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TO BE OR NOT TO BE... A BLOG

Friday
Aug312018

Anxiety, Depression and Suicide Amongst Pastors

Below is an article I wrote for Converge  

Converge Responds: anxiety, depression and suicide among pastors 

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.1 Tim. 5:17 

"Please pray for me and the boys. I don't know how I am going to face this, I am completely heartbroken, lost and empty. Never in a million years would I have imagined this would be the end of his story…" 

This was posted on Instagram by Kayla Stoecklein, wife of pastor Andrew Stoecklein, 30, of Inland Hills Church, a megachurch in Chino, California, shortly after he took his own life. Though I did not know him, my heart breaks over the pain Andrew must have been going through, and for his family and his congregation.

The devastating news of Andrew’s suicide shocked the world last weekend. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case. Depression, anxiety and suicide amongst pastorsseem to be on the rise. I wish I could say this was an anomaly, but those of us who devote our lives to serving churches and pastors have many other stories we can tell.  

Sobering realities of ministry

Depression and anxiety are as real as ever, and in recent years these issues are finally being acknowledged as a form of mental illness. It feels like we are reading more and more stories of people of all ages and walks of life making really damaging, life-altering decisions. It is a misnomer that Christians, especially those in ministry, are “depression proof.” Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Pastors are under enormous pressure to be top-notch communicators, high-capacity leaders and perfect role models in all areas of life. Pastors are often expected to start and lead ministries to meet every demand and desire, be profound pastoral counselors, carry financial pressures and lead rapidly growing churches...and the list goes on and on. Whether they lead a church of 50 or 15,000, pastors face immense pressure

The uniqueness of the pastoral role is not that it carries pressures but rather the kind of pressures that go with the job. Pastors, of course, face the same pressures as other high-level leaders (amount of work, responsibilities, leadership, family, finances, etc.). But few others will ever understand many of the other stresses they face daily.

Pastors often face unrealistic expectations, have little emotional downtime and perform in a fishbowl environment. They carry the spiritual and emotional weight of their congregation through counseling and managing staff and volunteers. They are expected to be available 24/7 and carry an ongoing heaviness that the work is never done. 

Those burdens are often compounded by a low salary that doesn’t reflect their education and experience. For most, there is an unforeseen loneliness in the role of “shepherd of the flock.”  

Pastor, you have not been granted immunity

As you can see, it is not only the unique kinds of pressures a pastor faces, but the commixture of all of these elements which lead to a unique, toxic challenge. We all know that pastors are human, but the underlining expectations presume that they aresuperhuman. Yes, they have the Holy Spirit (like every other follower of Christ), but they also have the same emotions and the same limitations.  

Much of the pressure a pastor feels comes from the outside; but more often, this pressure comes from the inside. Pastors often put enormous pressure on themselves to perform. They work long and hard hours helping other people, foolishly ignoring holistic soul care of their body, spirit, emotions and mind. 

Some adopt a false mindset that because they are serving a supernatural God, they can operate at a supernatural pace, believing God will cover all of the personal issues that they ignore. What appears noble and spiritual at the time is actually an unbiblical treatment of our bodies (1 Cor. 16:19-20). 

In truth, we are not immune to depression as followers of Christ. We are human like anyone else. King David expressed deep woes in the Psalms. The prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19), immediately after the height of his ministry, experienced utter despair, defeat, aloneness and vulnerability. He wished his life was over, believing everything was pointless.

Today, Elijah would be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Even the apostle Paul was internally burdened by a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10)he could never seem to be freed of, and he found himself doing things he hated and wished he had never done (Rom. 7:15-20).

Solutions for the Struggling

So, if a biblical or modern-day Christian leader can experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, what is unique about Christianity? The difference is we don’t have to walk alone.  

Just as the Lord told Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9 he tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Our natural selves like to promote and push forward our strength. We want to present ourselves as those who have it all together. In contrast, scripture says that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. 

In other words, God’s power is greatest when we are at our weakest. Contrary to our desire to be self-sufficient, God wants us to walk with him (Matt. 22:37), and to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).  

