward.

4. Servant leaders minimize their personal need for recognition, fame and popularity in exchange for Christian humility, grace and sacrifice. – Christian servant leaders must keep a larger perspective of God’s redemptive plan in mind. They are but a minuscule part of something very, very large. Be grateful God has called you. Be thankful that you have given a purpose and task in His kingdom. Never think more highly of yourself than you ought. (Rom. 12:3)

(5 more characteristics coming this week.)

Assessing Your Resources in Transitional Ministry

I have been on a bit of a break from the blogging world primarily because ministry demands have been very high the last couple months.

In January, I was on a whirlwind tour with the amazing people from LifeWay Kids helping train thousands of VBS leaders and volunteers around the country with stops in NC, TX, and TN.

Then in February, I finished up transitional pastorate No. 7 at the Stanford Baptist Church in Lincoln Co., KY.  Finishing strong is so important for any ministry leader, but even moreso for those in transitional ministry.  It is the baton-pass you were brought there to help facilitate with effectiveness and efficiency.

Then starting in March (just a couple weeks ago), I began transitional pastorate No. 8 @ the First Baptist Church Monticello (Wayne Co.), KY.  I have been there two weeks and we are quickly preparing for Holy Week outreach events and Resurrection Sunday celebrations.

Not to mention, we are in the middle of the spring semester at Campbellsville University and students are everywhere.  Jennifer and I are doing pre-marriage counseling for two couples who are getting married soon.  It is always wonderful to walk alongside students we so dearly love.

The new transitional pastorate in Monticello has been wide-open from the very start.  The people have been so friendly and welcoming to our family.  The staff, consisting of a pastor of outreach & missions and a worship leader, have been tremendously helpful to work with.  They are “whatever it takes” kind of men, which I love.  Personally, because I am a media-tech nerd, I have been so thrilled to work with a full media arts team that makes our worship time colorful and vibrant.

Starting at First Monticello has proven once again this undeniable fact of transitional ministry: “If the church chooses to sit around and wait until the next senior pastor arrives to do anything substantial in ministry, there might not be much for a new pastor to arrive to.”

There are two streams of thought in transitional church ministry: 1) maintain and buy time until the new pastor arrives or 2) move forward boldly as best you can with what you got.

I have been in churches that have practiced both.  The “maintain and buy time” churches are not wrong or bad.  There are simply choosing to push pause on everything until leadership is reestablished.  Usually these churches have some healing to do before they can really move ahead together.

The “move forward boldly” churches feel a sense of urgency to keep momentum alive.  They believe God has a purpose and plan for their church no matter who is in the pastor’s study and they want to be about that purpose now.

It is then critical for me, as the transitional pastor, to assess which stream of thought the church is following within the first days.  I have to discern which pattern is going to best serve them over this period of time and in doing so, determine my leadership output and speed.  Either we are moving slowly and cautiously toward the next pastor or we are moving ahead urgently with their God-given purpose.

Business human resources

For those churches who want to move ahead, my primary task earlier on is to assess resources. I have to attempt to read between the lines, asking probing questions, and have engaging conversations with staff, leadership groups, and key share-holders, trying to determine what resources we really have to work with.

Resources in church life are four-fold: 1) people resources, 2) facility resources, 3) budgetary resources, and 4) on-going ministry resources.

People resources are those leaders, volunteers, talented musicians, artists, technicians, organizers, community leaders, people of influence and skill inside the church.  The people resources are my favorite to engage.  We must find a way to encourage and spur on these folks to even greater leadership and ministry.

Secondly are facility resources.  Some churches have facilities that help them; others have facilities that hurt them.  You must gauge that facility to see how it can be maximized for ministry potential.  Frankly, some facilities need so much work and maintenance that ministry is better suited outside of the facility than inside.

Third are budgetary resources.  During a transitional period, the giving can vary greatly. Usually the longer the transition, the more the budget begins to struggle.  On the converse side is that a senior pastor salary is not being paid allowing for some budgetary flexibility.  However the budget is moving, you have to consider what financial resources you have very carefully.

Lastly are on-going ministry resources.  Every church has several ministries that are their “bread and butter.”  It might be kids ministry.  It might be missions.  It might be music.  It might be disaster relief.

As a transitional pastor, I have to find the ministry that taps into the DNA of the church and pour fuel on the fire.  Whatever that ministry is, its fire cannot die out.  You should publicly praise the leaders of that ministry.  Cheer-lead for them to grow and stretch even in a transitional time.  Possibly put more people and budgetary resources behind that one ministry so they know what they are doing really matters and is important to the life of the church.

Assessing resources is paramount in transitional ministry.  Your time with the church might not be long, however, your leadership impact can potentially be huge.  

There is nothing more attractive to a prospective pastor than a church who is not waiting for him to arrive, but are choosing to press forward in the purpose God has called them to do.

 

 

Grind It Till You Find It

This was not my car.  My car was not nearly this nice. But the same make and model.

This was not my car. My car was not nearly this nice. But the same make and model.

My first car was a black, 2-door, 5-speed 1987 Renault Alliance.  A vintage custom-built French-made automovile…complete with accompanying beret (not really). It was basically a cardboard box on four wheels, but I loved it with all my heart.

