Friday, August 16, 2019

Ten Suggestions for Effective Ministry in Small Communities

A young pastor once contacted me, seeking suggestions for effective ministry in his small community.  Here is my response:

1.  Think Big and Little.
Too many rural pastors suffer from myopia -- small vision.  "How can anything significant happen in a little place like this?"  However, it pays to remember that Jesus launched the greatest mission in human history from rural context.  If you have the right perspective, you can touch the world from the end of it!  Refuse to be small minded.

Do something special with what you have.  Go the extra mile and put some "wow" into it.  It doesn't take much more to make a huge difference.  Remember, in a small community, you don't have to be great to be spectacular.

Take a risk and do something big.  Plan a significant event and invite the whole community.  (A few ideas: a dinner to honor veterans or rescue workers, a fun outreach for children, a hunting or fishing expo, a concert, the sky's the limit!)

On the other hand, don't discount the little connections along the way.  I once listed the ten most significant ministry moments of the 26 years I spent pastoring in Hayward, Wisconsin..  All of them were either one on one or with a small circle of friends.  The most important moments happen through interpersonal relationships.  Spending an afternoon with a frightened family in a waiting room could be the wisest use of your time.

2.  Think Long and Short
Rural folks are suspicious of flash in the pan preachers.  They are much more impressed with faithfulness for the long haul.  Ask yourself, "What kind of church would I love to pastor ten years from now?"  Then, start moving that direction -- one little step at a time.  Bring people along with you. As Phil Cooke says, "If you are one step ahead, you are their leader. If you are ten steps ahead, you are their target."

While mindful of the big picture, it is important to redeem the present moment and steward your energy.  Make every day count for somethin, and live in the moments of each day.

3.  Pastor the Whole Community and the Individual
Don't think of yourself as the pastor of a congregation, but of the entire community.  Get out to where the people are.  Become friends with the mayor, superintendent of schools, postmaster sheriff, health workers, judge, funeral director, business leaders, and other pastors in town.  The whole place is your parish and you are there to serve them.  Get out of your office and into the community -- the view of the world is extremely limited from behind a desk.

At the same time, make sure to keep track of your flock.  Who is hurting and needs a special touch?  Who is discouraged?  Who needs a visit or a call?  Ask God.  He will show you who needs you most.  Each person matters.

Schedule times to visit those who are sick and shut in.  If you don't put it on your calendar, it won't happen.  One visit to an elderly person in frail health brings a blessing of many layers, and impacts far more people than you will ever imagine.

4.  Pray and Do.
Take substantial time at the beginning of each day to hear from heaven and get your soul happy in Jesus.  When you seek God's face first, you will have grace as you face people through the day.  Demands from the ministry load will consume every waking moment, unless you are intentional about carving out solitude.  You must fight for these times alone with God.  Your life depends on it!

Ministry is rich and rewarding when we serve from the overflow.  It is grueling and frustrating when we serve from an empty tank.  Keep your tank full and you won't burn out.

Our love for God drives us to our knees -- and then His love compels us to get off our knees and out into the world to bring a blessing.  Prayer is not a substitue for going -- it is our motive to do so.

Have a bias for action.  Don't just sit around hashing.  Get something done.

5.  Disciple Through Evangelism
Your job is not to run church programs, but to disciple people.  However, many have a misconception about discipleship.  They believe "going deep" means turning inward.  That's the wrong approach.  If we deeply love Jesus, then we will love who He loves -- lost, broken, hurting people.

Deep people will go deep into the harvest field.  It requires sacrifical commitment to share God's love with others.  Otherwise, it's not deep -- just muddy.

6. Be Wise and Generous.  
When we demonstrate generosity, we show the heart of Jesus.  Be as generous as you can with your own life, maintaining a bias for "yes!"  When it comes to decisions, follow the rule of faith and generosity.

Of course, you must be wise in how you handle resources.  They need to see that you use common sense when it comes to financial matters.  Perhaps the best way to approach church budgeting is by following John Wesley's adage, "Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can."  Joy always accompanies generosity.