Unlike many pastors, Andrew Stoecklein did seek out professional help in his final months. Sadly, it appears that it was not soon enough. Many pastors, though, continue to suffer silently and anonymously. The dark night of the soul needs never to be lived out in isolation. Living in a vacuum with this level of weight is dangerous and destructive.  

Churches, pray for your pastors, support them and encourage them to be in community with other pastors to build one another up. No one should journey alone. We need to surround ourselves with healthy life-giving networks as we are better together. 

Ministry is not easy, but there is hope. Below are a few thoughts of how we can journey together.  

YOU DON’T HAVE TO WALK ALONE 

What can I do if I am at risk right now?

Pastors, please don’t walk alone. If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you don’t feel that you are quite at that point, know that there is no shame in seeking the services of a professional counselor. Further, you and your spouse not only need friends inside the church, but outside as well. Find friends, such as other ministry couples, who understand the unique pressures of the pastorate that you can be real with. 

What can a pastor do if he feels like he needs to get out of his current situation and focus on healing and restoration?

If you are in Converge, there are multiple resources available at the district level. I would encourage you to contact your district office. However, I would like to highlight one strategic partner many districts of Converge have utilized: Pastor-In-Residence. Built around developing safe and authentic relationships with pastors – whether they have exited the ministry, burned out or are presently in ministry and struggling with discouragement – Pastor In Residence aims to remind them that the gospel they preach is the gospel for them, too. God cares more about you as a person than what you do. Helping pastors to cultivate hope, good self-awareness, community and healthy rhythms is a large part of Pastor In Residence’s ministry, both on the preventative and restorative side of life.

If our church/pastor is not a part of a heathy life-giving network, where can we go?

Converge president Scott Ridout, in recently addressing another type of pastoral crisis, talked about churches operating in a vacuum. “This is a glaring weakness of choosing to be an independent church instead of being part of a network of churches like Converge. While our churches are autonomous in governance, we choose to be interdependent in ministry and life. We like each other. We learn from each other. And we lean into each other in times of trouble. We are Better Together on so many levels.” In short, Converge wants to journey with you. Contact your district office to learn more.

What can I do as a board member of my church?

In the same article referred to above, Ridout says, “Healthy churches also have healthy systems of communication, evaluation, accountability and intervention. Now would be a great time for your church leadership to take time to renew its personal commitment to walk with Christ, to keep each other accountable for personal walks and to develop proactive plans to handle unforeseen crisis…before it happens.” Contact your district leadership to learn more.

If I am a part of Converge, how can I as a pastor surround myself in healthy community?

All of our districts create avenues for pastors to gather, learn, encourage, support and achieve together. While there are various formats, they are all designed for pastors to be better together. Again, if you are not a part of a Converge pastor group, we highly recommend that you call your district officeand journey with your Converge colleagues.

If, as a pastor, my spouse and I need to pull away for a healthy self-perspective, where do we go?

Because of our desire for investing in the health and long-term growth of pastors, the Converge national office and your Converge district are partnering together in a brand-new concept called COMPASS. This is a three-day retreat that will provide the pastor and spouse an opportunity to evaluate fruitfulness by defining their current reality, dreaming about a preferred fruitful future and helping to connect them with a strategic pathway moving forward. Each couple will walk away with their own personalized, self-developed travel guide for their journey to come. This is brand new, so we are in the early stages of rollout. Your local district will have information about when it will be available to you.  

We have a saying around Converge: “We believe that we are better together.” Stress, anxiety and depression are real. But you are not alone. Reach out, be vulnerable and ask for help. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Together God will do a great work in us so that he can also do a great work through us. May God give you the wisdom to know the right things to do and the courage to do it.

Dr. Bruce Hopler

National Director of Church Strengthening

 

Tuesday
Jan232018

Should A Church Have A Primary Customer?

 “Everyone is our customer… But resources are limited.  The more people we call our customers, the more we’re diffusing resources and attention over different constituents that are not at the core of the business.” – Robert Simons

Sarah Green, Identify Your Primary Customer, The Harvard Business Review

As a church leader, we bristle at aspects of the primary customer quote above:  1) Are there limited resources in Gods’ kingdom; 2) Does God’s Word identify primary, secondary, and tertiary customers; and, among other questions, 3) Can God’s resources be diffused and spread too thin? 4) Is it even biblical for a church to have a primary customer?

