To Be A Kingdom Building Pastor Today — You MUST…

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I love this picture.

I saw it on Mark Jobe’s Facebook page. Mark is a pastor of a church I greatly admire in Chicago. Actually, as a church planter and revitalizer, I’ve probably referred people to New Life (and a video of their work I keep bookmarked) as much as any other church.

New Life is doing what I believe is some of the best, hardest and most needed work in church growth today. They come along side an older, declining, established church and breathe “new life” into them helping them reach the community again. There are many other churches doing similar work, but I have been to New Life and had the opportunity to talk with Mark a few times, so he’s one doing this type ministry I’m familiar with most. I don’t know Mark well — but we are close enough to be Facebook friends :)

In this picture, Pastor Mark is walking with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. According to the caption, Mark was “Discussing the challenges of providing a safer environment and better role models for Chicago school children with the Mayor”

I love it!

Yea Mark! Yea New Life! Yea God!

The thought that struck me with this picture is that it provides further proof of something I’ve believed for some time. Something I’ve been living and preaching.

It’s how I’m trying to do church growth today.

To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.

You simply have to be! I’m convinced.

Okay, maybe must is too strong a word. Sometimes I use titles to get you to read — because I am making a point I believe is important. And, let me be clear there are many other effective models of doing ministry than Mark’s and certainly mine. But, being a community builder seems to be at least one of the more effective ways I’m seeing churches grow these days.

People aren’t coming to our big buildings anymore — or our small buildings. We must go to them.

Shortly after I arrived in Lexington I ran past a historical marker for the oldest home in our city. It was built for a Presbyterian pastor. The marker explains what a difference that pastor had on the city — not just as a pastor — but as a community leader. That’s because — years ago — pastors used to be at the center of everything in a community.

Pastors were community leaders — game changers in the community. They garnered respect through visibility and activity. People listened to them and wanted their opinion — mostly because people knew them well enough to respect them. They weren’t just faces on a raised platform on Sunday — they were faces seen in the community during the week. They were friends. Town folk.

One of my mentors, a pastor now in his mid-90′s, helped start a small business almost 70 years ago that is still thriving today in the community where his first pastorate was located. How? He walked the man desiring to open a business over to the bank and told the community banker to “give this young man a chance”. He got the loan. The pastor got a generous church donor. (Funny how that works.)

He could march over to the bank with a prospective loan because he was respected by the banker.

Now, things have changed. Banks don’t operate like that anymore. I’m not saying they ever will again. Most likely not.

But, not everything has to change.

The fact is, we didn’t just stop influencing the bankers — we stopped influencing our communities. Many times we left public square to hide behind our pulpits. And, I get it. For so long they came to us. We would build it — buildings and parking lots and programs — and they would fill them. We may need to wait for some tragic or life-altering events to occur in thie life, but they’d come.

But it doesn’t always work anymore — at least not as easily.

I’m convinced, many times they don’t trust us as much because they don’t know us as much.

I haven’t been in full-time vocational ministry long. I came out of the business world where I was very involved in community functions. Frankly, in my experience, the pastors who were active in community efforts weren’t respected because of the way they went about trying to make a difference. I know because I heard my friends who weren’t Christians talk about it. (That experience has greatly shaped my approach to doing ministry. Leading in the community — hoping to be a Kingdom builder.)

You knew what they were against, but you didn’t know what they were for. You knew what they didn’t like about the community, but you didn’t know what they liked about the community. You knew they took resources from the community to operate their programs — but you didn’t know how they gave anything back. Honestly, they were seen more as antagonistic than helpful in changing the community for good.

The community won’t stand for it anymore.

And, while much of that is perception more than reality — most pastors and churches do love their community, even if it’s not always visible. If the church does it’s job of making disciples of those who attend it should be helping the community by giving back citizens who have more joy, patience, love, etc. Who doesn’t want that? (I’ll let someone else decide if a particular church is actually producing Christ-like disciples.)

But wasn’t Jesus visible, known and well-liked in the community? Sure, they eventually rejected Him, but that was part of the plan — and He knew it was coming — and that didn’t deter Him from loving the people outside the walls of the synagogue. Jesus proved you could be in the world without being shaped by the world.

And, by being in the world, we stand a far better chance of helping to shape it.

Frankly, if all the community knows is the perceptions they see — and, they are more against a community than for it — I don’t blame them for rejecting our message.

And, so, I contend again…

To be a kingdom building pastor you have to be a community building pastor.

So, we need to be involved in our schools.

We need to be involved in addressing the greatest needs of our community.

We need to know our school and city leaders and help them understand we are here to be part of the solution — not to add to the stress of their jobs.

