This is a great read!!
This is a great read!!
It is one of the worst feeling in ministry. It’s a Saturday night and your phone starts blowing up. Normally people don’t mind texts and calls on a Saturday night, but Saturdays nights are different for a pastor’s family. You know that feeling you get on a Sunday night around 7pm when you realize that tomorrow is Monday……yeah that is our Saturday.
Now, when your phone is ringing off of the hook or more often than not blowing up from text messages on a Saturday it means only one thing. It means your volunteers are letting you know they won’t be able to:
pass out bulletins
receive the offering
clean the bathrooms
When this happened to me in my first lead pastorate I would panic because it meant my wife would be in that nursery for about four straight months without being in a service and I would throw on a guitar for worship, take up the offering, switch microphones and preach, then clean the bathrooms. It was exhausting because I felt like I could never get volunteers to stick around. Having enough and keeping volunteers is always a challenge but I learned that If I would stop doing a handful of things, I would improve my retention rate as well as recruit more effectively.
1. Stop viewing volunteers as employees. You have to remember that your volunteers are giving you time on top of their 40-50 hour work week, kids sports and clubs, and family time. Just because you feel the pressure of being responsible for the leadership of an organization doesn’t mean you should project that pressure on to the volunteer. If you project this, the volunteer arrives at the conclusion, “I don’t get paid enough to do this.” Instead appreciate all that they are doing and have done.
2. Stop recruiting the wrong way. Think about how you ask someone to volunteer. If all they are hearing is the urgency of a need it may not be enough to retain them. For example, if you need a nursery volunteer, you could recruit them by saying, “We have all of these babies and no one to watch them, someone needs to change those diapers.” Maybe a few people sign up for a week or two but are not likely to stay. Instead consider recruiting people differently by remembering three words.
Problem: Every week there are mothers that come to this church and they are tired and exhausted. Their week has been filled with the chaos of raising children and infants especially need so much care and attention. It demands every moment of their life.
Solution: You may be thinking, “how profound an impact can I have changing diapers and holding a baby?” Consider what you are doing by giving that mother one hour to reconnect with God and to take in, when all week she has been pouring herself out. What if for one hour you enable that Mother to connect with her Heavenly Father? That is a big deal.
Urgency: So we need you to sign up to serve, because this week an exhausted mother will come through these doors and give God or the church one last chance.
3. Stop focusing so much on the task. It is so easy to get consumed with all of the details that have to take place on a Sunday that we forget the people that are doing it. As a pastor we have the primary job of caring for the soul. Remember that the volunteer is bigger than the job they are doing.
4. Stop fueling anxiety. People will tend to take on the environment that the leader projects. If people leave every Sunday feeling really stressed out because you are projecting that pressure and stress onto them, they will not stay for long.
5 Stop taking it so personally when people step down. If someone needs to take a break it may actually mean that. I know you probably hear that phrase and immediately have flashbacks to a high school break up, but it’s not always about you. For the first few years of my ministry I took is personal if someone stopped volunteering. I was creating a complex of fear and putting people in a place where I would forfeit honest dialogue because people feared I would be too insecure or defensive to hear why they needed a break or were done for a season. Jesus himself took a break multiple times to refresh and rest and spend time with the Lord. You volunteers should and so should you.
If I had known these five things would be creating serious issues I would have avoided them like a dirty sushi bar. Rest easy in knowing that the greatest thing you can do is to be a great pastor to the volunteers serving in your church. Take some time this week to appreciate them for choosing to serve at your church after they have worked a full week. That gratitude will foster a healthy serve culture in your organization.
I wish it was that easy. I wish you could plan two special services a year that resulted in some old school, 1950’s, Billy Graham Crusade conversion numbers. I wish that the extra effort volunteers put into these services would develop a spiritual depth in them that would sustain their faith for the following year. Unfortunately, It seems every year churches are scratching their head, trying to figure out why their special Christmas Cantata Extravaganza Living Nativity Flash Mob Christmas Tree did not grow their church beyond one service. (I should get the rights to that title because that was good)
Upon further review, these churches realize that all they did was draw believers from other churches to their event, and that two weeks later they are stressed and tired. This is where most churches say, “We better hurry up and schedule the next big event to grow this church. And so we wait for the next big event or service to save us. Are you tired of that yet? I know I was somewhere around my 3rd year of ministry. It was a vicious cycle. I think there are 5 reasons to stop expecting these services to grow your church.
1.People don’t know what to expect.– People want church to be in a predictable environment. They want to know what to expect and feel confident when bringing their family. If the church is completely re-working their programming, worship setting, and content to attract more people for a special service, the church must also ask the question, “What do we do if they come back?” Have we created an unhealthy consumer culture in a faith that requires us to reject ourselves, take up a cross, and follow Christ?
