7 False Thoughts of a Pastor or Church Planter

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Here are 7 false thoughts of a pastor and church planter:

If we build it, they will come – They might. They might not. Actually when God builds it they will come.

We need to pay someone to do this – You could, but chances are there are people with margin in their schedule, looking for a place to serve, who don’t necessarily need your money right now, as much as they desire the opportunity.

Some people will always stay – They won’t. Period. Some will leave even if you do everything the way they wanted you to do them. And if you change anything you may be helping some make the decision they may have been talking about but just haven’t done.

I need to know everything that’s happening in my church – You could try, but the church would be very small and the potential will be very limited. And, I like to ask myself…is it my need to know or my need to control?

They couldn’t do this without me – Yea…that sounds impressive. Not true. At all. The more we think it the less it’s probably true.

People will give when they are ready – They won’t. Period. You’ll have to encourage them. Give them a reason to give. Provide them opportunity. Teach them.

I’m responsible for everyone’s spiritual maturity – You’re not. Period. You teach. God’s spirit grows as they yield to Him.

Any you would add?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

Can the Church Learn from the Coffee Shop?

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I believe the church is to be a cultural change agents in our communities, but the truth is that many coffee shops have taken some of that responsibility. Starbucks supposedly began trying to be the “Third Place” for the community. Borrowing from a sociological theory by Roy Oldenburg of everyone wanting a place besides home and work in which to feel welcome, Starbucks has become the “Cheers” place where if I come often enough everyone knows my name. There was even a sign in Starbucks recently inviting customers to serve the community with them. The church I pastor has a Gather, Grow and Serve strategy of discipleship. Starbucks appears to capture two of those attempts.

Regardless of whether you believe coffee shops can change culture, the newest one in Lexington, KY raises the bar in a coffee shop experience. And, frankly, I believe they are better engaging the community with their mission than many churches are with theirs.

And personally, I believe…

Every church

Every business

Every pastor

Every leader

Can learn something from this coffee shop experience.

A Cup of Commonwealth opened recently in Lexington. I frequent a lot of coffee shops, but I was out of town the week they opened. I caught them in their second week. Wow! They blew me away with the excitement and energy they have rapidly created. Owners Salvador Sanchez and Chris Ortez impressed me greatly.

Here are a few observations:

They know their stuff – Coffee 101 not, this is coffee expertise at work. One of the owners, Salvador, (Most folks seemed to call him Sal, but he introduced himself to me as Salvador. Probably because he saw me as old enough to be his parent.) told me he had been Central America to tour coffee productions. They spoke the coffee language (which I don’t, but many do).

They created an experience – It was an enthusiastic atmosphere. The place was enjoyable. They joked with customers. They had unique offerings. Apparently things have changed just since they opened with some of their decor. (And will change weekly)

They have vision – It is clear they want to provide exceptional coffee in a way that engages the community. (The picture above is painted on their wall.) Nothing appeared to distract them from this vision.

They acclimated first timers – Every time someone entered the door, if they didn’t know them, they took them through a mini tour of the experience. It wasn’t a canned presentation, but it provided the basic information one would need to understand the uniqueness of this place.

They engage comfortably – They made everyone feel welcome, but they seemed to interact with you depending on your level of interest. If you simply wanted a cup of coffee, they learned that soon enough to leave you alone, but if you wanted someone to talk to, you got that also.

They followed through – The next day they connected with me on Facebook. They actually “liked” some of my posts.

They provided quick entry to feel a part of the vision – The most unique item was their “Pay It Forward” board. A large, handwritten piece of paper hangs on the wall. (See picture below.) It contains drink orders prepaid for future customers. You can take one or add one. You can make up unique requirements for the type person you are looking to bless. (An attorney. A homeless person. Someone willing to sing a song. Etc.) I bought a large cup of coffee for someone besides my own. In 10 days, I was told they’d been through 4 of these large pieces of paper.

It was interesting to watch how quickly customers were engaging in something exciting…something unique…something they felt gives back to the community.

