Moving Forward: Lessons Learned as a Pastor in Limbo

Yesterday marked my fifth anniversary at East Frankfort Baptist Church. To celebrate the occasion, I want to repost what I wrote then reflecting on what I learned between ministries.

Yesterday I preached my first official sermon as the pastor at East Frankfort Baptist Church. My wife, family, and I are excited where God has placed us and trust we will be on the front line of God’s great work there. Although the full story of how we got here goes beyond the purpose of this blog, I will say that this has been a long, and at times exhausting, trip. But we praise the Lord for bringing us here.

The short of the story is simple. I have applied at dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of churches around the country. I have been interviewed by many of them, assured to be on the short list of most of them, and turned down by some of them. At the beginning of the process, I thought for sure my resume, education, experience, and resources (videos, podcasts, writings, etc.) made me a viable candidate at many of these churches. Viable, yes. But not hirable for many.

I have several weaknesses as a candidate. First, I am young (30) and look even younger. Secondly, I have three degrees from a very Calvinist college and seminary and thus most assume I am a 5-point Calvinists. Thirdly, many smaller churches assume “a guy like him wouldn’t want a church like us.” Likewise larger churches do not see the type of guy they are looking for. Thus I was on everyone’ short-list but never presented as the final candidate.

Looking back, though, I see how the Lord was at work. Here are a few thoughts.

1. God’s Sovereignty Means God’s Timing

I have always considered myself a patient person but through this experience I have learned that I am not as patient as I previously thought. The search process is a test of patience. Waiting for potential opportunities to open. Waiting for committees to receive and go through resumes. Waiting to be contacted by potential churches and ministry opportunities. Waiting for questionnaires. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting for interviews. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting for another interview. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

At any time one of those stages fall through, you start over. At one point there were at least eight churches in which informed me I was among their final 3. Only one panned out in the end and I turned them down feeling uncalled to that church. It took about six months for each church to finish their search process after I was notified of being a finalists.

This call to patience takes it toll more on the family than it does on the candidate and certainly that was our experience. My children visited a lot of churches with me. My wife waited for phone calls too. We all had to learn patience . . . anxiously.

2. Most Churches are Sicker Than Advertised

The average search committee is reflective of the church they represent. That is a good thing. With that said, many committees are incompetent, poorly led, and reflect the poor situation of their congregation. After one interview with a particular church, I knew almost immediately not to continue the process. Only one committee member came prepared with questions while the rest clearly had given little thought to the process, what they were looking for in a pastor, etc.

All of this is to say that though we all known that the current church is sick, the church is more sick than even I had known. Many churches are grossly unaware of what a pastor is and does, what a pastor needs and requires, or even what the church is and does.

It is imperative that pastors stop playing church and start leading the church for many are in dire straits.

3. Everyone has opinions. Few have answers

How long should one’s resume be? What should it include? How should you answer certain questions? What questions should you ask? How do you determine if you should leave a ministry or transition to another?

Everyone has opinions, but few have answers. At the end of the day, I have learned to listen to those wiser than me, trust in God’s leadership, and always know that God will have His way in the end.

4. Connections are Important, and Not Just For Reasons You Think.

We have heard the old saying that in life, “its not what you know, its who you know.” To a certain extent, this is true in ministry. Its an aspect I’m not a fan of, but it is a reality. Yet there is another side of it. My rejection of that mentality made me a bit of a lone ranger minister. I wanted to “prove” myself and allow my record to speak for itself. I have a reputation I am proud of. Yet throughout this process, God gave me the opportunity to make some connections that has open my eyes to see what God is doing in the church today.

I am excited about what God is doing in the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. I am grateful for the many ministers and servants in the church I’ve met through this process and am excited about the future of Christianity in Kentucky and America. There are many challenges ahead of us, but I have witnessed God raise great men and women who have an unquenchable passion for Jesus.

So my advice to young ministers would be to simply avoid private ministry and make connections for the right reasons.

5. The Future of the Church is Bright

There is no doubt we live in a post-Christian culture. As a result, the church is suffering from insignificance and a lack of true-gospel vision. Yet I believe our future as a convention and church is still bright. I am excited about what God has in stored for us moving forward. God has raised great leaders locally, state-wide, nationally, and internationally. The seminaries are largely producing men and families serious about Jesus, the gospel, and gospel-ministry.

