My Top Twelve Reads of 2015

I made it a priority this year to read more than I ever have, and I have enjoyed it so much. So many books spoke into my life over the past year. I originally wanted to choose my top ten, but ultimately had to include twelve.

My Top Twelve Reads of 2015

Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace by Tim Stevens.

This should be required reading for every church leader.

“The success of leaders will rise or fall based on the decisions they make about the people around them.”

 

Spiritual Leadership: A Commitment to Excellence for Every Believer by J Oswald Sanders.

So glad I discovered this classic this year. A great read for every leader.

“True greatness, true leadership, is found in in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

 

The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day: Revitalize Your Spirit and Empower Your Leadership by John Maxwell.

I love every thing by John Maxwell. He has an uncanny way of taking complex ideas and sharing them in simple ways.

“Leadership develops daily, not in a day.”

 

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin.

A little book, with a big message.

“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.”

 

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmene Gallo.

A must read for anyone who speaks in front of a crowd.

“To reach people’s mind, you have to touch their hearts.”

 

The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service by Lee Cockerell.

If you are in any way involved in first impressions or guest services this is a must read.

“There is no way that the quality of customer service can exceed the quality of the people who provide it.”

 

Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

Me-We-God-You-We (A simple formula for crafting great sermons)

“Preaching is not talking to people about the Bible; it is talking to people about themselves from the Bible.”

 

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff.

The funnest, most inspirational, book I’ve ever read.

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

 

 

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff.

We could save a lot of young people from heartache if we made this required reading in High School.

” Hustle is the fuel that pushes you to do the things other people don’t, so you can enjoy the the results other people won’t.”

 

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller.

I think the world needs more Donald Miller’s. People who aren’t scared to share their thoughts, doubts, and frustrations about God, Jesus, and the church.

“Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.”

 

The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins.

For everyone who feels like they’re coasting through life instead of living out their calling.

“When you are stuck fulfilling an obligation instead of chasing a dream, you aren’t your best self.”

 

Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham by Billy Graham.

I have always wondered how Billy Graham became the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

 

What books left an impact on you over the past year? What books should I add to my list for 2016?

Church Ideas You Can Use

Basics - Resources

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

church-resources

Ministry can be overwhelming, especially if you’re the only person on staff at a church or you’re bi-vocational. You quickly learn there are not enough hours in the week to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

You would love to see your church grow, but you just don’t have the time or energy it would take to make it happen. You may even find yourself thinking, “If I just had the money to hire one person, it would make a world of difference.”

If you feel like that, I have good news for you. The amount of ministry resources available to you today is incredible. If you have access to the internet, you have access to an unlimited amount of church staff, and in most cases, you don’t even have to pay them. You just need to know where to look.

Start Here

http://resources.elevationchurch.org – Sermon Series, Kids Ministry, and Small Group curriculum

https://newspringnetwork.com/resources – Sermon Series, Student Ministry, Kids Ministry, Worship Ministry, Volunteer Ministry, Small Group curriculum, and more.

https://open.church/resources – Sermon Series, Kids Ministry, Student Ministry, Worship Ministry, Small Group curriculum, Creative Arts, Missions, and more.

https://seeds.churchonthemove.com/resources – Sermon Series, Kids Ministry, Worship Ministry, Student Ministry, Production, Drama, and more.

http://creative.newlifechurch.tv/downloads – Sermon Series, Graphics, Loops, Videos, and more.

http://insidenorthpoint.org – Administration, Kids Ministry, Student Ministry, Group Ministry, Missions, Care, and more.

http://stufficanuse.com – Sermon Series for adults and students.

http://www.churchstagedesignideas.com – Stage design ideas and how-tos for your church. You’d be amazed at how cheap you can do great stage design.

http://www.creationswap.com – Church graphics, videos, etc.

I’ve used all of these resources at one time or another, and I can honestly say they’ve saved me hours of work. My hope is they can do the same for you.

Do you know of a site providing free church resources? Please link to it in the comment section.

Don’t Let Martha Start that Ministry

5 Traits I Look for in Every Ministry Leader

“Pastor, Martha and I have been talking, and we’ve decided to start a food pantry.”

foodpantry

This is how most ministries in small town churches get started. How do I know? Because this is how most of the ministries in the church I serve got started.

Whether you’re planting a church, or you pastor an already established church there’s a huge temptation to fall into this trap of letting anyone start a ministry. I understand your pain. It’s hard to find help, so when you see someone who shows a little initiative your natural reaction is to let them run with it, but before you do, you need to ask yourself two questions.

  1. Does this ministry fit the vision and purpose of our church?
  1. Is this the right person to lead the ministry?

First and foremost, you want to make sure the ministry matches up with your vision, and will help you accomplish your purpose.