Of course, the key to all this will be whether or not they can sustain this energy. Apparently when I entered, 10 days after opening, the two owners are the only employees. They are new and excited. If they can, however, I believe they have a very successful business model.

But, I’m not in the coffee business. I am a church leader. I always want to be learning how I can do what I do better. And, honestly, I learned some things from this coffee shop experience.

Anything jump out at you that could improve what you do at your church?

(Okay, I have been blogging long enough to already anticipate the push back on even my logic behind this post. Some don’t think the church should or even can learn anything from the secular world. The Bible is our guide. I hear that. I’m a Bible guy. Cover to cover. But, let me ask you…where did you learn how to write a church bulletin…or even to have one? Who taught you how to register kids in preschool? Please quote chapter and verse if you choose to answer.)

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5 Steps in Planting a Church or Launching a New Ministry

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I am receiving an increasing number of inquiries about church planting or launching a new ministry. I like that. It shows people are still willing to walk by faith. Having planted two churches and after helping numerous non-profit ministries see their start, I’ve learned a few things, many of which I write about here. I’ve also learned there are a few common steps in a successful launch.

It doesn’t really matter what the ministry is…the launching process is relatively the same. You should know I’m a simple-minded guy. But, time and time again I’ve seen simple work. Sometimes we over complicate things.

I’m not saying simple is easy. It hardly ever is. I’m saying that we should not make the steps more convoluted than they actually are and that the more we can simplify the steps into an easy to understand format the easier it will be to complete them.

Here are 5 steps to a successful ministry launch:

Vision – Get a clear, easy to understand, worthy vision that honors God and brings good to other people and for which people can get excited.

People – Recruit people who love the vision as much as you do. If you can’t find like-minded people, it will be very difficult to be successful in the new ministry. I always believe, and have witnessed it repeatedly, that if God is in this, He has already been shaping the vision in other people’s minds. We just need to find them.

Equip and assign – With people contributing, determine the tasks needed to accomplish the vision. Help people understand their unique role in accomplishing the vision and assign them to specific tasks. Give them the resources they need and make sure they are clear on their assigned role.

Energize – Keep people motivated towards the vision by continually reminding them of the overall purpose and their significant place in accomplishing it.

Release – Let people do their part to accomplish the vision. Give real ownership. Delegate. Don’t control.

Simple enough? What would you add?

Any of these you’d especially like me to expand upon on a future post?

A Year in Review of my New Ministry Position

The calendar indicates a year has past since I began my new ministry position as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. You can read about it HERE. I left the church planting world to pastor a historic, 104 year old church. People ask me all the time how it’s going. Recently I was talking with a friend and he reminded me of an old saying, “You’ll accomplish less than you thought you would in a year and more than you thought in five years.”

That’s probably true, but, by God’s grace, we’ve accomplished a lot. It’s been a whirlwind. In some ways it seems we’ve been here forever and other ways it seems we just arrived.

I’m asked consistently how it’s going. Here’s a quick recap. If you read my blog often, you know I’m transparent. I have the opportunity to share with literally thousands of pastors daily through this medium, so I try to share honestly what I am experiencing.

We’ve had an incredible year. It’s been amazing to see God at work. Cheryl and I have “mostly” enjoyed the experience. There have been some hard days. Change is hard. Sometimes anything new is hard. But, overall it’s been good.

So for some quick reflections…

Most exciting parts

  • Making new friends (and we’ve made many quickly)
  • Celebrating incredible growth
  • Increased baptisms
  • Seeing a stellar staff develop
  • New families attending and joining
  • Meeting budget
  • Seniors who love seeing the church grow again
  • Renewed enthusiasm and momentum in the church
  • Strategic plans that are coming together…to make more disciples
  • Embracing a community

I’ve never been one to sugar coat an issue, but let me be clear that every negative leadership post this past year has not been about my time here. Most have had little or no direct relation. But, it’s been a challenge at times. Even frustrating some days.

Most challenging parts.