The only problem was that the car was a manual and I didn’t know how to drive a straight shift.

So my father set about teaching me how to drive a stick.  I learned a wonderful phrase in those lessons that still rings true today:

“Grind It Till You Find It.”

What he meant was as I was trying to change gears between 2nd and 3rd and couldn’t seem to find the right spot, I needed to grind the transmission until I found the gear.  It would make the car rev up and sound like it was screeching in agony.

In ministry, and particularly in church-based ministry, there are seasons when you have to grind it until you find it.  You get stuck between gears and the ministry seems to be screeching in agony.  Transitioning between one speed to the next can cause everyone to get all out of sorts.  But don’t fret.  Keep the clutch pressed down and find that gear.  Its out there, it might be elusive at the moment, but it is out there.

(…warning honesty alert…)  I am currently serving a church as transitional pastor where we, together, have had to grind it until we found it.

The beginning of our time together was not the best.  It was not terrible, but definitely not smooth sailing.  It was a tough transition on them and a tough transition on me.  There were a few Sundays and business meetings where things were not easy and the church was definitely screeching in agony.

But we had to grind through it.  We had to try and find our gear together, so we could move forward and accelerate smoothly. To the glory of God, over the past three months we have finally found that rhythm.  We found the next gear.

So be encouraged if you are leading a ministry and its seems like a grind.  Be faithful.  Be of good courage.  Be consistent in the Lord and find strength through His Spirit.  Sometimes you just have to grind it until you find it.

Have hope, the gear will come.  It will come and the ministry will smooth out.  Until it is time to shift again.

Building Momentum in Ministry

momentum 2

In the world of business leadership, there is much effort given to building and maintaining momentum.  Momentum is the underlying force that creates stronger morale among employees and customers and makes everyone involved feel excitement and anticipation.

In business, marketers try to create momentum around a new product or promotion.  CEOs and presidents try to create momentum around a new vision or campaign.  Management tries to create momentum around a new person, new assignment, or new department being added.

In the world of ministry leadership, particularly church-based leadership, the same effort is given to building and maintaining organizational and organic momentum.

Organizational momentum is when the church starts gaining small victories.  Small wins, that individually are not overly significant, but collectively propel a sense of “we are going somewhere” and “something good is finally happening around here.”

Organic momentum is when you actually start seeing spiritual growth in people, particularly those you are investing deeply in, and visible growth in a variety of metrics (e.g., giving, worship attendance, baptisms, small groups started, outreach efforts, mission trips, etc.)

The key for gaining organizational and organic momentum is seeing it as a real goal to actively strive toward.  Most pastoral leaders want to build momentum philosophically, but it is not really something that shows up on their week-to-week radar.  They want momentum to build toward their larger vision for transformation and growth, but they are not doing anything intentional to make it happen.  And for that reason, months come and months go and really nothing is gained.

So how do you build momentum on a week-by-week basis in ministry leadership?

1.  Tell lots of success stories.  Sharing the small victories over and over publicly in worship, in printed materials, on the church website, in small groups, in staff meetings, in leadership circles, wherever, whenever, with whomever you can.  You must keep telling the success stories.  No one will care, or even notice, if you don’t.  And when you start feeling like a broken record, you are not done.  Total submersion is the goal.

2.  Recast the vision over and over.  Along with sharing small victories, you have to keep casting the vision of growth, change, renovation, renewal, and revitalization.  To be a leader, you must take people to a place they would not go by themselves.  We all know Rick Warren’s axiom that vision must be cast every 28 days.  I am starting to believe it needs to be every 7-10 days in this culture.

You don’t have to cast all parts or every aspect of the vision all the time, but momentum is built when the larger body sees how this particular piece fits in with where things are moving and going.

3.  Give other people room to excel and then praise them publicly for it.  Momentum is a shared experience.  In other words, momentum begets more momentum.  When one of your teammates does something well, shout it from the rooftops.  Give them room to succeed and then cheer lead for them.  Cheer lead especially for the ones that often get overlooked like landscaping and maintenance, senior adult groups, benevolence, children’s ministry leaders, and the fellowship committees.

4.  Capitalize on the seasons of newness in the annual calendar.  There are several times a year when momentum can be built as a natural out-flow from the calendar.   Fall is perfect because of the start of school.  January is also strong with the new year.  I personally like the 90 day push of February-March-April because it has huge exclamation point at the end – Resurrection.  If you capitalize on these seasons, you will find momentum easier to gain.

5.  Lastly, don’t be afraid to be happy about what is happening.  Let your emotions show.  We all know there is a proper place for humility and recognition that all good gifts (including momentum) come from the Lord.  But you must let your people see that you are excited.  That you are sense a building anticipation.  That you see things happening and are so thrilled to be part of a move of God.

There is nothing wrong with being joyful that you are not in a dead church going nowhere fast, but God has been so gracious to plant you in a living church that is on the move.

Momentum is a one of those fleeting things that is hard to come by and even harder to sustain.  Here today, gone tomorrow is a very suitable cliché.  But when you do build momentum organizationally and organically, I encourage you to pour gas on the fire because it might be a while before it burns this hot again.