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.

 

 

Personal Journeys Off the Map

vbs 2015The LifeWay Christian Resources VBS (vacation Bible school) theme for 2015 is “Journey Off the Map.”  The  theme captures the heart of adventure, unchartered territories, unknown places and dangerous challenges. I have been on the road with LifeWay the last couple weeks and have loved challenging leaders about what it means to follow God on a journey into the unknown.

The theme has got me thinking.  What is it about human nature that loves a good journey?  Why are we drawn to adventure novels, movies and stories?  Why do little boys and girls love to pretend to find hidden treasures in the backyard that can only be discovered with an ancient map?

Apparently God has implanted the desire for journey into our soul.

As I look back on my life, I have been on some great journeys.  They may not seem great to Mt. Everest climbers or Appalachian Trail trekkers, but they have been amazing journeys for me.

Short-term international mission trips have been a journey.  Places like the Sinai desert of Egypt, the ancient city of Xian, China, all through rugged Latin America and modernized Europe.

The chance to go on three Bible land tours has been a journey.  Walking where Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke, Timothy, Titus walked has been a real adventure.

Leaving my home in KY and moving to Dallas/Fort Worth for seminary was a huge journey.  Saying good-bye to the familiarity and comfort of the Bluegrass state in lieu of full dependence on God and willingness to do whatever He called me to do in the Lone Star state.  Looking back, that journey was really hard but ABSOLUTELY worth every minute.  Without leaving, I don’t believe I would have grown as much as I did.

There have been more relational journeys that have been just as adventurous.  Marriage has been a wild journey.  Standing with and loving my wife of nearly 13 years has been a journey into uncharted waters.  Parenting two sons has been a great journey.  Watching them grow, learn, explore has been filled with adventure, and at times, chaos.

Teaching and walking alongside college students has been a glorious journey. Seeing them walk into college fresh, eager, green and hopefully leaving more matures equipped, discipled, trained and properly launched.

There is one student, in particular, that has been a journey to say the least.  From his entrance into our lives four years ago to his recent exit, he has completely transformed.  There is still more for God to do, but the difference is radical.

I love the journey.  I love the adventure into the unknown. I love letting God Almighty set the course and take me and my family anywhere He wants us to go.  I wonder what journeys lie ahead.

5 Things To Do BEFORE You Send Out Your Ministry Resume

My primary work and ministry is with young adults who are about to embark on vocational ministry for the first time.  They have sensed the call of God on their lives and are studying to prepare themselves for real-life ministry in churches and ministry organizations.

For that reason, I get lots of questions about the creation of a ministry resume and how the whole placement process works.

I have written a couple pieces on how to create and improve the standard ministry resume, but I also wanted to add another component that is often overlooked.

What should you do before you send that ministry resume out?  Before you hit send on that email or drop the resume off in the mail, what should you be thinking about and making sure is in proper order.  So here are…

5 Things to Do BEFORE You Send Out Your Ministry Resume

1.  Notify all of your references.   You probably asked several key mentors in your life to serve as one of your references.  You’ve gathered their contact information, titles, current place of service, etc.  Now that the ministry resume is put together and ready to go, send your references a finalized copy and notify them that you are officially on the search.  I also suggest that you notify them if and when you receive a position, thanking them for whatever help they provided and informing them that the search is done.

clean12.  Clean up every aspect of your social media life.  Take down any inappropriate pictures, delete tweets, remove comments that your friends have made on a pic, toss out any controversial status updates, inflammatory remarks about a denomination,  a particular pastor, an author, or a church.  Even Cosmo magazine supports this spring cleaning approach to your social media.

It might sound extreme, as if you are removing a portion of yourself from your online existence, but your digital presence presence is highly evaluated in determining whether you get a first call or not.  Make it G-rated all around.  The more sanitized and clean, the better.

3.  Contact your home church pastor or youth minister.   Your home church leaders are going to be huge advocates for you and the ministry God has called you to.  They will probably have more experience seeing your spiritual gifts and talents on display in the service of the King.  Send them a final ministry resume and share with them what you sense God is calling you to do.  You may find that they are your greatest asset in being placed.

 It’s often not what you know, but who knows you.

4.  See if you know anyone on the inside of that particular ministry.  Think long and hard about who leads this ministry, who attends this church, who already serves on that team, and see if you can work through an inside connection rather than sending a cold email.

Again, the internal relationships and networks are far more effective in building trust and establishing a connection than flatly sending a standard email with resume and cover letter attached.  Do some investigative work.  You might be surprise how small the ministry world really is.

5.  Lastly, study the website thoroughly.  Read every page of content.  Read every document uploaded.  Read every blog post.  Like them on Facebook and be a follower on Twitter.  Look at previous newsletters, organizational documents, anything that will tell you what this ministry is all about.

You need to be more than casually informed about their vision and mission, you need to be able to articulate if that vision coincides with your own.  This is what captures attention and moves the process along.

Overall, you might believe this type of intentionality and diligence removes the hand of God or lessens the work of the Holy Spirit in placing His servants in His kingdom’s work.  I would disagree.  I believe taking these steps simply makes you more involved in the process and gives God more room to work in you and in the ministry you are seeking to find.

Blessings on your journey and may God use you greatly for His great name.

 

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.

Cross-Vocational Thinking in a Full-Time Ministry World

full timeIt seemed the goal of every seminarian I studied with was to be called as a full-time pastor, minister, missionary, non-profit leader, etc.  Rarely did I meet anyone whose desire was to be cross-vocational.

The singular aspiration was to find full-time support with full-time benefits, combing with a full-time salary, resulting in full-time demands in their ministry calling. The idea of going cross-vocational (my terminology for bi-vocational) was the furthest thing from their mind.