  • Fighting battles that don’t matter in an eternal sense
  • Gossip or indirect conversations
  • Limitations caused by structure or traditions of men
  • Getting people to think beyond what’s always been done
  • Redeveloping trust

I realize these are “normal” issues in churches. I’m not complaining. Just reporting. God is moving and I’m happy to be a part of what He is doing “for such a time as this”.

Finally, I’m excited about the potential in the days ahead. There was a part of us that questioned whether we could lead a church this age to better days. And, a year is probably not yet a good indicator, but if this year is a precursor of days ahead…we are in for an exciting time.There are many potentials in the days ahead.

Potential

  • Missions
  • A few major projects yet to be announced
  • Community involvement
  • Men’s and women’s ministries
  • Discipleship opportunities
  • The best days are still to come.

That’s my year. Anything specific you’d want me to expand upon in other posts?

Tell me about your past 12 months.

How to Weather the Long Days of Summer as a Church

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A recent conversation on a Sunday went something like this:

Staff member: Where is everyone?

Me: It’s summer.

Staff member: But, it still seems low, even for summer.

Me: This is still up percentage wise well over last year…

Staff member: But, it doesn’t feel like it.

Me: No, it never does.

The next day I received an email from a church staffer at another church. His question prompted this post. He wondered how to handle the long days of summer, when church crowds are smaller, budgets are tighter, and volunteers are harder to find.

Honestly, it can be disappointing if you focus on attendance alone. And, anyone who says they don’t is simply much more mature than I am. You recently celebrated the crowds of Easter. One of the highest times of attendance is followed shortly after by this…the dog days of summer. (I know some churches that are equally impacted seasonally, but at other times of the year.)

The fact is the time to prepare a summer sermon takes as long as sermon preparation does in September. Or it should. But fewer people may hear it. At least in person. If you are not intentional it can be discouraging.

What should the church do during the summer months?

Here are a few thoughts:

Plan and budget accordingly – Recognize the obvious. People are going to be traveling more. The lakes will be full of boats. If your church has them, this will include paid staff, but certainly volunteers. You know it’s coming. Plan for it. Intentionally.

Find ways to stay in touch – Emails are even more important. Facebook, church newsletters and websites become even more valuable. You want people to hear from you and know what is happening even when they aren’t always there. Information helps people feel and remain connected.

Enter in with lower expectations, not lower presentations – Less people may be with you Sunday, but the people who are there shouldn’t suffer because of it. What they receive may be different. You may not have the volunteers or staff to pull off a full schedule of activities, but what you put together shouldn’t suffer in excellence. The fact is people will visit in the summer, sometimes even more so than during the fall or winter. Churched people aren’t the only ones out of their routine. Unchurched people often have more open schedules and are open to visiting if they are invited.

Plan for flexibility – Realize last minute trips will occur and people you thought would be there may quickly decide not to be. I like for the summer series, for example, to have a central theme but each week be able to stand alone. (This is not a bad idea anytime of year, because people who attend less regularly are more likely to return if they aren’t intentionally made to feel they missed something. Ideally there should be a encouragement to want to be there next week, but not a slam for missing last week. That’s a delicate balance.) Something is likely to come up with me also and someone else might need to preach. This makes it easier. We sometimes preach through a book of the Bible or some theme from the Bible. This summer we are doing Bible stories of adventure…people who took risks for their faith. If anyone preaches for me this summer, there are plenty of stories from which to choose.

Carry this flexible attitude throughout all ministries of the church during the summer. It could be, in children’s programs, that you plan more large group activities for when teachers are on short supply. You may need to pull volunteers from one area to help in another area. However it works for your church, just create a summer culture of being flexible.

Do a few special events to boost averages – Special occasions build excitement and sustain momentum through the summer months. Ice cream socials. Outdoor baptisms. Pizza parties and swim parties for youth. Dinner on the grounds. Vacation Bible School. One day concerts. They serve a purpose. We are doing a high attendance emphasis this summer. It’s really just a branding emphasis to “invite a friend”, and obviously the goal is lower than a similar day in the fall, but the hope is to boost attendance for a day. I hear from teachers frequently that they lose ground with students over the summer. It can be that way with churches too. Plan some opportunities to keep engaged.