If you don’t have a vision for your church, you need to get one. Otherwise, you’ll make the mistake of adding all these programs with no plan on how they fit together to reach your community.

Second, you need to identify the right person to lead the ministry. It doesn’t matter how great your ministries align with your vision if you don’t have the right people to lead those ministries.

So, here are five traits that I look for when identifying a leader:

  • Passion – Does the person have a passion for Jesus, seeing lost people found, and the ministry? I want them to have all three. If they have a passion for student ministry, but not a passion for Jesus, that’s going to lead to problems down the road.
  • Hard Worker – I want a person who says, “Whatever it takes, I’ll get it done.” I don’t believe God calls lazy people to lead ministries. Has this person shown that he/she is a hard worker in the past? Do they arrive early to help set up? Stay late to help clean up, or are they the first ones to leave?
  • Gather & Retain People – Can they gather a crowd? Do people gravitate towards them or away from them? One of the ways you can test this is by asking them to lead a small group. If they can’t get anyone to show up to their small group, they aren’t going to be able to gather people. You also need to make sure that once these people are gathered, they’re not running them off. Certain personalities can rub people the wrong way, so a crowd can quickly turn into a few.
  • Strategic Thinker – Is this person capable of making wise decisions on their own, or are they constantly coming to you for answers? Your time is valuable, and if you can’t trust the person to make good decisions, you might as well be leading the ministry yourself. Has this person ever came to you with an idea on how you could do something better?
  • Handle Criticism – I’ve found that the majority of people don’t handle criticism well. This is unfortunate, because if you’re ever going to lead anything, you’re going to deal with criticism. How a person deals with criticism tells you a lot about them. When you tell a person how they could do something better, do they get defensive, or do they get to work?

What about Mary, Martha, and the food pantry? What about those people who come to you, wanting to start a ministry?

If you have a clear vision, you will quickly know whether this ministry idea fits within it or not. If not, simply tell them that’s a good idea, but it really doesn’t fit into what God has called us to do.

If it does fit into the vision, but you don’t believe they’re the right fit, tell them that’s a great idea, I don’t think you’re the right leader for it right now, but I’d love to have you on the team.

Will that keep people from getting mad at you? Probably not, but God hasn’t called you to be a people pleaser, God has called you to reach those who are far from God.

What’s the strangest ministry anyone has ever asked you to start?

Small Town Preaching

Basics - A Relevant Message

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

Preaching

Over the past few months, I’ve been sharing a few of the basic steps any church can take to see their church begin to grow. While I believe the steps I’ve shared have tremendous potential to impact your church, none of it matters if each Sunday you (pastor) get up and preach a message no one can understand.

If you’re still preaching from the King James Version of the Bible or any other version that takes a Bible scholar to interpret, you should stop it.

What does it matter how literal or accurate your translation is if no one can understand what you’re talking about?

Let me tell you a secret, the people in your community aren’t struggling with the differentiation between the Hebrew and Greek. They’re struggling with loving their spouse, their children, and their neighbors as themselves.

They’re not debating between the 1611 and 1769 versions of the King James Bible. They’re debating between going to church with their family or going hunting with their buddies.

Every time you get up on stage and preach a message only you and a few of your pastor friends can understand you’re wasting your breath.

I apologize if this is coming off as harsh, but I get aggravated. For years the church has had the greatest message in the world, and it communicates it in a way that no one wants to hear.

Lives are at stake, and we’re too caught up in our traditions to notice.

So, let me offer a solution.

  1. Preach from a version of the Bible a middle school student could understand. There are a lot of good ones out there: New Living Translation, New International Version, and the English Standard Version just to name a few.
  1. Preach in a way that your audience can take one thing from the message each week and apply it to their lives. If you can’t pick out one thing from your message they can use, scrap the message and start over.
  1. Preach on the topics every day people are dealing with such as marriage, family, money management, depression, anxiety, hope, discipline, etc.
  1. Preach the Gospel. We were all dead in our sins, and God sent a Savior. He lived a perfect life, was crucified for our sins, and rose again three days later so we might have life and life more abundant.

We have been given the greatest message in the world in a time when the world needs the message the greatest. Let’s make the most of it.

Which King James Version is your favorite? Does the Textus Receptus sound like an iPhone app to you?

Justin Bieber and Finding Your Purpose

And you’ve given me the best gift
That I’ve ever known
You give me purpose everyday
You give me purpose in every way
– Justin Beiber

Purpose

At the risk of losing my man card, as well as my credibility, I have to confess I’m a bit of a fan of the new Justin Beiber album. I think he’s grown up a little bit, he’s admitted to his mistakes, and he’s seemed to have found his “Purpose”.