God resources are not limited, He loves and cares for all His children, and His resources are infinite; however, He does call us to be strategic, organized, and methodical in our approach. (Ex 3:14, Ex 14) Our God executed an eternal plan to redeem children.  The Bible is filled with examples where God called His servants to carry out a specific role that impacted a small group of people within His redemption plan.   And, each of the people, including you and me, rely upon God’s ultimate achievement of this redemption plan; although each of us plays a small role.

We recognize that missionaries must target a particular “customer” or people group? Converge sends missionaries to the least-reached peoples of the world knowing that we will only reach them if we intentionally adapt to the culture of a specific people group. To reach the Muslim Fulbe people of remote Cameroon, we use a very different approach than to we do to reach the Buddhist people of Thailand. To bring the gospel to those suffering from HIV/Aids in Africa, we employ a strategy that would never work in bringing the gospel to the remote tribes of Nepal. Only when we clearly identify our target people and intentionally adapt to appeal to them appropriately will we ever see fruit produced for the Kingdom.

How does the Apostle Paul model this primary customer approach in the mission field?  In Acts 17, as Paul directs his message to the Romans who worship “An Unknown God,” he makes them his primary customer and “A few men became followers of Paul and believed." Every city Paul entered, he studied the culture, and presented the Gospel in a way that specific region of people can most easily be reached for the Kingdom of God.

What message do you glean from Jesus’ example of a primary customer?  Eric Geiger in his blog Lead the Many by Focusing on a Few describes Jesus as having an intense focus on His disciples. A massive crowd gathered around Jesus, so much so that people were trampling on one another. And Jesus “began to say to His disciples first” (Luke 12:1). Jesus’ first concern was not the crowd, but His disciples.  As Geiger points out, we would expect a pastor or leader to focus on the crowd and yet even Peter is either confused or feeling badly for the crowd as he states, “Lord are you telling this parable to us or to everyone?”  For Jesus, it was clear that these disciples would have an essential role in His redemption plan.  Was Jesus unconcerned for the non-Jews?  Absolutely not!  He went greatly out of His way to reach out to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Yet, the vast majority of His ministry and teaching was geared to a niche group of people.  While God’s aim was to reach the entire world, His Son’s ministry was to accomplish this by primarily focusing on one specific people group.

Is it too exclusive for a church to focus on a primary customer?  My (Bruce) Anglo son regularly attends a predominately African American Converge church.  His pastor and my good friend Rod Hairston, most often uses preaching examples that those who grew up in a black American context would quickly identify with.  Does Rod care about my son? Absolutely!  He continues to pour into my son in ways I will be eternally grateful for.  Does this church desire to be multi-cultural and reach anyone that will come?  Yes! Will they pick country western worship songs to be more inclusive?  Probably not. All are welcomed, but they know who they are called to be.  Likewise, my wife and I are no longer spring chickens. (She still looks 20 something, but I am a clear cut 51-year-old!)  The way we are wired though, we would be more attracted to a church that has geared its worship and ministry to 20 somethings.  Would we be made to feel welcomed?  Yes, I believe they crave our wisdom and life experiences.  They might even create an empty nesters small group.  Yet we understand that in reaching millennials, they will do church differently than I once did as a founding pastor of a church.  All are welcome, but it is critical for a church to know where their primary focus is.   

If we look at examples throughout scripture, effective individual missionary practices, as well as entire missionary organizations, it is biblical and practical to identify a primary customer in your church or in your ministry organization.  

So how does having an identified primary customer impact church leadership?  This could certainly be a topic for future blogs; however, the targeted primary customer provides the church with a decision-making tool.  The identification of the primary customer can guide decisions about ministries that will no longer take place, what investments of time, talents, and resources will no longer be a focus, calendaring decision, and certainly budget decisions.  Which ministries, people, events, etc will most impact our primary customer?  No matter how large your church is, you will not reach the entire crowd; however, with careful planning you can impact lives of those whom will have a critical role in His redemption plan.  