Though as I type this the future looks bleak. Yet I still see God clearly at work moving pieces that I believe are strategic and prove that He is always a step ahead of humanity. No doubt things will get worse, but I am confident that God is still up to something good.

Conclusion

In the end, I would note that the past few years have been difficult on me and my family for a host of reasons. Yet because we are confident that God is on his throne, we have remained hopeful. I do not know what the next year, ten years, or century will look like for us or for the church. I offer myself only as a vessel of Christ for the glory of Christ. What I do know is that God knows what he is doing and I will continue to trust him with our future.

Things I’d Tell My Younger Pastor Self

Image result for church steepleWhen I was in eighth grade, I had a science teacher that had us write letters to our graduating selves. I looked forward to the day when, four years later, I read the letter I wrote to my future self. I want to do the opposite today.

I have been in vocational ministry for 16 years. I’ve learned a lot knowing there is still more to discover. With that said, I thought recently about what I would say to my 18 year old self about to launch into ministry. Below are my initial thoughts.

 

Never Ever, For Any Reason, Forget that Jesus Believes in the Local Church

Not to sound like Michael Scott who starts a sentence and doesn’t know where its going, but for the purpose of emphasis it is vital to remember that never ever, for any reason, forget that Jesus believes in the local church.

Local church life can be messy and frustrating. Emotionally, pastors can swing from joy to depression in mere minutes. There will always be critics, gossipers, and ugly business meetings. Those whom you consider to be mature believers can, and do, demonstrate ugliness. Feelings will be hurt, the depression is real, and disappointment will pop up from time to time.

But never forget that Jesus himself established the church and will not abandon her. Messiness in the church is a regular reminder of why the Bride of Christ needs her Savior.

No pastor will cure the local church of these ills. That is Jesus’s job. The under-shepherd must lead them to the Good Shepherd.

 

Nothing Will Drain You Emotionally More Than Pettiness

I despise drama. I dislike it in film (I’m looking at you CW), family, and certainly the church. Drama is produced by a number of means (like gossip) but perhaps nothing crawls under my skin more than pettiness.

When we consider the mission and calling of the church, there are countless things that do not matter, yet consistently drain your emotional and spiritual tank. When critics go out of their way to explain how you ought to fulfill your calling, when baby believers offer their advice yet are unwilling to serve, when we fight over carpets and traditions, it is easy to want to give up.

I wish I had prepared myself for this. You will never please everyone and frankly that should not be your primary goal. Faithfulness is the calling of the pastor. Certainly there will be mistakes, but critics do not define the church, Jesus does. It is imperative not to let petty people and their gossiping cousins to dominate you or the local congregation.

 

Love Those to Whom You Preach To

On my office wall hangs the Martin Lloyd-Jones, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach is quite another.” One of my criticisms of seminary graduates is they are academically smart but fools as ministers. They’ve grown to love preaching and feel called to preach, but it never occurred to them that pastoral ministry is more than preaching. Unless you love your people, you will never succeed in ministry.

Love is the first priority of a new ministry. Love will sustain you through ministry. Love others as Jesus has loved you. The rest will follow.

 

Make Family a Priority

One of the best advice I received from a pastoral mentor when I felt called to ministry was to make your family a priority. Members will demand your time at the cost of your wife and children. Pastoring is a 24/7 calling and will demand your attention at all hours of the day and night. If you let it, it will consume you.

Yet Scripture is clear, you cannot be trusted with a church until you demonstrate integrity in the home. Take advantage of vacations, retreats, conventions, and conferences. Do not neglect date night. Do not miss ball games, recitals, and holidays. The home ought to be an oasis for the pastor and making your family a priority will go a long way in  making that a reality.

 

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What To Do in First Year of Pastoral Ministry

The challenge for every minister once he begins a new ministry at a church is where to begin. How do we, as ministers, think about the task ahead of us and what are some principles worth having when accepting a new calling?

As a general rule, there are two priorities often missed by ministers. Certainly your focus ought to be preaching God’s Word with authority and clarity, creating a culture of gospel saturation and missions, and loving the flock with Christ-like love.

Beyond that, though, there are few points often overlooked that are worth remembering and putting into practice.

 

Visit Every Member at Least Once

If your walking into a small to middle size congregation (however you may want to define those terms), it is imperative the new pastor visits every member in some capacity. Visitation can take place in homes, hospitals, nursing homes, local sporting events, reunions, birthday parties, and other places.