Do the minutes from your church board over the past six months reflect joyful generosity?  Do the people in your community consider your congregation a joyful, generous church?  If not, what is one small step you could take to challenge them in this direction?

7.  Lead by Sharing Leadership.
Pastoring a rural church is like herding cats.  My wife, Cathy, once said, the only way to herd cats is to get them chasing the same mouse.

The best way to lead in a small community is through consensus.   Let them own it!  You're not Moses, so they will be highly suspicious when you come down from the mountaintop with a new vision and direction for the church.  Shared leadership requires shared vision.  You are not the only one qualified to speak about what Christ wants for His church.   Give the people freedom to express what they sense from God.  Let them answer this question, "How does Jesus wish to fulfill His Great Commission through us in this community?  How can we multiply disciples?  How can we touch the whole community and make a difference with the love of Christ?"  Then get out of the way and let them dream!

8.  Plan Ahead and Be Available.
One secret to effective ministry is planning your major activities ahead of time.  Use a month (or maybe two) as the hub of your calendar, then plan your weekly and daily events backwards from there.  If you start with the day or week, you will never get around to what you hoped to accomplish next month.

However, in your planning, make sure to include plenty of margin for the unexpected divine appointments that arise.  These spontaneous surprises are not interruptions.  Consider them as gifts sent from God and embrace them without resentment.  You will find great blessing there,

If you plan priorities with a breathable daily and weekly schedule, you will accomplish far more than you could ever imagine.

9.  Preach, Pray, Lead and Love Well.
And not necessarily in that order.  These four duties comprise a pastor's job description, and should be the measuring stick for all your activities.  Run everything through the grid.  Will this help me love more, lead better, pray deeper, or preach stronger?  Do whatever it takes to strengthen those four priorities.  Your overall ministry impact will be graded on how well you do them.

10.  Work Hard and Honor Sabbaths
Nobody succeeds in ministry without a strong work ethic.  If you waste time in trivial pursuits, the health of the whole church will suffer.  Give it 100% effort and commitment.  Do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Make sure you tackle the most important things first.  Many pastors keep busy with unimportant, low priority items.

A essential part of your work is to take time for personal sabbath.  Ministry work is never done, and if you are undisciplined, you will find yourself overworking and not pausing for essential rest.  Build space into your weekly schedule for this; there's a reason God commands it.  This is not just a "day off", but an extended time (24 hour) to rest, refresh your spirit, reconnect with God and loved ones, recreate, and replenish.  Also build breathing space between your scheduled responsibilities, providing the the opportunity for your soul to catch up with you.

Finally, don't let your phone be your master.  It is there to serve you -- not the other way around.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Half Mastings

The flags in town are half mast today. It seems we've had more than our share of "half-mastings" recently.

The flags represent our hearts -- they're at half mast too.

As the flags go down, our prayers go up.

Monday, July 08, 2019

What Did You Mean By That?

 "Half the harm that is done in the world," said poet, T.S. Eliot,"is done  by people who want to feel important. They do not mean to harm. There  are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

 I've discovered that most of the time, people mean well. Even when  they speak or behave in troubling ways that makes us wonder -- they  mean well.  It's best to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

 Yet, at the same time, it is also beneficial to examine our own motives, and try to understand more deeply how our behavior effects others.

 Sometimes, winning the argument loses the fight. A marriage counselor once asked a distraught husband,  "Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?"

 After a frustrating conversation one day, I thought, "What he said spoke so loud, I couldn't understand a word  he meant!"

 Perhaps, the best path is mapped out by St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed:

 Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
 Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
 Where there is injury, pardon.
 Where there is doubt, faith.
 Where there is despair, hope.
 Where there is darkness, light.
 And where there is sadness, joy.