Co-authored by Bruce Hopler and Duane D. Cox, Ed.D., Public School Principal, and Participant of one of Bruce’s Strat-Ops Planning Process

Friday
Jan052018

Is it too “business” for a church to create a strategic plan?

Recently I conducted a StratOp at a midsize church. StratOp gives more than a plan; leaders get tools to help them manage, renew, and succeed in their plan. Learn more: https://www.dochopconsulting.com/stratop/  . Duane Cox, an elder in the church who has longed for his local church to think more strategically about their ministry, has written the following article on his reflection of the process.

 

 Is there “not enough of God” or “room for the spirit to work” when the church creates a strategic plan?  Often I hear concerns that our church leans on business models to make plans and looks to authors like Covey, Blanchard, or Lencioni to name a few.  As we look at these authors and the work of Bruce Hopler and Strat-Ops what you recognize is emphasis placed on the collaborative development of an organizational plan.  All of these writers, business leaders, and strategic planners recommend that organizations develop purpose or mission, values that guide the organization, vision and goals.  So are these business concepts, biblical concepts or simply a sensible approach to moving a group of people to a desired outcome?  

Throughout the Bible, there is evidence of God’s plan for mankind.  Personally, the most compelling aspect of the Christian faith is God’s plan to rescue his people, as promised to Abraham, and is carried out through the Bible and in our lives today.  This plan was achieved not only through the lives of many people who God used, it was also accomplished by a triune God: God made of three persons, each with different roles, and yet a common purpose.  In Genesis 1:26, it is written, “Let us make God in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish…”  Our God of three persons had a common vision for the creation of man and ultimately to complete an eternal redemption plan. 

So perhaps, given God’s intervention, there is not a place for our church to create a plan.  One might conclude that we can rely upon God to do the planning.  Interestingly in Exodus, Moses does not have a strategy for addressing the needs of the over 1,000,000 Jews wandering in the desert.  The scriptures, in Exodus chapter 18 make a point to address Moses’ lack of strategy, as his father in-law Jethro provides counsel to Moses, “What you are doing is not good.  18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out…” Choose strong leaders who fear God and train them.  “…21appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”   As you look at this text more closely it is apparent that the God who has an eternal plan values the creation of a temporal plan.  

Although it requires time, prayer, and perhaps an outside consultant, as Jethro was in this case, there is tremendous value in taking the time to create a plan.  I am convinced that this planned nature of our God is a characteristic that we should aspire to learn and to grow within ourselves.    

Going back to a secular or business author, Patrick Lencioni, in The Advantage writes: “But all too often-and this is critical-leaders underestimate the impact of even subtle mis-alignment at the top, and the damage caused to the rest of the organization by small gaps among members of the executive team.”(pg.74)  This is an amazing quote when you consider our triune God as the ultimate leaders of the masterful eternal plan.  There is a purpose, a vision, a clear objective and the Fathers, Son, and Holy Spirit, within their roles, are bringing this eternal plan to fruition.  How about your church’s executive team, leadership team, elder board, etc., are you working to create alignment to achieve the hope God has for your church?

Written by Duane Cox, Ed.D. public school administrator and one-time participant of Strat-Ops, serving as an elder in a medium-sized church

Tuesday
Jan022018

The Coaching Pastor

Jesus once sent out 72 leaders to change the world!  Right before they left, he said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “Oh by the way, it’s going to be rough, as you will be like a sheep among wolves, and I want you to go with no money, no resources. While we’re at it, I want you to take this rugged journey barefoot.  Have fun with that!” (Luke 10). Feel familiar?  You know you are called, but you are under-resourced, you can’t afford to hire the kind of help you need, you can’t compete against the quality of even one app on everyone’s smartphone, and your biblical message is a joke in mainstream media – but hey, go change the world! 

Your challenge is real, but it is not new.  There is good news and even some great news.  The good news is that you are not alone.  The great news is that Jesus is not crazy.  What He was asking of the 72, and, yes, what He has asked you to do, sounds crazy.  I think though, what he was communicating then, and even today, doesn’t rely on conventional assumptions.  You can’t compete, so don’t even try.  Instead, rely on the Holy Spirit within you. 

