Unusual Yet Blessed: A Different Approach to Church Staffing

Unusual.  That is a safe description of the staffing structure we are currently using at Youngers Creek Baptist Church.

Unusual in that none of our pastoral and ministerial staff live in the town the church is located in.

The church is located on the outskirts of Elizabethtown, KY, in east Hardin Co.  None of our church staff, with the exception of our fabulous church secretary, live in Elizabethtown, Hardin Co, or any of the adjacent counties.

Our worship minister, children’s ministry intern and I (the transitional pastor) all live in Campbellsville about 50 minutes away.  Our student minister has recently moved from Campbellsville and now lives in Bowling Green about an hour away.

This approach is not normal.  This is definitely an out-of-the-box model.  Honestly, it was not something I anticipated when I arrived.

When I came as transitional pastor in November 2016, our student minister was finishing his final year at Campbellsville University.  He was already in place having started a few months before.  He was one of my students and was instrumental in recommending me to the deacons to possibly come during the transition.

Then in December, just a month after I arrived, our worship leader, who was a lay volunteer, announced she was having a baby and would be stepping away at the end of the year.

I immediately went to my dear friend and colleague with extensive experience in worship leading and music and asked if he could come lead us.  It took a few months, but eventually he was able to come.

Then in January, our children’s director, another lay leader, stepped away to focus on her family and job.  I knew the perfect Educational Ministries student who could help our kids ministry.  We brought her on as a children’s ministry intern and she has done amazingly well.

So now we have…

  • Four staff members and none live in the town of the church.
  • Four staff members who all drive at least an hour to get to the building.
  • Four staff members all who work another job or are going to school.

Unusual, yes I know.  Yet we are greatly blessed.

Our ministry to middle school and high school students is outstanding.  Our student minister keeps the focus rooted in God’s Word and is committed to making disciples.

The children ministry is vibrant and at times, overwhelming.  The Lord keeps bringing little ones to us even as our church median age is Baby Boomers and retirees.  We are seeing younger families bring preschool and grade-school aged kids more and more.

Our worship atmosphere is lively, inspiring and grace-filled.  There is a sweet expression on every face.  Our choir, praise band and media team do an amazing job leading us into the throne of grace.

Our staff planning is unusual.  Most of our communication is through text messages, planning websites, emails, car pools to church on Wednesday night, meet ups on campus, and phone calls.

Yet even as we approach things in a unique way,  the staff is of one mind, united in heart, and dedicated to the mission of Youngers Creek Church.  We, together, seek to to bring church to life.

I am so grateful for this unusual opportunity.  I recognize how unorthodox it is, but I am very thankful for a church that is willing to try the unusual.

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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 

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.

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.

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.)