Encouraging the Encourager

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(DISCLAIMER – this does not reflect my situation at my congregation of the Granny White Pike Church of Christ.  This is a response to some discouraging news I got this past weekend from a friend in ministry, who was let go from his job during this holiday season, in the middle of the school year, and doesn’t know what he’s going to do.  I felt called to write this today for those ministers going through a rough season in their lives, and for members in their church on how they can encourage.)

Discouragement.

All of us go through it at times.  Some, more than others.  I suppose when I was growing up, I always looked at our preacher (often times it was my dad) and thought he always had it together.  I never suspected anything was ever a problem.  I thought the Church was a safe haven.  I thought, to be real honest, that preachers were perfect.  It never crossed my mind they would get upset, get discouraged, or struggle at all, because it was there job to build others up.

I now know that is far from true.  Being a minister now, I can vouch that it is extremely easy to get discouraged.  My personal theme for the year is “Encourage One Another in 2014”

I’m part of a few mentor groups with other ministers.  Sure, I have my own struggles, but they are mostly of my own accord and worry.  I love my church family, and I feel loved and encouraged and supported.  However, the stories I hear from other guys in this line of work break my heart.

One guy was telling us about when he and his family were preaching in a small rural church.  The congregation provided a parsonage.  The minister and his family went away on vacation for a week, and when they returned to their home, all of their stuff had been boxed up and placed out on the porch and in the yard – with a note “The elders have decided that it is time to get a new minister.  Please see  Beth (the church secretary) to get your final paycheck.  Good luck in all you do.”

That was it – no “let’s have a meeting about your job” or face to face conversation stating why – just a gutless firing while the family was away.  You may think that’s not the norm, and for the most part you’d be right – however, there are things like this going on all around the nation in churches today.

This past weekend – a friend of mine was called into a meeting by the elders.  With no warning, with no prior meetings about his performance, with no “let’s talk about how you can do better” conversation, he was told to leave.  He’ll have to either weather the storm through the rest of the school year for his kids, or make the decision to move his kids in the middle of the second semester.

Ministers of all types have accepted their job knowing that with it comes certain struggles.  Some guys are one upset person away from losing their job.  Some guys are continually belittled.  Some guys, even though they give it their all, are never told an encouraging word.  And the result – fewer and fewer people are wanting to go into the field of ministry.  In fact, it seems like every week or so I see a friend of mine I know on social media who is getting out of the field.

I have many people here at the Granny White Pike Church of Christ who are encouragers.  People who come up to me after a lesson, and don’t just say “Great job” – but rather they talk about the lesson with me.  They share how “the point you made about” really touched them, or was something they really needed to hear.  I love these conversations.  They motivate me to continue.  I love getting emails and Facebook messages about how my lesson helped people.  It motivates me to better.

I have a group of elders here who show all of our ministers great support.  They provide for us, pray for us, share with us, take us to lunch, are there for us to share frustrations, are wise beyond others I know, and offer words of wisdom.  However, I know that not all ministers have the same luxury.

So this morning – let me share with you some of the things my members/leaders do to help encourage me that you can do for your own ministers:

Encourage your ministers – all of them.

– Support their projects.
– Pray for them.
– Attend their classes.
– Listen to their lessons.
– Write notes to them, thanking them for specific lessons.
– Pray for them.
– Take them to lunch.
– Volunteer to watch his children so he and his wife can go on a date night.
– Share what they talked about in church on social media.
– Pray for them.

In what ways do you encourage your ministers at your congregation?  What are some other ways we can let ministers know how much we appreciate their work?

At this time – I want to send a special shout to my great congregation, the Granny White Pike Church of Christ, for always doing such a great job of encouraging.  My prayer for other ministers is that their congregations will do the same.

Image from kalexanderson via flickr

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If You Want to be Somebody…(The one about being a popular preacher)

I remember years ago, sitting at “Youth In Action” in Birmingham, AL as a 10th grader.

YIA was a classic youth rally event, bringing people from all around to a the convention center in Birmingham.  It was right after Christmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it – from the drive down to the singing in the atrium to the walk across the street for the classes and keynotes.  I went many times, with Johnny Markham, Scott Freeman, Jason Bybee – and each time I learned great and wonderful things.