Whether you’re in evangelism, discipleship, or leader development, the person in front of you is not craving a wow factor from you; they are craving what God has placed inside of you.  A spirit-led pastor is a coaching pastor, always imparting wisdom and asking questions that will cause the person listening to acknowledge their longing for more.

Here are a few things I do when I coach:

Find Your Person Of Peace: In Luke 10, the 72 were challenged to find “the person of peace”, the person God has already been preparing for you to coach.  Whether in evangelism or the potential leaders in your church, they are all around you, ready to be coached.  Ironically, they most likely are not the ones you would have naturally assumed.  In short, coach those that want to be coached. 

Listen, Listen, & Don’t Overthink: When in conversation, the greatest temptation is to race ahead in your mind, tuning them out, because you think you already know what they need to hear.  Slow down and listen to the person and then silently pray and listen, “God, what is it you want me to say?”

Challenge and Follow Through: A good spiritual conversation will cause the person to walk away feeling compelled to want to grow to another level.  For some, it is to find Christ; others, to grow in Christ; others still to grow in their spiritual leadership.  Always end a conversation with the same singular question: “What do you want me to ask you next time?”  Then you know what you do when you see them next time.  Always, always, always ask them what they asked you to ask them.  If the Holy Spirit prompted something within them, the person should know that you consider it so sacred, you don’t want it to go to waste.  If you take it seriously, they will learn to take it seriously.

Tuesday
Oct032017

Where You See “Sin City”… (a response to the tragedy in Vegas)

 “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” certainly lost its meaning this week, as we were all deeply affected by another senseless act of violence.   Although, truth be known, that saying lost its meaning to me a long time ago.  When you move to Vegas, what happens and what stays in Vegas takes on a whole new meaning.  In 2012, I joined the staff at The Crossing Las Vegas as one of the pastors.  I must admit, when my wife and I were talking about moving there, we were a bit hesitant.  Why would we want to move to Sin City?  Part of my rationale was, “Who would ever question the need for another pastor in such a city?” I rolled up my sleeves and was ready to fight the good fight.

It didn’t take long for me to change my perspective and begin viewing Vegas with a different lens.  Yes, there are things that happen on the strip that should not happen. However, I also saw something very different.  I saw soccer moms, dads who were trying to be good husbands and fathers. The churches there are jam-packed with people who long for what is good.  We even met prostitutes that wanted to get out of the lifestyle but discovered that the answer of “just stop” was not a straightforward solution.  We met pit bosses, waitresses, military personnel, computer geeks, bankers, travel agents, and all sorts of other interesting people.  We got to know their story, we got to really know them.  Good people who are really no different than the people of any other city.

Before long, “Sin City” became my city.  My wife and I fell deeply in love with the people of Vegas.  Did we compromise?  Not at all; we saw past the veneer of glitz and glamour and saw the hearts and souls of many beautiful and wonderful people.  I have had people raise an eyebrow when they hear me say how much I love Vegas, probably making an assumption or two about me in the process.  It’s true though; my wife and I really do love the people of Vegas.

I now live in Orlando, where a senseless act of violence made national news not that long ago.

As I watch such horrific and heinous violence occur in cities I grew to love, amongst people I grew to love, I began to see something else.  People long for love.  I think Jesus has something to say about this. The Christians I know in Vegas have rolled up their sleeves this week to love on the hurting.  This is very similar as what I saw happen here in Orlando.

It’s funny how much of our time can be caught up in the petty details on social media.  We make bold statements that have little consequence.  We become argumentative without taking time to listen to the heart of the concern.  Don’t get me wrong, some are called to a prophetic voice. We need that.  Want to know what we need more of, though? Followers of Christ who are intimate with Jesus and love their neighbor as themselves.

So how do we respond in a time like this? I hope we are reminded and inspired to do what we have already been taught, to love our neighbor and bear one another’s burdens. 

Perhaps when you thought of Vegas before, all sorts of judgements and categorizations came to mind.  Perhaps when you drive past a gay nightclub, such as the Pulse in Orlando, you identified them in a certain way.  Perhaps there are groups of people in our world or even in your neighborhood, that you have put in a box and have made your mind up about.  I hope that these events inspire you to begin to look at people differently. 