2. We create “Chreasters”– You have heard of them. They only attend church on Christmas and Easter. Many churches and pastors like to blame people for being so selfish. However, If the church has two services a year that are nothing like the other 50 weeks a year than why would they come back. Consequently, Chreasters decide that they will be back next Christmas for the service they enjoyed once a year.
3. People feel tricked. This is where the attractional model of church growth and evangelism can fail. If the programming, music, teaching, announcements, and welcome are not consistent after the “big” service, the people will feel like your church has an identity crisis. It would be like me going to an Italian restaurant and finding that they had changed their menu to a sushi bar. I would be confused and so would the restaurant management.
4. Your volunteers get burned. Two of the greatest days in the church calendar are Christmas and Easter. They are a time for the body of Christ to celebrate and Transcendent and Eminent God who conquered death and brought life. That is a pretty good reason, in my book, to worship together with other believers. However, if months of effort go into preparing for a huge influx of visitors that you have no intention of plan of retaining or reaching for more than a service, your volunteers will begin to resent these two days that should be filled with excitement and joy.
5. Pastors get depressed. It is like a ministry postpartum depression. All of this effort and pressure to perform in a way that church and leadership have not the rest of the year, creates a level of anxiety and expectation for the pastor to bring serious results that should be credited to God any way. Typically what happens the two weeks following these services is a record low attendance, and an overwhelmed pastor who realizes he could not possible sustain the level of programming they just presented.
I know you must be thinking, “Isn’t Easter the best reason to bring someone to church or to see a big increase in attendance? Isn’t the birth of Jesus a big enough deal to have a special celebration?” To that I say, “Absolutely!” but there is a big difference between celebrating in a special way and expecting it to do evangelism and disciple people for us. Simply put, expecting two services a year to grow and sustain your church is lazy.
The church is not called to just celebrate Christ come to Earth but to live it by bringing His kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. It’s not our job to simply acknowledge a Resurrected Savior that saved us from our past, but to also model what we were saved for. Want your church to reach people? Have 52 services a year that Christians want to bring their friends and neighbors to. Of equal or more importance is living Christmas and Easter 365 days a year.
Take the pressure off of yourself and your volunteers to perform this Christmas and Easter. You aren’t what is celebrated anyway. Do your best to celebrate the story of redemption and hope year round and most importantly remember that God is the one who will save.
I was an Associate Pastor in my first year of ministry. Part of my job was to make hospital visits and to pray for the sick. One day I was in the hospital room talking with an elderly lady from the church that had just gone through a heart procedure and was on her way to recovery. At this point in my ministry experience ,the hospital still made me very nervous and insecure because;
1) Hospitals already made me uncomfortable…there are needles there.
2) I had the baby face of Gary Coleman, and no one believed I was old enough to be a “Real Pastor.”
3) There were so many awkward moments and hard questions that would inevitably come up and I wasn’t ready to answer them.
4) Old people love to show you their scars and procedures…….Ill just leave that one right there.
As I was talking to the patient in a shared room, a disgruntled roommate dramatically closed her curtain and made it very clear that she did not want to be a part of a conversation with a pastor. I was way to insecure as a leader and pastor to not be offended, so it hurt. As we were about to pray, I told the parishioner that we missed her at church. As soon as the name of the church left my lips the grumpy roommate threw open the curtain and gave me a piece of her mind. She had the mouth of a sailor and was trying to melt me with the fireballs in her eyes. I was thinking, “How in the heck did I tick this lady off?” I apologized and assured here that I was not going to make her pray and that I did not wish to upset her. I prayed for the woman I came to visit and was about to make a mad dash to the car, when I turned to Cruella Deville and asked here what was behind all of that anger.
Pastors, that was a dumb move and a very risky one. I don’t recommend you asking it, but in that moment her heart softened and she told me a story.
It was the early1960s, and here husband had just left her for another woman. She was suicidal and pulled out a gun and was about to end her life when she had a great moment of clarity. “Maybe there is a God that can help me. I will give him one last chance.” She walked into a church just down the street for her home and asked for the pastor. She sat in his office weeping and explained that she was at the end of her rope and was devastated by what her husband had done. The pastor looked her in the eyes and told her that if she wasn’t full of the devil that this wouldn’t have happened and if she would stop sinning that she would no longer be sad.
Then she looked me in the eyes in that hospital room and said, “Young man, that was at your church that you pastor. If that is the God your giving, I don’t want Him.”
I didn’t know what to say other than sorry. I offered to pray for her, and she shut the curtain again and asked me to leave.