I remember very vividly one night, I was listening to Jeff Walling speak.  As he spoke, I was drawn into his masterful storytelling, his vivid descriptions, and powerful insight into the scriptures.  After he was done, I leaned over to my friend Jason, and told him “One day, I’m going to be a keynote speaker at Youth In Action just like that.  That’s my dream.  That’s my goal.  If I want to be somebody, I’ve got be a keynote speaker at one of these events.”

Fast forward 20 years.

I still have not been a keynote speaker at YIA, or Winterfest, or anything for that matter.  I have had the opportunity to speak at the Faulkner Lectureships and the Lipscomb Lectureships, but my Alma Mater – FHU, has not yet considered me.

Yesterday, I spoke at the Faulkner lectures to a crowd of well over 18 people.  There were maybe 20.  And I was discouraged.

At that point, I felt like a nobody.  Down the hall, rooms were filled to the brim of people known wide and far.  Down the hall, there was standing room only for certain speakers.  But other rooms were just like mine.  Filled with empty seats instead of people listening.

Now, I get the opportunity to speak many times a week to many people.  My wonderful church family at GW is 300-350 strong every Sunday morning.  I get to teach classes multiple times a week.

But when I go somewhere that I’ve never been heard of, shockingly, no one comes.

I’ve been told that in order to get more gigs as a speaker, to have more people come hear you, to get invited to more lectures – you have to self promote.  But one of the things that I’ve learned since that day I leaned over to my friend in Birmingham that night after the message was spoken – I refuse to self promote.

Because the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Sure, I love to see my blog posts get read, and to get numbers on my stats, and to have so many “likes” on my Facebook posts.

But the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Its sad that when I think about my favorite preachers – its usually because of their style, their voice, their delivery, the ability to capture my attention – but rarely is it because they connect me to God in a deeply personal way with their message.  Its usually personal preference.

In the preaching world – there’s a lot of “politics”.  Who do you know, who do you hang out with, are you popular, how big is your church, how popular is your church, do you say the right things regardless of scripture….the list goes on and on.  But I often find that the best messages I hear are the ones from people I don’t know.

I realize that if I want to be somebody in the preaching world, I have to become a nobody, and let God rule my message, my delivery, my style.  I can’t worry about why people aren’t calling me left and right to be a guest speaker.  I can’t worry about why I don’t demand a crowd of thousands to listen to my words.

All I can do is be who I am – a servant of God with a message.

And what I’ve learned is this – it feels really awesome when people come up to me on Sunday morning and say things like “That one really spoke to me,” or “Wow, were you listening in on my struggles this week, because that really meant the world to me” – and I wouldn’t trade knowing the fact I’ve helped one person for multitudes of people in my audience.

The most moving stories in evangelism as you read through the New Testament are the ones that don’t involve the crowds, but the individuals.  Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.  Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.    Interactions between Jesus and the twelve.  The stories move us because they are personal, they are relational.

And for that reason, I really don’t care if I speak to 10 people or 10,000 people – so long as I can develop relationships with those I meet along the way.

Our youth minister, Scott Tillman, spoke yesterday as well before the entire crowd at the Faulkner lectures in the morning Keynote. He did a stellar job, and said something that will stick with me for a while.  He reminded us that the only thing he believes we will take with us to Heaven is our relationships.  And I think that’s true.

Its not about your place at the table, its about your relationship with those you feast with.

Sure, I’d still love to keynote at one of those grand events, but for now, I’m perfectly content preaching the word to my GW family, and those I come in contact with daily. I will strive daily to please God – not man.  I will strive daily to reach as many as I can.  I will strive daily to grow the Kingdom.   May God bless us as we figure out the best way to be somebody for Him, instead of somebody to the world.

Promoting Talent Over Integrity

For chapter 5 of Geoff Suratt’s book “Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing”, we look at a chapter that I’m not completely familiar with as far as the situation is concerned.  That’s not to say that I don’t know of churches who have promoted talent over integrity, but I have not dealt with it that much.

This chapter really looked at some examples such as worship leader/band leader for a denominational church, which I don’t have too much familiarity with.  However, the best example the book refers to is the Duck Test.  This refers to the duck test in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, when people were trying to figure out if a lady was a witch or not.  Ultimately, the conclusion was that if she weighed the same as a duck, then she was a witch.

I don’t believe churches spend enough time really hiring ministers.  When I was hired at Guntersville, it was a marathon.  While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I look back at it and realize that it was a good thing.  They wanted to make sure I wanted it, and that they wanted me.  We interviewed there 4 different times before we were offered the job.