Use the time to prepare for Fall – People will return from vacation. School will start back. People will return to church whom you’ve been missing. Will you be ready? Rest up. Plan. Prepare some exciting changes to implement. Relaunch.

Remember the vision – Again, it can be discouraging when less people are around for the summer. You simply miss getting to see some of the people. That’s a natural reaction, but remember your vision is for when two or more are gathered. The number isn’t as important as the mission being fulfilled. Celebrate what is happening and whoever comes if they are growing in Christ.

Summer can be a special time if you use it intentionally. And, remember, time flies. Fall will be here soon.

What ideas do you have for churches to “weather” the summer months?

3 Challenges for the Church Planter

Challenge Defined

When I’ve answered the same questions numerous times, I feel there may be a need for a post. Recently, I’ve spoken with a dozen or so church planters, or those wrestling the call, several each week, and the same issues come up every time. I want to share some thoughts based on my personal experiences planting two churches. These are usually transferable to all church pastorates, but especially planters.

Here are 3 challenges for the church planter:

Finances – I get asked if my established church will be a “strategic partner” in a church plant about once every couple of weeks. I get it. I really do. We don’t have any extra money right now, but church planting takes money. It is great if your mother church can support your budget or you get numerous churches to contribute. Don’t turn down cash. You’ll need it. Lots of it.

But, I always offer a reality check here. The money will always be tight. There will never be enough. It’s in very rare circumstances this is not true.

My strong word of encouragement is to strive to rely less on outside help and more on those God has called you to minister with in the church plant.

When we planted, both times, we challenged the people building the ministry to fund the ministry. And, it is a challenge. It means you’ll often be discipling people to give who aren’t accustomed to giving. But, you’ll need disciplined and fully invested people. If they have their money on the line they’ll do almost anything to make the plant work. As much as possible, build your ministry around the people in the room. Their generosity will often determine your ability to grow a healthy church. Plus, it’s good discipleship to build into the church’s DNA.

I know. That’s a hard word, isn’t it? But, look at it this way, the time you spend jumping through hoops for a few dollars from a denomination that often come with multiple strings attached, you can spend building maturity in your people who will support you financially.

Marriage – Men and women are different and will react differently to the move and to the stress of planting. I’ve found it can be an excellent balance if the two are in sync with each other and communicating well. You should both be equally called, but your initial enthusiasm may not be the same.

One thing I’ve noticed, and cautioned many planters, is that the wife’s emotions may (probably will) respond differently. I’ve always found Cheryl to be slower to acclimate emotionally to the new place of service. She can know it is where we are supposed to be. Her faith is often even stronger than mine. But, her heart is more likely to be tender longer towards the place we left. I have to be careful not to assume she’s as excited everyday as I am.

I’ve observed many planters, especially those with young children, while they are experiencing the thrill of a new calling, their spouse is changing diapers during the day. If the planter isn’t careful, totally unintentionally, he will appear to over-emphasize his role and diminish the wife’s role. (That could be vice-versa depending on the roles in the plant.) This can happen just in language or the things you celebrate each day. Don’t get so distracted by the plant that you aren’t equally excited when your 18 month old learns a new trick.

It is important to remember each spouse’s role is equal in importance and value in the process of planting.

Location – I talk with so many who feel they are called to church planting, but can’t discern where they are supposed to plant. Many are looking for a location. A specific address. The exact right building, in a certain city, on the right side of town. I get that too. You want to know where God wants you to be.

Unless you have clear direction or clear indication not to go somewhere, my advise is simply to plant where you land. Seek opportunities that appear to be open doors, pray for clarity, but if God doesn’t intervene or interrupt, plant. Plant where you land, where you see a great need, where your heart seems to take you. You can follow your gut if you’re following Jesus.