 Grant that I may not so much seek
 to be consoled as to console;
 to be understood, as to understand,
 to be loved as to love;
 for it is in giving that we receive.
 it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
 and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Lead, Kindly Light: Words of Comfort in the Darkness

Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be canonized on October 13, wrote the beautiful and haunting hymn, "Lead Kindly Light" when he was kept far from home due to an unexpected illness and transportation issues. It has been a source of comfort to many, including soldiers in the trenches of World War 1, Betsy Ten Boom (Corrie's sister) in the Nazi concentration camp. and a group of 26 frightened miners who were trapped underground in the 1909 Stanley Pit disaster, where 168 men and boys died in an explosion of poisonous gas. Perhaps it will be a comfort to you in whatever darkness you may be facing.:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Here is a rendition  by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  While I certainly do no embrace their theology, I appreciate the beauty of their performance.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Prayer of Good Courage

"Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." 
(from Daily Prayer by E. Milner White & G. W. Briggs).

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Pastor's Momma

An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps.  

"Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely. 

"The front row, please," she answered.. 

"You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastor is really boring." 

"Do you happen to know who I am?" the woman inquired.

"No," he said. 

"I'm the pastor's mother," she replied indignantly. 

"Do you know who I am?" he asked. 

"No," she said.

"Good," he answered. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Six Steps to the Throne

I teach a discipleship class called Deepen at Alive Wesleyan Church on a regular basis.  In this teaching on prayer, I share Six Steps to the Throne, which is adapted from  In The Day of Thy Power, by Arthur Wallis.

In 2 Chronicles 9:18 we read that there were six steps to the throne of King Solomon.  And in our prayer life, there are six steps to the throne of God:  The King of Kings.

Step 1:  Abiding in Christ
John 15:5-7 
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

This means being connected to Christ -- living in Christ - being at home with him.  There is a huge difference between saying prayers and being a person of prayer.

Two ways we become disconnected:  Disobedience (Ps, 66:18) and Neglect.  Is Jesus your spare tire or your steering wheel?

Step 2: In the Will of God
1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Bobby Richardson, baseball great, once prayed, "Dear God, your will.   Nothing more.  Nothing less. Nothing else."

Will of God should not be used to excuse our doubt and unbelief.  It is a great statement of faith!
How do we discern God's will?
A.  Scripture -- God's Word is always His will.
B.  Leading of the Holy Spirit - If we ask, He will show us.

Step 3: In Faith
Mark 11:22-24:
Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Faith is bold confidence and quiet trust:  laying hold of God, and believing His promises.

Step 4:  In the Name of Jesus
John 14:13-14: 
 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

The name of Jesus is not a little tag or magic incantation at the end of a prayer.  It means praying in the authority of Jesus.  There is power in his name!

"Amen" doesn't end the prayer -- but shoots it out!  "So be it!"

Step 5:  In the Spirit
Jude 1:20-21: 
 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Wesley Duewel calls the Holy Spirit our indwelling prayer partner (Jesus is our enthroned prayer partner.)

The Holy Spirit draws us to prayer, energizes us, convicts us, brings a prayer burden (especially in emergencies), and provides vision for future direction.

Praying in the Spirit means praying in holy love.

Step 6:  In Unity
Matthew 18:19: 
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Not in unison but in harmony with one another.  We may have differences, but our hearts are in harmony.

Disunity, resentment and unforgiveness hinder our prayers.  When we are united in love, our prayers have more power.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Let the River Flow

"I often think of the Holy Spirit as a mighty river, but a river dammed and held back by obstacles of one kind or another.  Fancy a man standing on the dam and pleading in prayer with the river to flow on.  How absurd! 'Why,' the river would answer, 'That is just what I want to do.  Don't waste your energy in such vain repetitions. It is my nature to flow.  I am more anxious to flow than you are to see me flow.'"
-- Oswald Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Poem for Easter Saturday

A Holy Saturday poem by John Keble.  Be sure to read the first lines of the last stanza:

AT length the worst is o’er, and Thou art laid

Deep in thy darksome bed;
All still and cold beneath you dreary stone
Thy sacred form is gone;
Around those lips where power and mercy hung,
The dews of death have clung;
The dull earth o’er Thee, and thy foes around,
Thou sleep’st a silent corse, in funeral fetters wound.