We need to earn the respect of people in the community — some who will never enter the doors of our churches — so we can help build our communities.

Only then, in my opinion, can we most effectively build the Kingdom today. And, in my honest opinion, it’s the right thing to do even if the church never grows another member from it.

So, let me ask some sobering questions.

Pastor, how are you investing in your community?

How are you becoming a community leader/influencer?

Does the community know you — as more than just a name on a sign outside your building?

If so, do they like who they are getting to know?

The Jesus Inner Leadership Circle

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Jesus had an inner circle of leadership.

It sounds exclusive. And it was.

But you should have one too.

Matthew 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

It’s a leadership principle we can learn from and should implement also.

Consistently throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see Him responding to situations in a similar fashion.

Jesus didn’t simply announce His plans.

Instead, He repeatedly called His inner circle together. He prepared His team. Then He announced His plans.

The inner circle of Jesus (His disciples) were continually being shaped for leadership and ministry.

He built loyal followers by personally investing in them.

He gained His team’s confidence by sharing insider information with them.

He expanded His ministry 12-fold by delegating to them.

And, do you think Jesus knew a few things about leading people — people He created?

I think so.

Leader, your largest goal in leadership development should be to develop an inner circle of leaders around you.

When you invest in them — when you allow them to lead — you develop loyal followers who will follow you anywhere and help you accomplish the vision God has given you.

Great leaders — like Jesus — develop their inner circle of leaders first.

I can anticipate the detractors of this post, so let me address you now.

It’s not that you are being exclusive in your leadership development. Everyone can be developed. But rather you are being effective.

It’s impossible to lead too many direct reports in leadership.

That’s why some pastors burn out.

For me, I find I’m less effective when more than 4 or 5 people report directly to me.

Jesus could handle 12 — but He’s Jesus. But even then, it appears Jesus was even more intentional with Peter, James and John. And He consistently tried to slip away from the crowd.

“Follow Me” – Jesus said.

Leaders — do you have an inner circle of leaders you are developing?

Do You Want to Join Our Team?

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I’ve never used this blog for this purpose but I decided to give it a try.

We are looking for a worship leader.

The job title is actually Associate Worship Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. 

But, who needs titles anyway? (Okay, some do)

But, this is so much more than a title. And, we are so much more than just the name of a church. We are experiencing a movement of God upon our city. And, it’s a great time to be a part of things here.

The primary role of this job — regardless of the title — is to partner with our worship pastor — who’s a really great guy (you’ll like him) — to build an incredible team — to encourage incredible worship opportunities.

This position leads in our largest gathering on Sundays — a modern, contemporary service — and has lots of other potential for leading in other areas — and participating in the life of the entire church. In fact, this position is being created because the previous associate left for a lead position, but this gives us an opportunity to reshape the position. And much of that will depend on the person who lands in the job.

Here are a few highlights of the position:

  • A full-time opportunity.
  • A healthy team environment. (And, hopefully continuing to get healthier. It’s kind of a value we have as a team.)
  • A healthy and growing church. (We aren’t battling here. We are unified around a mission.)
  • A position where you can grow and develop even more. (You should be good, but you don’t need to know it all. In fact, that wouldn’t be good if you thought you did. This is a great position to begin to develop as a leader.)
  • A position where the only lid placed upon you will be the one you set. (How involved do you want to be?)

Immanuel is a 105 year old, established, intergenerational church. We are in a period of revitalization and fast growth. Outreach Magazine has featured us as one of the fastest growing churches in America. We are staff-led church, with a very healthy team environment. It’s a great place to work. We are family friendly and enjoy doing ministry with each other. We hire for culture and chemistry fit as much as any other characteristic.

Lexington is a jewel of a city. You won’t find anyone who doesn’t enjoy living here. We excel in the entertainment and the arts, recreation, and culinary excellence. Our locally owned restaurants will keep you busy exploring the first few years you are here. The beauty of horse country surrounds us, yet we have a thriving downtown with something going on every evening. We have ice-skating downtown in the winter and water parks and minor league baseball in the summer. This is a college town – and even though UK dominates – we have a broad range of educators. We are the 6th highest per capita in people with advanced degrees. We are on the Broadway play tour and we have an award winning opera program. The symphony is here. The town has Southern charm and urban professionalism. It’s a great place to live. Read my post about Lexington HERE and watch this cool video about our city.

Interested? This is not meant to be a job posting, but more to stir interest. If you’re serious, I can send you more information.

Send me a confidential email to ron.edmondson@gmail.com

And, will you say a prayer for us in this search and as a church? We believe God is blessing us for such a time as this — and we don’t want to miss anything He has for us to do.

8 Reasons a Church Plant May Not Grow

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I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t. 