I learned this principle in a very practical way. At one point, I felt my “calling” was to plant a church in New York City. Cheryl and I love the city. We had heard the great need. (The need is great.) We visited the city to pray. I walked the streets of the upper West Side of Manhattan and talked with God. I said, “God, if you want me to plant a church here, give me an overwhelming love for these people.” In a rare time of hearing clearly from God, I sensed God say, “Ron, (I love that He knows my name) as long as you have a heart for me you will have a heart for people; wherever you are.” I believe God released me to plant…plant where there are people who need to be reached.

I think God may call you to an exact location. He may even give you a clear address. He may have one exact building in mind. But, many times, He may give you some latitude in your selection. Certainly in the precise location within your city. People seem to need Jesus everywhere I go.

We actually switched sides of town this way. In both plants. An opportunity for meeting space came available that we didn’t expect. With this previous “New York” encouragement from God, as a planter, I felt freed to follow opportunities as they came rather than wait for God to write something in the sky. We moved quickly. It changed our focus area, some of the church demographics, but both have proved to be definite wise moves in the years that followed.

Are these helpful?

What challenges would you offer in church planting?

Breaking News: 75 Year Old Starts Big Bold New Ministry

Old Semitic Man

“The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.


Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.”

Genesis 12:1-4

I know it is naive for a near 50 year old to say this, but I hope God is still calling me to something new when I’m 75.

I hope He continues to call me to walk by faith, stretches my small dreams into big ones, and motivates me to more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t want to miss a moment of what God has for my life.

How about you?

The Pastor’s Spouse: Emotions in Times of Transition

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When I’m talking to a pastor who has accepted a new position, after I hear the excitement in his voice of what he sees God doing, I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your wife dealing with the change?”

There is usually a pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She’s doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on her than I thought it would be.” or, pushing even further, “I don’t understand why she’s not as excited as I am. She agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the pastor is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as for the pastor. It will come in time, but for now, she’s not as excited about the change in positions as he is.

Why is that?

I like to encourage pastors to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition. The new pastor has found his center of gravity and purpose. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for hers.

You, the pastor, when you come home at the end of a long day, have something exciting to share every time. Things are moving, changing, challenging you daily. Even on days things aren’t going well…you have drama in your day you can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, her days look the same.

You come home pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most…your partner in life and ministry.

But, if you’re not conscious of her emotions, depending on her state of mind, she may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.” Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not thinking those things and would never want her to think those things, but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. That’s part of change.

She’s moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. She is often more relation-centered emotionally, so her heart transitions slower. The roles she held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times hers took a step backward. Or seem to have for now. That will change in time, and she probably knows that intellectually, but emotionally she feels a sense of loss that will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

Granted she is your partner, so she may be excited for you personally as a couple, but remember, she is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

That’s enough encouragement for today. I’ll share more in a future post some thoughts on helping your spouse find her center of gravity and purpose in a time of transition. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, share your stories to help others.

Pastors/Pastor’s spouses, did you have a harder time in a season of transition than your spouse did?

After a great day of teaching…

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Jesus faced the critics…

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58 ESV)

It’s interesting to me when this occurred in the life of Jesus. If you read just prior to this passage, the disciples had finally understood something Jesus taught them. It seems that didn’t happen much in their journey with Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus had just taught them a huge principle. They got it. It was a great day. The best of days. The men He was building into, who would launch the church we know today, understood what was being taught.

That’s a great day for any teacher.

Then the critics came out of the closet.

It never seems to fail. I’ve seen it in ministry, leadership and life. The best days are often followed by the darkest days. Deliver your best message and you’ll shortly afterwards find your harshest critics. Hit the home run and you’ll find some people ready to stop the ballgame.

Don’t be surprised on those days. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get distracted from what you are called to do.

Those days have value, if you allow them to:

  • They keep us humble.
  • They Keep us learning.
  • They keep us on our knees.
  • They keep the glory shining in the rightful place.
  • They keep us appreciative of the good days.

Are you facing the critics…even during the best of days?

Of course you are…you’re trying to be like Jesus…right?