I don’t just see a mass tragedy; I see individual stories.  My heart is heavy for the young lady who was involved in our church’s youth group and is now in the hospital. Her spine still has bullet fragments lodged against her L3/L4 vertebrae. As well as other fragments in vital areas, one fragment is currently inoperable due to it being lodged in the spinal canal.  My heart is also heavy for the young mom of a 2-month-old who lost her life. I think about the police officer who lost his life that night, and my good friend who serves as a police officer there who is mourning the loss, all the while serving 12 hour shifts to support the community.

 I also see churches that I am proud of, just like I saw in Orlando, who are coming alongside the hurting and loving on their neighbor like they have never been loved on before.

My prayer is that when you hear stories like this, something very foundational and beautiful rises up within you.  This is the greatest thing Jesus said you could do on this earth.  As you are loving on God, look into the eyes of the hurting with great compassion and help them encounter the love of the Heavenly Father, even through their pain. 

Get to know their story.  Don’t wait for a tragedy to occur in your city.  If you call yourself a follower of Christ, loving your neighbor is what you do. 

Yes, please pray for Vegas.  Please also prayerfully ask Jesus what He was once asked 2000 years ago, “Who is my neighbor?” Be warned though, you may not like Jesus’s answer, and you may not like what He tells you to do about it!  In the short run, anyway; in the long run, you might actually become the person you have been praying to be.

Monday
Sep252017

Know your Audience (Funding Your Vision #4)

I went to a seminar last year let by a pastor who leads a Millennial church.   He made an interesting remark.  He said that their weekly offering was far higher on Monday morning than on Sunday morning.  He went on to say that no one in his congregation carries checks or cash.  While they do still pass the plate, the givers simply ask, “What’s in my wallet, and how much do I need to keep back for lunch?”.  Heck, I’m considered an older Gen-Xer and I myself haven’t carried a checkbook in over 20 years!  This church has done an extraordinary job in building a quality APP.  Every Monday morning, they send out a notification that lets its attenders be reminded of announcements, with a link to the message, small group questions, “and by the way, if you forgot to give yesterday, no problem! You can do so right now.”  As the recipient is sitting at her desk, she says “Oh that’s right!” and 2 minutes later, she has given and then goes back to work.

What do you really know about your people?  Do they carry a heavy debt load? Do they understand how to live on a budget?  Do they understand the theology of generosity? Are they more likely to give to specific items over a general budget?  How much information do they want to have?  How much is too much?

Below are a few generosity principles when it comes to Knowing Your Audience.  If this is your first time to this Funding Your Vision series, begin with Funding Your Vision Part 1

  1. Generosity is the New Sexy.  I believe it is harder to lead a church now than ever in American history.  I also believe the church is better off for it.  It used to be far easier to be competitive and self-centric.  I think it was easier to run a church service before now, without having to cry out to God that the people would show up and engage.  Heck, the church had its traditions down pat that they didn’t even need God to show up to have a great service!  I believe that the changing trends will force the church to go back and look at what is really biblical and necessary.  The irony is that there is far greater of a demand from our weekly guest that we really are what we claim to believe.  One of those demands is that the church is not all about themselves, but truly loves the community and investing in true transformation and reconciliation.  Call me crazy, but I think Jesus might agree with this idea; in fact I think He even has something to say about this concept. Your first-time guest wants a church that is generous and they actually want to be taught how to be generous.  They want to be a part of something greater than themselves.
  2. There Are Apps For That.  When I planted my church in the mid 90’s, any technology you could bring into your worship service was cool and attractive.  Now less is more, but what makes sense better be there.  To not have a strong website, giving kiosk, well laid out apps, and other smart ways to engage with your community is no longer about being uncool; it is like the equivalent of finding out the contractor you hired showed up to the job site without any tools.  It just doesn’t make sense and causes a lack of confidence. 
  3. Know Your Audience’s Heartstrings.  Please hear me, I am not suggesting that a church should bend the Gospel, quite the opposite!  As noted in Funding Your Vision #2 you can’t do it all, so it is critical to clearly understand what makes your community unique.  Sounds obvious?  Maybe.  You would be surprised though how many “do church”, with the expectation that newcomers adjust to their culture, rather than the church have great sensitivity to the local community God has caused them to reach.  Here’s a litmus test: can you name one or more things that makes your church unique compared to most churches you know?  If so are those things reaching people to Christ?  If not, you probably have not done the hard work of really understanding how God has called you to reach your neighborhood. 
  4. Help The Givers Out of Their Own Financial Crisis. To teach generosity and not give them clear pathways to financial freedom is a guaranteed formula for guilt and shame.  That is not the goal obviously. There are tons of programs out there. I have personally had success running Financial Peace University in my Church.  A word of warning though:  a good biblical financial program will teach godly principles.  The upside is that you will see tithing increase.  The downside is if you are not running your church budget according biblical principles, you will be called out on it.  I’ve seen on more than one occasion church leaders move from excitement to disillusionment, when they discover that the very church that recommended the financial freedom program is not operating on what was taught.   I am not saying this is a bad thing, I am just giving you fair warning!