It is imperative that visiting each member in the first year is a clear focus of the new pastor. If your at a small, rural church, move that timeline up six months. Demonstrating to your people that you will be their pastor and not just their preacher is important. Remember that preaching is both a public (behind the pulpit) and private (in homes, etc.) work. Don’t underestimate the importance of meeting your people and hearing their stories. You’ll learn a lot about the needs of the people, the history of the church, and the challenges you may face moving forward.

For a helpful book on visiting well, read Brian Croft’s Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness.

 

Make One Change, Keep One Tradition

Change is the biggest fear of the congregation when a new pastor comes. His very presence signals change. His personality, preaching style, office, hours, family, etc. are all automatic and unavoidable changes. Thus when a pastor arrives with the intent on fixing everything in the first year is woefully unaware of the major adjustment the church is making in welcoming him and his family.

My general recommendation (different churches have different needs) is to publicly keep one tradition. What tradition to keep and to promote will be discovered by visiting each member. What has sentimental value and simultaneously fits well within the vision you have for the church? Keep and praise it.

This may involve bringing an old tradition back to the church. Perhaps while the church was without a pastor, they lacked leadership in planning particular events and you discover everyone’s desire to return to that annual or monthly event. Listen to the needs of your flock and consider wisely.

When a decision is made, promote it and show how it fits well within the vision you have for the church. Perhaps its evangelistic, focuses on discipleship, or great for morale or worship. Whatever it is, celebrate it and enjoy this ongoing tradition.

At the same time, prayfully make some change of significance in the first year. After casting the vision for the church promote a positive change or share a new idea, event, etc.. Be sensitive to the needs and tendencies of your flock. Again, making the right decision will be made by visiting your people throughout the year.

 

Readings for Ministry Interns

Blue and Gold Cover Book on Brown Wooden ShelfOur church has began a ministry internship program for those called to pastoral ministry. I’m excited for this program and believe it will be instrumental in blessing our church and providing much needed experience for future pastors in our convention.

As part of this program is some required reading. For 2018, here is that list.

Required Books on Ministry

Required Books on Preaching

Recommended Books

 

Originally posted on April 16, 2018.

Two Types of Pastors: Lessons Learned from Presidential Leadership

While reading through Fred Barnes book, Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush, I came across the following passage:

There are two types of presidents: those who govern and those who lead. A governing president performs all the duties assigned by the Constitution, deals with whatever issues or crises crop up during his term, and does little else. He’s a caretaker. Richard Neustadt, in his seminal book Presidential Power, characterized such a president as essentially a clerk. Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush, was a president who mainly governed. So was Dwight Eisenhower and, for most of his time in the White House, Bill Clinton.

Bush is a president who leads. “If we do not lead, people will suffer,” the president told me in an interview I conducted specifically for this book. He controls the national agenda, uses his presidential powers to the fullest and then some, proposes far-reaching policies likely to change the way Americans live, reverses other long-standing policies, and is the foremost leader in world affairs. All the while, he courts controversy, provokes the press, and polarizes the country. The president doesn’t worry about running the day-to-day activity of his own government; all he has to manage is the White House staff and individual cabinet secretaries.

His job, he told me, is to “stay out of minutiae, keep the big picture in mind, but also make sure that I know enough about what’s going on to get the best information possible.” To stress the point, during our interview in the Oval Office Bush called my attention to the rug; he had been surprised, he said, to learn that the first decision a president is expected to make is what color the rug should be. “I wasn’t aware that presidents were rug designers,” he told me. So he delegated the task—to Laura. Typical of his governing style, though, he gave a clear principle as guidance: he wanted the rug to express the view that an “optimistic person comes here.”

An approach like Bush’s allows a president to drive policy initiatives, so long as he has a vision of where he wants to take the nation and the world. Bush, despite his wise-guy tendencies and cocky demeanor, is a visionary. So were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. They, too, were leaders, as controversial and polarizing as Bush.

Regardless of what one may think about former President Bush, the dichotomy (perhaps oversimplified) is an insightful one in regards to Presidential leadership. Some Presidents govern – Barnes names Bush 41, Clinton, and Eisenhower specifically (we could add others). Others lead; though Barnes only names W. specifically, we could certainly name other leading Presidents like both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Reagan, Lincoln, and others.