But for most churches, they bring the group of selected individuals in for a try out, and after all of them try out, they bring back the one candidate they like the most.  All this is, typically, is a chance for these candidates to show off, try out, and show how much talent they have.  You really can’t learn a lot about who a minister is by one or two weekends with the church.  This is typically placing talent at the top of the list.

This doesn’t always bite you in the rear end, but it can.  I’ve known churches to fire someone a year or even 6 months after they are hired, because the had the ability, or the talent, to preach and teach, but did not have the integrity behind it.

If you are in a church where a minister lacks integrity, maybe because they have had an affair or hurt the church in some way, this chapter would be a great read.  However, like I mentioned, this chapter did not deal with any real situation I’ve ever been in.

Coming up tomorrow is the chapter on “Clinging to a Bad Location”.

Settling for Low Quality in Children’s Ministry

childrenminThis post will explore chapter 4 of Geoff Surratt’s book “10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing”.  This chapter is about Children’s Ministry.

After I finish reviewing most of the chapters in this book, I may go back and give my feelings on youth ministry.  However, this chapter deals with children’s ministry.  Its an area that most churches are finally realizing they are not putting enough effort and money into.  I know children pretty well.  In fact, I am one class away from having an Elementary Education degree.  My wife has a Child and Family Studies degree.  I may not be an expert, but I do know a little something about children.

We have a Children’s Minister at our congregation here in West University Place.  Christy works many hours a week preparing big events and service projects.  However, she is only one person.  I’m starting to realize that all ministry is much larger than any one person.  For our Children’s Ministry at West U to be successful, it can’t be only Christy.  She knows that, I know that, but sometimes parents don’t realize that.  For a program to be successful, it needs to be supported by everyone.

Another thing I’ve learned is that in ministry, no single minister is good at everything.  That’s why we equip other people to help and serve.  Areas I may not be good at, you may excel at, and I need you to help me.

 

 

Children’s Ministry is more than:

–  Sunday School
–  Wednesday night class
–  VBS
–  Parties
–  Children’s Worship or Bible hour during service
–  Gathering all the kids and singing and playing games

Children’s Ministry is an area that affects the entire congregation.  If a child is not happy, or not learning, the parent may pull that child out of the program, and go look for a place that will influence or teach their children better.  Others will follow, and before you know it, you’re left with a small group of kids, but even worse, a whole lot of your volunteers are gone.  When visitors with children come to your service, they will notice a lack of people in their children’s age range, but also in their own age group as well.  Its a snowball effect that a church can hardly ever recover from.

One problem that I have noticed recently in Children’s Ministries across the board is that they are using the wrong curriculum.  Some write their own that have no business doing so.  Others use a curriculum that doesn’t fit their church.  Some problems with that are that some curricula call for large groups for the class, acting out a skit or playing a big group game, and you’ve got Junior and  Susie, and no one else in your classroom.  This won’t work for that class.

I think we don’t give kids enough credit.  Children are smart, and are sponges.  They listen better than we think they do.  We may think that children have to be entertained, but in reality, children are extremely flexible in their learning styles.  As long as someone is prepared, children will listen.  The problem arises when a teacher shows up at the last second without preparing.  Children know when someone isn’t prepared, and they will take advantage of the situation.

If you come to kids with a plan of attack, and things to fill the entire hour of their time, they don’t have a chance to get distracted.  There is no room for error when teaching Children.  If you give them an inch they will take a mile.  Teachers being prepared is the single most important thing.

But you also need to understand that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Don’t focus too much on the big events and overlook the weekly activities and classes.  Classes should be the bread and butter of any children’s ministry.  At the same time, you can’t just put all your effort into classes and expect children to stay happy.  They do need the big events such as VBS and festivals and parties, but don’t overdo it.

A strong, vibrant, and exciting children’s ministry will be an outreach tool on its own, because children will want to bring their friends with them to class, to events, to church, and anything else going on.  With their friends come parents who may not belong to a church.  Maybe  a refreshment in your children’s ministry is what you need to start your church on a path to revival.

10 Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing — Chapter 1 — Trying To Do It All

As we begin this review, we start with the first chapter entitled “Trying To Do It All”.   I think the funny thing about this chapter is the inevitable fact that all ministers in churches that are small understand exactly what this means.  Let’s just look at it from the example of the church I work for now.  My title is Associate and Worship.  However, I am in charge of Life Groups, finding teachers for our Teen group, preparing all the slides for our worship service, running and maintaining the website (www.westuchurch.com), working with our families, occasional bulletin editor, in house technical guru, class teacher, and many other things.