And to be honest, as a 20-something seminarian, I had the same mindset. While I served cross-vocationally my entire seminary life (i.e., working at a publishing company, a community center, a toy store, parking cars at a country club, substitute teaching while serving as a part-time youth minister), I dreamed of one day being on full-time staff.

I desperately wanted to be called to one place serving them full-time so I could be single-minded in my vocation and not so tired from running all over the place trying to make ends meet.

So when seminary graduation came, my hopes for full-time ministry were finally fulfilled.  I was called to serve a church as a full-time associate pastor.  That is what I did for the next 5 years.  I served full-time, 40, 50, 60 hours per week, week in and week out.  I thought I had finally made it to the big time.

But quickly I started noticing something I had not anticipated.  I started noticing that I was constantly surrounded with Christian people.  All my friends were Christians.  All the people I interacted with on a weekly basis were Christians.  Most of the time the only people I saw were church members and their families.

The demands of full-time ministry pushed me further and further into an entirely Christian sub-culture.  I rarely heard cuss words anymore.  I rarely saw people get drunk and stumble out to their car.  I rarely heard any of the office gossip I remembered from the publishing company, because my office was now a church office.

My full-time ministry was pulling me further into a vacuum-like tunnel where all I did was serve Christian people, teach Christian people, counsel Christian people and walk alongside Christian people.  Encountering someone without a relationship with Jesus Christ was rare.

This is the danger of full-time ministry, particularly in a local church.  On the mission field and in the non-profit world, there are plenty of interactions with unbelievers, but church-based pastoral ministry can be very insulated from the real depth of spiritual lostness.

That is why I have loved (and thrived) in cross-vocational ministry on the Christian college campus.  My university admits all sorts of people, believers and unbelievers, domestic and internationals.  While I am still somewhat in a Christian bubble, I do interact with all sorts of people who know very little about Jesus or even nothing at all.  They are students in my classes, athletes on scholarship, internationals studying abroad, and non-traditional students giving college a second chance.

I still serve the local church and love preaching and teaching God’s Word to God’s people, but being connected with unbelievers reminds me that Jesus came into the world to save sinners like me.  He came and died and commissioned us to live sent, live missionally, live in a world that desperately needs to know Him.

Cross-vocational ministry has provided a much easier path to missional living than full-time church ministry ever could have.  I pray that more and more pastors, ministers, and seminarians will consider giving their lives to cross-vocational ministry as a life calling.  Full-time is nice, cross-vo (in my humble opinion) is better.

5 Things VBS Is that Other Ministries are Usually Not

VBS Family Night at Hurstbourne Bapt Church, Louisville, KY

VBS Family Night at Hurstbourne Bapt Church, Louisville, KY

For me a conversation about local church ministry does not take long until the subject of VBS (Vacation Bible School) comes around.  It is no surprise to anyone who knows me and my story, that I am a huge fan of VBS.

I came to saving faith through the ministry of VBS and love to tell how thousands of lives are transformed each and every year through this powerful outreach.  I will always say “Yes” to VBS.

But if I put my bias aside and attempt to critically, analytically evaluate the benefits of VBS, I have discovered that this ministry does some things that other ministries simply do not.  VBS has some advantages, strategically, that most ministries in the local church don’t even compare to.

Such as…

1.  VBS is highly intergenerational.  Meaning all age groups, both young and old, and everything in the middle, interact and spend time together for one week.  They worship together, study together, fellowship together, and serve together.  What other ministry effort joins hundreds of volunteers from all ages for one week and structures an experience where they get to know one another and serve as one big, happy family?  I can not think of anything we present have that creates intergenerational connections as much as VBS.

2.  VBS is very collaborative.  When kids ministry leaders attempt to pull off a VBS week, it requires significant time planning, collaborating and communicating together.  There are various teams, such as preschool, crafts, music, food, administration, follow-up, etc, all working together to make sure all the details are managed.  Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds talk and share ideas together about what they should do and what they should avoid.  I would have to believe this week is the most collaborative ministry event on the church calendar.

3.  VBS is intentionally evangelistic.  It goes without saying that VBS far outpaces most other ministry efforts when it comes to intentional evangelism.  I have heard a leading VBS expert (from my SBC tribe) say that for the past 30 years there has not been any other ministry effort even come close to the number of salvations that VBS has seen.  Not revival meetings, not disaster relief, not food and clothing ministries come close.

4.  VBS is one of the remaining creative outlets in the church.  With the ending of the Easter pageants and Christmas plays, there are not many outlets left in church life where Christian people are encouraged to use their artistic gifts.  There are not times when sets are built, rooms are elaborately decorated, costumes are pulled out and put to use, paint brushes and construction paper fly wildly.  The Creator God has created us to be mini-creators, but there are not many ways to utilize these gift any more, particularly in the visual arts.  VBS provides this creative outlet each and every year.

5.  Lastly, VBS has service opportunities for every believer in Christ, no matter their spiritual maturity level.  Everyone can serve somewhere.  Whether you have been a Christian for less than a year or you are nearing the time when you will see Jesus face to face, VBS has a place for you to serve.

When you put these 5 things up against almost every other ministry venue in the local church, VBS stands above.  While the music ministry is intergenerational, it is not intentionally evangelistic.  While Sunday School and small groups are very collaborative, those ministry venues are not overtly creative.  VBS stands above.  It has benefits that other ministries do not have.

So if you are a longtime VBS’er, I commend you to not give up.   If your church hasn’t done VBS in a while, consider bringing it back and see what it provides.  If you have never served in VBS, commit to giving it a chance in 2015.  I believe you will see that it is absolutely worth it.