This latter category of presidents usually have big agenda’s and are focused almost exclusively on that agenda. Reagan famously was focused on defeating the soviet union, making tax cuts as key to economic growth, and shrinking the size of government. Almost everything else fell under those goals (for example increasing defense spending was related to defeating the Soviet Union). Presidents who govern are usually focused on smaller items (what is Clinton’s big legacy item again?).

My immediate thought upon reflecting on the above is how it might be applied to pastoral ministry. I think Barnes might be on to something here as it relates to shepherding the local church. Some pastors govern while others lead. Like the presidents, each pastor serves in a way that comes natural to them.

Though pastors should be a little bit of both, I believe that pastors are called to lead (shepherd) more than to merely govern. So what are some of the differences between a leading pastor and a governing pastor?

First, leading pastors are more focused on the needs of the community than the day-to-day expectations of the church members. A leading pastor organizes ministries and efforts to reach the community and is less focused on making sure that every member is visited weekly. This is not a mitigation of regular visitation. Rather visits are strategic and part of that leadership process. Governing pastors, in my experience, have checklists. Leading pastors have goals and utilizes visits as the means of accomplishing those goals.

Secondly, a leading pastor expects things to change sooner rather than later. A governing pastor wants change but is more patient in that regard. This is a real weakness of many leading pastors. A gifted leader can often enter a situation and almost immediately see the weaknesses that need to be changed. In congregational life that can be dangerous. Sometimes the smallest of changes can cause the greatest of problems. Leading pastors must not forget they are pastors and are called to shepherd their people and that does take time. Sacred cows are difficult to crucify. Some need to be exorcised immediately. Others need to slowly die.

Thirdly, a leading pastor expects criticism. Leadership breeds criticism by definition. For those who loathe criticism, any position of leadership is not for them. Leadership requires vision, integrity, and success. Fail at any of these and people will begin to grumble. Leaders without humble confidence and thick skin will not be in leadership for long.

Finally, it is important that a leading pastor serves a church that wants to be led and not governed. Likewise, it is imperative that a governing pastor serves a church that wants to be governed. To try to lead a complacent church will end in disaster in short order. To govern a church ready for change will likewise end in disaster.

These are just a few thoughts I had. No doubt those more qualified to speak on this subject will provide greater insight than I can but I believe the paradigm is useful.

So which are you? A leader or a governor?

4 Things to Look for in a Church

As a pastor, I meet people weekly who are looking for a house of worship to call home. With so many  denominations and varying churches, the decision can be difficult. Too often the decision is based on programs, opportunities, nurseries, music style, and other conveniences. Certainly these are issues worth considering, but that is not where we should begin.

It is imperative Christians not approach the local church as a consumer. The church is not a place where I am to be perceptually entertained with little to nothing expected of me. The church should call us to holiness, worship, and spiritual growth. Consumerism cannot produce that.

Therefore, let us consider four (we could add more) of the most important things to look forward in a church.

1. A Church That Faithfully Preaches the Logos and Gospel

If the gospel is not preached, then go somewhere else. Only a church that is Christ-focused and gospel-centered is worth joining. Without Christ and his gospel there is no church. Period. Observe the songs that are sang, the preaching that is delivered, the goals that are set, and the prayers that are offered. If Jesus is rarely mentioned and if the gospel is barely recognizable, please, for the sake of the church, go somewhere else.

But if Christ is the focus, then go and grow in the gospel.

 

2. A motivated church ready to reach its community

Strong leadership will be short-lived if the congregation is complacent and unmotivated. I am convinced many churches have lost great pastors simply because they were unwilling to be led by either the Spirit or by their pastor. The church must reach its community. This work requires each member to engage its immediate context.

When visiting a church, survey the church’s annual and monthly calendar and its budget. If it spends all of its time focused on itself, then it unlikely is very engaged or motivated to become engaged with its community. But a church that cares more about reaching its neighborhood than regular potlucks is one worth joining.

 

3. Genuine joy and worship throughout the congregation

The gospel establishes genuine, unshakable joy in the believer. Thus a congregation serious about the gospel is evident in how they interact with one another and with guests. A lifeless church is a joyless church. A joyless church is a loveless church. A loveless church is a dead church.