Next Post: How to Lead in Funding The Vision.

Sunday
Sep242017

Teaching Theology of Generosity - Funding Your Vision #3

A Converge church that I call my home church does a masterful job of teaching on the theology of generosity.  Every Sunday before the offering, a staff person does a 2-3 minute biblical teaching on generosity, and then finds a way to tie it into the vision of the church.  More often than not, the staff person studies the passage that the pastor is preaching on that day and looks for a biblical principle that applies to giving.  It can cover an array of themes: how God is generous to us, why generosity is critical to our spiritual growth, the benefits of being a generous person, why tithing is biblical, pointing out a principle in scripture that the church is striving towards and how their generosity makes that possible, and how a life was changed in that church and their gifts helped make that happen. The possibility of themes are endless. 

This week I was asked to give the generosity teaching.  As I mentioned in Part 1, I have been impressed with how so many people stepped up in generosity for hurricane victims.  It also struck me that the average local church is not seeing such outpouring of generosity.  Why is that?  The Lord brought me to Matthew 9: 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  We learned in the book of John that Jesus does nothing apart from the Heavenly Father.  In other words, He sees what the Father sees.  We just see a crowd of people.  Jesus had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Seeing what the Father sees causes him towards action, engagement, sacrifice, generosity.  It is awesome that we stand up and become generous with those in need, because we know that could have been us.  Jesus is not asking us to give of ourselves blindly, it’s ok to give when you have been moved to great compassion for the hurting and helpless.   We are simply being challenged to see what the Father sees.  When we see the crowds that don’t know Jesus, that could have been us.  When we see children trying to navigate life without spiritual instruction, that could have been our children, and when so many adults live in a vacuum without biblical community, that could also be us.  Please don’t give blindly, see what the Father sees and know that your generosity not only helps you and your family, but the many families yet to come. 

Below is Part 3 an extensive series on funding a vision.  If this is your first time to this series, begin with Funding Your Vision Part 1

Two Generosity Principles:

  1. Teach Stewardship, Tie it Into The Vision.  Generosity is woven into the core of the Gospel, as Jesus was generous with giving his life, sacrificing his life and to become Christ-like. We have the opportunity to do the same.  That means everything you do in your church points back to generosity.  Every activity should point back to the mission and vision as to why your church exists.  Every moment is a teachable moment about the core values of the church and biblical principles found in the scriptures.  Your youth worker, your children’s worker, your greeters, your men’s ministry – every area of the church can point back the biblical principle of stewardship and generosity.  When coaching church leaders, I help them develop a habit of leading every leader to take every opportunity to turn every activity into an opportunity to teach generosity principles. 
  2. You Preach The Tithing Principle, now Live The Tithing Principle.  The Gospel is often counterintuitive.  You want your life, give it away.  You want to be first, step to the back of the line.  Tithing is no different, God will do more with your 90% (10% tithe) than he will do with your 110% (spend it all plus 10% on credit cards).  What dumbfounds me is that churches preach this, but don’t live with the same generosity principle themselves.  “I expect you parishioners to tithe but as a church, that does not apply to us.”  Seriously?  That’s shameful!  If you really believe in generosity, then I believe the church budget should reflect a minimum of 10% given away to church planting, local missions, international missions and/or citywide movements.  “Can I count the music concert we did that we opened up to the public?  After all, that was not cheap!”  NO, simply no.  I would define it this way: to give away to biblical causes that you yourself anticipate no tangible benefit from.  God may, and often will, choose to bless you, but you don’t give with the hopes it will increase your bottom line (I.e. – will bring us more church attenders)  It should be sacrificial and unselfish.  I think that kind of generosity God gets excited about.  