Sleep’st Thou indeed? or is thy spirit fled,
At large among the dead?
Whether in Eden bowers thy welcome voice
Wake Abraham to rejoice,
Or in some drearier scene thine eye controuls
The thronging band of souls;
That, as thy blood won earth, thine agony
Might set the shadowy realm from sin and sorrow free.

Where’er Thou roam’st, one happy soul, we know,
Seen at thy side in woe,
Waits on thy triumph—even as all the blest
With him and thee shall rest.
Each on his cross, by Thee we hang a while,
Watching thy patient smile,
Till we have learn’d to say, "Tis justly done,
"Only in glory, LORD, thy sinful servant own."

Soon wilt Thou take us to thy tranquil bower
To rest one little hour,
Till thine elect are number’d, and the grave
Call Thee to come and save:
Then on thy bosom borne shall we descend,
Again with earth to blend,
Earth all refin’d with bright supernal fires,
Tinctur’d with holy blood, and wing’d with pure desires.

Meanwhile with every son and saint of thine
Along the glorious line,
Sitting by turns beneath thy sacred feet
We’ll hold communion sweet,
Know them by look and voice, and thank them all
For helping us in thrall,
For words of hope, and bright examples given
To shew through moonless skies that there is light in Heaven.

O come that day, when in this restless heart
Earth shall resign her part,
When in the grave with Thee my limbs shall rest,
My soul with Thee be blest!
But stay, presumptuous—CHRIST with thee abides
In the rock’s dreary sides:
He from the stone will wring celestial dew
If but the prisoner’s heart be faithful found and true.

When tears are spent, and Thou art left alone
With ghosts of blessings gone,
Think thou art taken from the cross, and laid
In JESUS’ burial shade;
Take Moses’ rod, the rod of prayer, and call
Out of the rocky wall
The fount of holy blood; and lift on high
Thy grovelling soul that feels so desolate and dry.

Prisoner of Hope thou art—look up and sing
In hope of promis’d spring
As in the pit his father’s darling lay
Beside the desert way,
And knew not how, but knew his GOD would save
Even from that living grave,
So, buried with our LORD, we’ll close our eyes
To the decaying world, till Angels bid us rise.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Until Spirit Touches spirit

“We can use all the right techniques and methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit”
-- Richard Foster

Monday, April 15, 2019

Wisdom from Will Rogers

1. Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco.

2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman . . Neither works.

4. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

5. Always drink upstream from the herd.

6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket.

8. There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.

9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

10. If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

11. Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier'n puttin' it back.

12. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

13. If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around.

14. It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.

15. When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don't be surprised if they learn their lesson.

16. When you're throwin' your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.
17. No man is great if he thinks he is.

18. Personally, I have always felt the best doctor in the world is the Veterinarian. He can't ask his patients what's the matter. He's just got to know.

19. Everybody is ignorant. Only on different subjects.

20. They may call me a rube and a hick, but I'd a lot rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it.

21. Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.

22. Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

23. The American people are very generous people and will forgive almost any weakness, with the possible exception of stupidity.

24. The minute that you read something that you can't understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.

25. Income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf

26. If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?

27. A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.

28. We can't all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures

Innovative cultures are generally depicted as pretty fun. They’re characterized by a tolerance for failure and a willingness to experiment. They’re seen as being psychologically safe, highly collaborative, and nonhierarchical. And research suggests that these behaviors translate into better innovative performance. 

But despite the fact that innovative cultures are desirable, and that most leaders claim to understand what they entail, they are hard to create and sustain. That’s because the easy-to-like behaviors that get so much attention are only one side of the coin. They must be counterbalanced by some tougher and frankly less fun behaviors: an intolerance for incompetence, rigorous discipline, brutal candor, a high level of individual accountability, and strong leadership. 

Unless the tensions created by this paradox are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail.

--  Gary Pisano, The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures , Harvard Business Review

Friday, April 12, 2019

Look Well to the Growing Edge

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. 

The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge!

 It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. 

This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. 

The birth of a child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!
—Howard Thurman