If you see very few smiles among the people, look elsewhere, but if their joy is contagious, then it might be a community worth joining.

 

4. Strong servant-leadership

All “church growth experts” will emphasize the importance of strong leadership from elders, deacons, and pastoral staff. Weak leadership produces a weak church. That much is true and the pastor (along with other leaders in the church) are called to lead the congregation.

Yet leadership is described in servant-like terms. Jesus’ model of washing his disciples feet makes this evident. Look for a church that models servant-leadership from its recognized and unrecognized leaders. If the people lead by serving, then that is a church God may be calling you to join.

Major Mistakes Search Committees and Candidates Make

It was not long ago I was a candidate at several churches around the country for the office of senior pastor. The search process is stressful on both the church and the candidate. No one enjoys the process, but it is a necessary one. Not long ago I was on the other end of the spectrum helping our association search for a new Director of Missions.

In the years leading up to our transition and in the time since, I have counseled several candidates and churches and in my experience both sides make the same mirror mistake. Whether a church’s experience with its previous pastor was positive or negative, most search committees judge potential candidates by their previous pastor(s). For example, if they were shepherded by a pastor who was more of a preacher than a visiting pastor and that experience was negative, the committee (and the church they represent) will look for the polar opposite. Or if they enjoyed the preaching of their previous pastor, they will likely pursue candidates who are carbon copies of him.

Candidates do the same thing. If a pastor had a poor experience at their previous church, they will pursue churches that are radically different. This explains how many pastors will swing between rural and metropolitan churches or between blue collar and white collar churches.

This approach can be dangerous for one obvious reason. By living in fear or even hope of our past we take our eyes off of what Jesus is doing now. A church critical of their previous pastor will fail to appreciate how God used him and thus will run the risk of swinging to the other extreme and find it just as disappointing. A pastor who allows his negative emotions to control him will bypass perfectly good churches worth their consideration.

The solution to this should be equally obvious: turn to Scripture and follow Christ. Churches must rediscover what a pastor actually is and pursue that candidate regardless of their previous shepherds. Candidates should rediscover the joy of ministry and pursue a congregation they can love and lead.

I am confident that if we learned this lesson our churches will be the better for it.

What Pastors Wish Search Committees Knew

Let’s be honest, the pastor search process is one of the most difficult and draining aspects of church life for both the pastor, the committee, and the church. I have served as a candidate and as a committee member in search of a candidate. I have also walked churches and associations through the process. At his blog, Dr. Thom Rainer offer Five Pleas from Pastors to Search Committees (followed later by a post called Five Pleas to Pastors from Pastor Search Committees). Here are those 5 “pleas:”

  1. “Consider carefully how you first contact me.” It can be highly disruptive to my present ministry if you just show up at my church. And remember that if you send an email to me at my church, others may read it.
  2. “Please stay in touch with me.” I can feel like I am in limbo if I don’t hear anything from you for a long time. I would rather be told that you are moving in another direction than not to hear anything.
  3. “If I am called to your church, please let the congregation know the issues you and I agreed upon.” For example, if you are letting me hire my own staff rather than it going through a personnel committee, please let the church know this change is taking place before you present me.
  4. “Clarify both the strengths and the challenges of the church before I come.” Do your best so I will not be surprised by the major struggles and challenges. I can deal with them better if I know about them in advance.
  5. “Understand that if I come to the church, my entire family will be a part of the transition.” So please talk to my spouse about the issues, challenges, and opportunities. Include the entire family, not just me.

Once again, Dr. Rainer hits the proverbial nail on the head. But I would like to extend and add a number of other points.

 

1. Be Prepared and Have a Plan

Unfortunately, many committees just wing it. Each member will crawl through a seemingly endless pile of resumes selecting a handful of their favorites. Then they will begin sending out questionnaires, calling references, or interviewing the candidates(s). Throughout this entire process the committee lacks leadership, vision, and a plan. It has been my experience with committees personally and through testimonies from other pastors that committees will meet with potential candidates without being prepared. The questions they ask are simple and after an hour or more long interview, nothing of substance is asked. I did an interview once where I had twice as many questions for the church as they had for me.

 

2. Know What Your Looking For in a Pastor

Unfortunately, many churches and members have no functional understanding of what a pastor is. Outside of preaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, many are woefully unaware of the calling, responsibilities, and authority of the pastor.