I have been thinking about her throughout my ministry. It had been almost 50 years and she still carried the pain that she experienced. How is it that a pastor could cause such a deep level of pain that it still have such negative affects all of these years later? I have wondered if she would have been a happy person if her experience was different that day she walked into the church. What if grace and healing were offered, rather than more condemnation?
Unfortunately this story has been told over and over by countless faces. I am glad that this story sticks with me. It is a painful reminder that the church has a profound impact on the people we encounter.
So this Sunday or this week in the office please remember…….Someone may be giving God one last chance.
One day, three years into ministry, I found my self frustrated beyond words at how my leadership was not making the impact I believed it should. I was reading all of the right books. I was attending all of the right conferences. I was praying. I was fasting. I mostly tried emotional eating and I was really good at that, but there was a disconnect between the results I was hoping for and the reality of my situation. I was putting in long hours, and I was so passionate about leading an organizational turn around. Somehow, the people I looked to in the organization for leadership and counted on, now had this glassed over look in their eyes when I shared the vision for our church. Where once they were initiators of change, and cultivators of progress, they were now instigators of resistance and ambassadors of apathy. A quote I had heard growing up hit me with such clarity in my office on that January day. “He who thinks he leads, but has no one following, is only taking a walk.”
That is what had happened. I had been on a walk for well over 6 months and didn’t realize it. It was time to examine my leadership and my circumstances to see how I could identify the problems I had created and fix them in the future. This is what found.
There are five reasons that people will not follow your leadership.
1. You think it is their fault. This is the hardest hurdle to jump when your leadership is not making the impact and influencing the organization the way we want it to. We live in a world where everyone points fingers and passes the blame. However if we are going to lead that means we will start by looking in our own heart, mind, soul, and strengths. This does not mean people are not going to be difficult. Leaders rise up to the challenge of self-reflection. look inside, and allow their heart to be searched.
2. You stop listening. I will be the first to admit that I am a horrible listener. My wife would be the second to tell you this. I have to fight for this one because listening is an art. Without developing as a listener, it will be hard to identify the needs of the people in your organization. It will be a tremendous challenge to develop leadership if you cannot understand where the people you are pouring into believe they are in their journey. Finally, you will give people a chance to champion your organization if you stop talking and try to listen more often and more attentively.
3. You are no longer teachable. We are creatures of habit, and because of this we tend for find something that has worked in our leadership and ride that horse to death. The danger here is that people who could actually help you have decided that you do not want your help. This may not be your intention, but if every time your communicate this, in thought or in deed, people believe you do not need their help. If you do not need their help, they will not buy in to the vision of the organization.
4. You forgot how to celebrate. “A win is a win.” This is what we hear every time a team plays poorly but manages to win. In your organization, you may have the tendency to dismiss the wins you are experiencing because they seem small or because you have so many bigger hurdles to overcome. However, people need to hear that they are valued in the small details and well as the big triumphs. When you create a culture in your organization that can celebrate the wins, it’s a fun place to serve.
5. You are out of fuel. It happens. It happens more than I would like. It happens in churches all over this nation. Leaders are burning out and have lost their influence in others because they are exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Their families begin to resent the organization that is claiming soul of their spouse or mother or Father. Take the time to rest, recharge, and refresh. This does not mean to be lazy, but it means that effective leaders create some margin in their lives so they can lead from the resource within them. People can see a burnt out leader and they are hesitant to follow them.
In the past two years I have been able to identify these five areas that need improvement in my leadership, and I am working diligently on each of them. Which reason needs addressed in your leadership? Are their others you would add to the list? I would love to hear your feedback.
Somewhere in the first year of your ministry at a new church, you will experience a seismic shifting of perspective. In pastoral training they called this the honeymoon phase wearing off. Inevitably, one or the majority of your expectations of the church or church staff you are serving will not be fulfilled. You will realize that the excitement you felt in your interviews is not what you are feeling on Monday mornings in a staff meeting, or at the end of a Board meeting. Why?
For some, it’s because we thought that ministry was a much more glamorous job. The reality of everyone weighing in on your leadership and performance, the demands of the job, the time away from home, or the patience required for ministry just isn’t what you thought it would be. You were picturing an Indiana Jones adventure but you find your on the set of “Footloose” arguing that there is a time to dance………….only you don’t feel as cool as Kevin Bacon.
For some, it is the feeling that the leadership you are serving under lack vision. Your philosophy and theology of ministry are on opposite ends of the spectrum from the leadership, and you wonder if you could ever work together towards the same goal.
For others, you’re feeling that you were tricked. You interviewed and asked the right questions, but for whatever reason the lead pastor or board told you there were culturally and organizationally in a place that they were only dreaming of being down the road. for example………
We are progressive.……..3 months later…..”Could you dress up a little more in God’s house?”