Our minister is the same way.  Not only is he the preaching minister, but he’s the office manager, bulletin editor, class teacher, sounding board for disgruntled members, and many more things as well.  When you work with a small church, you have this dilemma because there are much fewer workers in the church.

The author Geoff Surratt makes 4 points about “How to Give Away Your Job in 4 Simple Steps”.  His ideas are:

1.  Connect the Dots –

“Your people want to be part of a big mission.  Simply teaching a class, sweeping a floor, or printing a bulletin is not a big mission.  people will grudgingly do theses types of menial tasks until they can find a way out.  On the other hand, when they can see theses tasks connected to a bigger vision of changing their family, their community, and their world, they will arrange their lives around making sure the work is done.”

2.  Make the Big Ask –

“Don’t expect the right people to come forward on their own accord.  Often the people who step up initially are the least qualified for the task.”

3.  Show Them the Ropes –

“The biggest mistake we make as pastors in this area is that we don’t had off ministry; we abandon ship.  Once we find a willing volunteer, we hand her the teacher’s guide adn the class roster and run like heck before she changes her mind.”

4.  Quit –

“Realize that you are currently doing some tasks that you should pass on to someone else, while you are doing other tasks that nobody should be doing.  Pastors who are overwhelmed by ministry often pastor churches with too much ministry.”

I think the hardest part of this is the idea of asking, because many ministers have the attitude of “If I want it done right I’ll just have to do it myself”.  Even if we do realize that its okay to give up something, we too often do exactly what is step #3.  We rush it, and then the ministry fails completely because the person we’ve handed it over to has no clue what they’re doing, and it dies a slow death.

I like the last part of the quote in the 4th step of quitting is amazing, and hard to swallow.  “Pastors who are overwhelmed by ministry often pastor church with too much ministry.”  With churches that are smaller, we really do overwhelm ourselves with too much.  Maybe, the idea of this chapter could not just be pointed towards the leadership, but towards the whole church.

We have 150 members at our congregation.  We’re lucky to have about 40-60 for class on Sunday mornings.  Out of those, about 20 are involved with Sunday School for children.  We then have a Ladies Class, an Auditorium Class, and usually one other adult class.  For the fall quarter, we tried to add a fourth Sunday School class, and it was met with tough times.  We’re not ready for a fourth adult class, and we have realized it.  We are going back to only three in the Winter quarter.

What things are you doing at your church that you are overwhelmed by?  Quit trying to do things that only a larger church can do.  Make sure you are not overwhelming your staff, your elders, your ministers, or your members.  When we burn out on something, its hard to regain passion for it again.

Chapter 2 to come tomorrow.

Book Review: 10 Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing by Geoff Surratt

To be honest, I saw this book in a catalog from Group, and thought it was a humorous title, and picked it up thinking it may be more of a comical book than serious.  While the book tends to bring a gentle sense of humor with it,  the 10 chapters of this book are spot on.

Over the next few days, I think I would like to review each particular chapter in this book, and add my thoughts to the author’s thoughts.  This book was written from the perspective of a Pastor in a multi-site congregation in Charleston, South Carolina.  What I really liked about it was that it was not just from his perspective, but at the end of each chapter he asked a different Pastor/Minister to give his thoughts about that particular point.

Pastor’s contributing include Craig Groeschel, Pastor of LifeChurch.tv, Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington D.C., and Perry Noble of New Spring Church in South Carolina, who you can link to on the right.  There are 7 others in the book as well, a different one for each chapter.

I’ll start the reviews of each chapter next week, but I thought I’d go ahead and give the chapter names so you could be thinking about them.  In order, they are:

1.  Trying to Do It All
2.  Establishing the Wrong Role for the Pastor’s Family
3.  Providing a Second-Rate Worship Experience
4.  Settling for Low Quality in Children’s Ministry
5.  Promoting Talent over Integrity
6.  Clinging to a Bad Location
7.  Copying Another Successful Church
8.  Favoring Discipline over Reconciliation
9.  Mixing Ministry and Business
10.  Letting Committees Steer the Ship

I’ll try to begin this review Sunday afternoon or Monday.  Till then, Roll Tide.