 

3.Throw Away Surveys

Surveying a congregation on what they want in a pastor sounds like a great idea on a surface, but a pastor’s agenda should not be set by the congregation but by God. Throw away such surveys and get on your knees. Read what the Bible has to say a pastor is and then seek him out with God’s guidance.

 

4. Keep the Candidate Updated

There is no reason why any and all potential candidates once the church narrows down their list to a certain number should not be updated weekly. Even if there is nothing to report, it is extremely helpful to all involved to be updated regularly.

 

5. Hurry Up!

It should not take months in order to draw up a plan, survey resumes, narrow down candidates, interview a short list, choose a single candidate and pursue them. Some churches, mostly because they have become content with their interim pastor or are simply incompetent, unnecessarily drag the process along sometimes taking over a year. No candidate can practically wait this long. No one would tolerate a potential employer taking six months or more to be considered for a position nor should a potential pastor.

 

6. Submit to Your New Pastors Leadership

Members are commanded, by God, to submit to their pastor. The search process creates the strange phenomenon of exercising authority over a number of candidates. Each candidate must go through some sort of process determined by the committee. However, it is important for each member of the committee and the church once a pastor has been hired to become a submissive member working with their new pastor to glorify God and to grow his kingdom.

Moving Forward: Lessons Learned as a Pastor in Limbo

Today marks my fourth anniversary at East Frankfort Baptist Church. To celebrate the occasion, I want to repost what I wrote my first sermon reflecting on what I learned between ministries.

Yesterday I preached my first official sermon as the pastor at East Frankfort Baptist Church. My wife, family, and I are excited where God has placed us and trust we will be on the front line of God’s great work there. Although the full story of how we got here goes beyond the purpose of this blog, I will say that this has been a long, and at times exhausting, trip. But we praise the Lord for bringing us here.

The short of the story is simple. I have applied at dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of churches around the country. I have been interviewed by many of them, assured to be on the short list of most of them, and turned down by some of them. At the beginning of the process, I thought for sure my resume, education, experience, and resources (videos, podcasts, writings, etc.) made me a viable candidate at many of these churches. Viable, yes. But not hirable for many.

I have several weaknesses as a candidate. First, I am young (30) and look even younger. Secondly, I have three degrees from a very Calvinist college and seminary and thus most assume I am a 5-point Calvinists. Thirdly, many smaller churches assume “a guy like him wouldn’t want a church like us.” Thus I was on everyone’ short-list but never presented as the final candidate.

Looking back, though, I see how the Lord was at work. Here are a few thoughts.

 

1. God’s Sovereignty Means God’s Timing

I have always considered myself a patient person but through this experience I have learned that I am not as patient as I previously thought. The search process is a test of patience. Waiting for potential opportunities to open. Waiting for committees to receive and go through resumes. Waiting to be contacted by potential churches and ministry opportunities. Waiting for questionnaires. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting for interviews. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting for another interview. Waiting to hear back again. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

At any time one of those stages fall through, you start over. At one point there were at least eight churches in which informed me I was among their final 3. Only one panned out in the end and I turned them down feeling uncalled to that church. It took about six months for each church to finish their search process after I was notified of being a finalists.

This call to patience takes it toll more on the family than it does on the candidate and certainly that was our experience. My children visited a lot of churches with me. My wife waited for phone calls too. We all had to learn patience . . . anxiously.

 

2. Most Churches are Sicker Than Advertised

The average search committee is reflective of the church they represent. That is a good thing. With that said, many committees are incompetent, poorly led, and reflect the poor situation of their congregation. After one interview with a particular church, I knew almost immediately not to continue the process. Only one committee member came prepared with questions while the rest clearly had given little thought to the process, what they were looking for in a pastor, etc.

All of this is to say that though we all known that the current church is sick from my experience, the church is more sick than even I had known. Many churches are grossly unaware of what a pastor is and does, what a pastor needs and requires, or even what the church is and does.

It is imperative that pastors stop playing church and start leading the church for many are in dire straits.

 

3. Everyone has opinions. Few have answers

How long should one’s resume be? What should it include? How should you answer certain questions? What questions should you ask? How do you determine if you should leave a ministry or transition to another?

Everyone has opinions, but few have answers. At the end of the day, I have learned to listen to those wiser than me, trust in God’s leadership, and always know that God will have His way in the end.