Why is that? 

Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life. 

But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things. 

Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.

You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices. 

You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.   

You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving. 

You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will. 

You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people. 

You waited for them to come to you.  You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.

You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)

You held too tightly to your way.  Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared  with others. 

Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.

25 Things You’ll Never Hear God Say

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Recently I wrote “20 Things God Might Say”. It was a popular post. All were designed to be easily tweeted with a simple copy and paste.

I thought there might be a companion post. I believe, based on Scripture, that we can trust God not to say some things — especially in these days of grace.

Here are 25 things you’ll never hear God say:

“Oh yea. I forgot about her.” #ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Well I don’t know what to do now.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so worried.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just don’t understand him.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t call me again until you turn your life around.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s too big for me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That’ll make me love you less.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“What did you say your name was?”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Forgive me. I made a mistake.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just need a vacation.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so tired of being interrupted.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s beyond me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I can’t take it anymore!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name and number…”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That little sin won’t matter.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m scared.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I give up!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Since the world is changing so fast, I’m thinking about changing my ways.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I wish I had thought of that!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I need your help to make it happen.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so confused.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m all tapped out for this month.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t blame yourself. That one was my fault.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I didn’t know anything about that.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m a little behind the times.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

Any you’d add?

21 Ways to Keep a Church from Growing

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I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.

Here are a 21 ways:

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
  • Develop followers not leaders
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
  • Cast your vision — but only once
  • Only do “church” inside the building
  • Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
  • Give up when change is resisted
  • Make excuses when things go wrong
  • Quit dreaming
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
  • Stop praying
  • Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
  • Never challenge people
  • Treat new people as outsiders
  • Always refer to the past as the good times
  • Put more energy into structure than serving
  • Allow gossip to fester
  • The ministerial staff does everything
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation

Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.

What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?

10 Things I’d Do Differently if I Weren’t a Pastor Today

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I spent most of my adult life outside vocational ministry. I’m amazed at the opportunities God has given me in ministry, but in many ways I am still a newcomer.  I have just over a dozen years in this career. It’s challenging in some ways, because I see things differently from some who have only done ministry, but it also gives me a unique perspective from some pastors. I sat “in the pew” far longer than I’ve stood “behind the pulpit”. 

One thing my experience has done for me, especially since I’ve become a pastor, is to help me realize how much I didn’t understand about being a pastor. Like the feeling that work is never done. Like feeling you are never really “off”. Like knowing people are going to be upset with every decision you make — and balancing whether to move forward or give into their frustration. Like the pressure of “Sunday’s coming”. (Pastors — know that one?) Like carrying the weight of everyone, but sometimes feeling you’ve got no where to share your own struggles. Stuff like that. 

The “fun” stuff I didn’t know prior to being in ministry. Plus, in the business world, we handled problems so differently from how they are typically handled in ministry. A lot faster sometimes.

I also spend a lot of time investing in other pastors. It fuels me personally. I’ve learned some of their challenges. Some of their concerns. Some of their wishes.

Along the way, I’ve learned some great lessons of what it takes to build a healthy church — many I didn’t previously understand — even though I was very active in the church. Things look different looking at the church from this perspective.

So, if I were ever on the other side again — and I was back “in the pew” — I’d change a few things about myself. 

Here are 10 things I’d do differently if I weren’t a pastor today:

I’d make church attendance a priority. I’d build my week around the services of the church, knowing how vital every person is to the body. I’d understand what an encouragement it is to the pastor when people give the same priority to church that they give to other places in their life. 

I’d love my pastor. I mean really love my pastor. Knowing how many expectations are placed on the pastor, I’d be among the group that’s always ready to help, but, recognizing he’s only one imperfect person, not one to get my feelings hurt if the pastor didn’t do everything I hoped he would. 

I’d be a generous giver. Understanding that there are really a small number who financially support the work of the church, I’d be a Kingdom investor. 

I’d be an ambassador for the church. I’d use my influence in the community and where I worked to bring people to church and Christ. I’d look for people I didn’t know on Sunday mornings and try to help them acclimate to the church. 

If I had a problem with the pastor, I’d talk to the pastor. Not his wife. (That’s always a bad move.) Not other church members. Certainly not the community. 

I’d try to get less upset about things that impact only me — that are mostly matters of personal preference. 

I would pray bold prayers for the church. Daily. 

I would support the pastor and his family. I would understand he couldn’t be everywhere, and never make him feel guilty for not being where I hoped he would be. 

I would smile when he preaches. I’d give visual witness that I was paying attention. I might even say “Amen” when appropriate. Oh yea..definite amens.  

I would serve where needed. In fact, I’d volunteer without being asked. 

Pastors, anything you’d add to my list?