The next post on Funding Your Vision is be about knowing your audience, it really makes a big difference. 

Saturday
Sep232017

Lesson From Monkeys in Funding Your Vision (part 2)

Do you know how to catch a monkey?  West Africans have discovered that if you drill a hole into a coconut shell, barely big enough for a monkey to slide his hand in, and fill it with the kind of berries and treats that the monkey likes, he is easy to catch. How? When the monkey slips his hand into the hole and grab the treats, his hands naturally make a fist.  Now his hand is too big to pull back out of the hole.  When the monkey is approached by his captors, logic would be that he should simply release the treats, pull his hand out, and climb a tree to safety.  The problem is that the monkey is too greedy and refuses to let go, which, by default, restricts his ability to escape into the trees, thus becoming easy prey.  Greed is the downfall of a monkey!

Churches can be the same way.  They don’t think of themselves as greedy, but every time God gives them a fresh vision, the church's refusal to let go of the many programs they cherish hampers their ability to move forward. In the case of the monkey, it’s laughable as to how silly he is for not letting go, yet the monkey is so blinded by greed, it doesn’t seem logical at all for him to let go.  Similarly, any organizational strategist would chuckle at a church’s inability to let go of Aunt Mary’s ministry that is badly out of date, out of touch, and does nothing to further the gospel; however, to the local church, it often doesn’t feel quite so logical. 

Below is Part 2 an extensive series on funding a vision.  If this is your first time to this series, begin with Funding Your Vision Part 1

  1. Design a Vision Budget.  When I was a senior pastor, I required every ministry to come up with an annual plan based upon our strategic mission. We then made our annual budget. Of course, not everyone got what they dreamed for, but we began there.  I work from time to time with churches in helping them design an annual strategic plan that is tied to their vision.  It’s a sad state to see how many churches simply tweak last year's budget (or don’t even have one!) and then react by going into crisis mode every time the numbers get tight.  That is not only good stewardship of any budget, much less a church one!
  2. Partnerships Over Programs.  There is a new trend that, if we can get over ourselves, you’re gonna love.  We actually owe Millennials a debt of gratitude for this one.  Millennials want to see that we are in positive partnership with other organizations.  For example, rather than having a food pantry, they want to see a church have a partnership with a local homeless shelter.  Rather than being a church that does it all, they want the church to partner with other churches and play to each other’s strengths. Rather than coming up with community projects, call the mayor and ask her how we can serve her.  Now, this means we don’t get to have our name on everything, and we don’t have full control, hence having to get over ourselves.  This is ultimately more efficient, and contrary to popular belief, partnerships command more respect than when we try to accomplish everything in a vacuum. 
  3. Know Your Yeses, Know Your No’s.   There are a million things you can do.  There are a thousand things that you “ought to do”, there are two dozen things you really really should do.  There is only a few things that you actually can do, and do well.  Until you identify those few things, and they become your absolute “yeses”, you will never know what you should be saying no to.  I’ve seen way too many churches who don’t have a compelling reason to say no to the many bad ideas that they have heard because they have not identified their yeses. Clarity is one of the greatest pathways to effectiveness and freedom.
  4. Live in Faith, Be Wise Stewards.  There is a tension that churches have to manage: the tension between stepping out in faith and being a wise steward.   In fact, most leaders tend to default to one or the other.  Those who overdo playing it safe are operating out of fear or comfort.  Those who dive into risk are either projecting their own will onto God’s or have unrealistic expectations of what their leadership and enjoinment can handle.   Since no one individual, other than Jesus, is perfect, the importance of self-awareness and community is essential.  Know yourself, surround yourself with those who still believe in the vision but are wired differently than you.

In the next blog post we will focus on helping your congregation understand the theology of generosity. 

NEXT GO TO PART 3