We are culturally relevant.…… 2 months later you are promoting a family movie night of “The Butter Cream Gang.”
We are targeting young adults and we need you, …….yeah on Christmas and Easter when they come to church with Grandma.
We love small groups.….you didn’t know they meant the corporate worship experience on Sunday Morning.
We are contemporary……….Ok that was a trick. If they use the word contemporary you should know better.
Eventually, you find yourself in the place where you wonder if you shouldn’t be looking for another door to open or to stay at the church . I look back and realize that I have made mistakes in these seasons and could have handled things better in transition. So here are a 5 tips for wrestling through unfulfilled expectations in your place of ministry.
1. First Things First. If the call of God to ministry is on your life right now, it is to fulfill a purpose greater than what you see. Ask God what he is trying to show you in your disappointment and frustration……..Oh, and don’t forget to listen for His voice.
2. What can you do? In times when I felt most frustrated in ministry I have focused on what I couldn’t do. “They won’t let me lead worship as I want.” “I can’t reach teens with no resources.” “If I was an unchurched young adult, I would never attend here.” All of these negative statements handcuff your leadership. The breathe no life into dead situations, which I believe God wants to do. Focus on what you can do. Who can you pour into? What family can you impact? What hard conversations can I have?
3. What to fight for? If you have conflict with your boss or a staff member, stop fighting to be right. Fight for the relationship. Fight for reconciliation. Fight for the life of the church together. Ask your boss, “What did you hear me say? ” Realize that you cannot argue what someone else feels, but you can find understanding in hearing it.
4. Honor, Honor, Honor. This does not mean to be a class pet, this means to genuinely honor the leadership God has placed you under. Don’t be fake, but find ways to honor others. You will find that their heart is bigger than the opinions that differ between the two of you. This will be crucial if God opens another ministry opportunity somewhere else. You need to leave the baggage, because it will eat away at you and the next church doesn’t need it either.
5. What to do with the door. Many times we pray God opens a new door, but if we don’t see one as soon as we like we go full on SWAT team and take a battering ram to a door. Trust God to open the door. Don’t give Him credit for a door you kicked open. It may come back to bite you.
I hope you see what God is doing in your tough season of ministry. I hope you realize that your leadership grows exponentially in difficult times. Most Importantly, I hope you see that God is faithful to reveal the bigger picture in time.
I can promise you that at some point in your first year of ministry it will happen to you. You will feel it deep in your gut. Your heart rate will elevate, and you will be thinking, “I’m not ready for this. I don’t remember what the professor said when we were talking about this. Why wasn’t I prepared for this?”
It was dinner time in the Otero home and the phone rang. It always rings at dinner time, and it usually is the same few parishioners calling when you are in the solo pastorate. Reluctantly, I answered the phone and was told there was a house fire in town and it was the home of a relative of the church. I got in the car and drove to the scene. As I arrived there it began to happen. My stomach was turning, heart was racing, insecurities elevating, and anxiety through the roof. I was in the middle of a crisis. A family member saw me and approached me sobbing. No one was allowed on the property. Immediately a police officer pulled me aside and asked, “Are you the pastor?” I nodded. “Pastor, they are headed to the hospital right now and the family is going to need you tonight.” I tried to ask what was going on but all he would say is, “They need you tonight.”
Driving to the hospital I noticed the white in my knuckles as I gripped the wheel fearing the worst. All the pride and confidence that a title of lead pastor and a theological degree gave me was gone. I was feeling afraid that I was in a crisis scenario and I had no idea what to do. I prayed and begged that God give me the strength for what was ahead as I pulled into the hospital. I was directed to the consultation room where a doctor informed the family that they had lost their mother/grandmother in the fire.
There are some moments in life that happen in slow motion. Moments that you could never prepare for, moments filled with despair and helplessness, and this was one. I looked down at my hands clenched, white knuckles, and something special happened. I realized that it was no mistake that I was in this room at this moment. It was no coincidence that I found myself in a position to care in the midst of devistation. Where fear created a void of confidence, the Holy Spirit filled it with a reminder. The reminder that this is exactly what God had called me to.
The next couple hours my job was to be there and to shut up. To offer a ministry of presence. There were no answers for the questions, at least not ones that I had any business answering. My job was to simply lean into the painful situations rather than run from them. It brings great fulfillment to my life when I know that I am ministering to a very real need.
This would not be the last white knuckle experience in my ministry. It was the first of so many and they continue to happen. However, each time they occur I find myself more and more centered in my calling, and more and more dependent on God’s strength and grace to calm the storms of life.
There is no text-book or class that will fully prepare you for your white knuckle moments in ministry, but there is a God who has been preparing your for this crisis for a lifetime.