 

4. Connections are Important, and Not Just For Reasons You Think

We have heard the old saying that in life, “its not what you know, its who you know.” To a certain extent, this is true in ministry. Its an aspect I’m not a fan of, but it is a reality. Yet there is another side of it. My rejection of that mentality made me a bit of a lone ranger minister. I wanted to “prove” myself and allow my record to speak for itself. I have a reputation I am proud of. Yet throughout this process, God gave me the opportunity to make some connections that has open my eyes to see what God is doing in the church today.

I am excited about what God is doing in the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. I am grateful for the many ministers and servants in the church I’ve met through this process and am excited about the future of Christianity in Kentucky and America. There are many challenges ahead of us, but I have witnessed God raise great men and women who have an unquenchable passion for Jesus.

So my advice to young ministers would be to simply avoid private ministry and make connections for the right reasons.

 

5. The Future of the Church is Bright

There is no doubt we live in a post-Christian culture. As a result, the church is suffering from insignificance and a lack of true-gospel vision. Yet I believe our future as a convention and church is still bright. I am excited about what God has in stored for us moving forward. God has raised great leaders locally, state-wide, nationally, and internationally. The seminaries are largely producing men and families serious about Jesus, the gospel, and gospel-ministry.

Though as I type this the future looks bleak. Yet I still see God clearly at work moving pieces that I believe are strategic and prove that He is always a step ahead of humanity. No doubt things will get worse, but I am confident that God is still up to something good.

 

Conclusion

In the end, I would note that the past few years have been difficult on me and my family for a host of reasons. Yet because we are confident that God is on his throne, we have remained hopeful. I do not know what the next year, ten years, or century will look like for us or for the church. I offer myself only as a vessel of Christ for the glory of Christ. What I do know is that God knows what he is doing and I will continue to trust him with our future.

A Major Challenge to Church Growth That Goes Unaddressed

Great Decline in religion graphWorship attendance has been declining for years. Even before we look at the numbers, we can see it in our pews. Almost every church is feeling the struggle of worship and church membership decline. Every denomination – both mainline and orthodox – have been hit. No one is exempt.

Pastors and congregations have been reeling and strategizing in an effort to turn the tide. Change of worship styles, hiring young ministers, new buildings, restructuring denominational systems, redefining doctrines, etc. Nothing seems to be working. Numbers are down and secularism is up.

As a pastor of a local church I am privy to this struggle on a daily basis. Our local church is serious about engaging our local community. We encourage each member to pray for and evangelize our city on a daily basis.

Yet there is one challenge local churches are having I have yet heard anyone discuss that remains a constant challenge: the economy. At my first pastorate in a blue collar community, we had nine high schoolers graduate. I was excited about the future potential of this rural congregation. Here were nine students who would get an education, find exciting careers, get married, and begin families. Clearly investing in them was a priority for the future and growth of the church.

They all traveled outside the county for college and never returned.

The reason for their exodus was not bitterness or apostasy, but economics. Our rural community did not and could not provide the sort of jobs and careers they were training for at school. Thus many stayed in the city where they studied and thus my ministry to them transformed.

This pattern continues to this day in a more white collar community. Even though major universities are closer, most students graduate high school and college and by means of their education and career are taken away from the congregation they grew up in.

Consider briefly your own life. Chances are you or at least one of your siblings reside outside of your home town. The reason is consistent: economics. Our jobs pull us away from congregations we have grown up in requiring us to find a new church home which is difficult. The local church, then, loses a family they have invested in for years.

So a family of 4 (two parents and two children) arrive at your church and become members. Statistically speaking, that family of four will not soon become a family of 10 (each child marrying and having two children in this scenario), but will actually shrink to a family of two as the husband and wife will remain as empty nesters. As empty nesters, those parents will transform to grandparents and travel frequently to see their grandchildren and enjoy retirement.

This requires the local church to take discipleship more seriously as we hope the people who move away to bless churches in other communities. It also demands we take evangelism more seriously. The economy has moved as many members out of the local church as conflict has. It is imperative, then, we reach neighbors, friends, families, and co-workers.

This is a conversation we are not having but need to have. We ought to celebrate the economic opportunities the modern world offers but to suggest it has had little to no effect on the local church is to walk in blindness. The church must be aware of this challenge and respond accordingly.

 

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