Google defines purpose as the reason for which something was created. I’m not positive that Justin fully knows his purpose, but I’m not sure many of us do either.

Proverbs 16:9 says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

I think we may could even change it to say, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our purpose.”

My question to you is, have you discovered what your purpose is? Chances are you haven’t given it much thought. Neither had I.

But as I approach my 35th birthday next week, I’ve really started thinking more about it. There’s a good chance I’ve already lived over half my life. I know that’s not fun to think about, but I think it’s important to put things into perspective.

Looking back over my life, I have to ask myself what have I accomplished. Have I fulfilled my purpose? If not, what am I waiting for?

What lives have I impacted? Are people better because they’ve been around me? Does my life draw others to Jesus?

Have I used what God’s given me to build His kingdom, or am I too busy building mine?

These are the questions that fuel me, I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Have you found your purpose? If not, what’s keeping you from it?

Ministry is Hard

4 Ways You Can Stay in the Race

Ministry is hard. I hate saying that because it sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m actually just stating a fact. According to the statistics, between sixty to eighty percent of those who enter the ministry will not make it past ten years. Less than fifteen percent of pastors will last long enough to retire from ministry.

overwhelmed

This month (December) I will celebrate five years in full time ministry. I have a long way to go, but I can honestly say it’s been the most enjoyable five years of my life. For me, I’m living my dream, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

There are seasons of stress, especially around big events or when we’re implementing new initiatives. There are times when the ministry has affected my marriage in a negative way. There are moments where I would really like to tell someone what I’m thinking but I can’t. And on occasion I think to myself, you know I could make more money if I went and did something else.

I have these moments, but ninety percent of the time, I absolutely love what I do. Unfortunately, I know a lot of pastors can’t say that. For many pastors what started out as a dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Pastors are overworked and overwhelmed. Ninety percent of pastors report working more than fifty-five hours a week. Fifty percent of which feel they’re not qualified to meet the demands of their job.
  • Pastors are surprised. Ninety percent of pastors said the ministry was completely different than they thought it would be like and not in a good way.
  • Pastors are lonely. Seventy percent of pastors don’t feel like they have a close friend they can confide in. This is only made worse by the fact that forty percent of pastors report serious conflict with church members at least once a week.
  • Pastors are depressed. Seventy percent of pastors deal with depression throughout their ministry. Fifty percent of pastors said they would leave ministry if they could, but they feel like they have no other way of making a living.
  • Pastors’ families suffer. Eighty percent of pastors report that the ministry has affected their family in a negative way. Their spouses agree; eighty percent of them feel under-appreciated and left out by church members.

With the list above, it’s no wonder seventy percent of pastors feel they’re grossly underpaid. So year after year thousands of pastors leave the ministry, and fewer and fewer sign up to take their place.

If you’re one of these pastors who may be thinking about giving up let me offer you some encouragement.

  1. Remember you’re not alone. There are thousands of pastors who have felt what you’re feeling and have been through what you’re going through.
  1. Put your trust in God. Don’t neglect your relationship with God. Recommit yourself to prayer and the reading of God’s word.
  1. Breathe. It may feel like the world is resting on your shoulders, but I promise you God’s got this. He knows exactly what you’re going through.
  1. Focus. What’s one good thing God is doing in your life or your church? What’s one thing you can accomplish in the next six weeks that adds value to your church?

Small victories allow you to gain momentum. If you’ve been neglecting your marriage, spend the next six weeks getting it back on track. If you feel discouraged, spend the next six weeks around someone that encourages you.

Don’t stop after the first six weeks. Every six weeks focus on one thing that moves your ministry forward because we can’t afford to lose you. We need you in this race, so keep running.

Have you ever been tempted to quit? How did you get past that feeling?

Small Town Worship

Basics - Worship

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

smalltownworship

If I were to ask you what’s the one area in your church that could use the most help, what would you say? If you pastor in a small town like I do, I’m betting you would say worship.

I know worship can have many meanings, but for the sake of our discussion here, I’m talking about the singing that happens during service.

If you were being honest, how would you rate your worship?

I have to say be honest because in the church world often times we have the attitude of Paula Abdul when she was a judge on American Idol. She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so she told everyone they were good.

This strategy works well for one person…the singer. It stinks for everyone else who has to listen to him or her.

I know that sounds harsh, and maybe I sound more like Simon Cowell, but there’s a lot at stake here.

Many people will choose to stay or leave your church based on the quality of the worship.

Isn’t that shallow? Maybe, but it’s reality.

Now, before you get frustrated and start thinking up all the excuses about how you don’t have any musicians or you can’t afford to pay a worship pastor, let me clarify something.

Your worship doesn’t have to be at the quality of a Hillsong Church or Elevation Church. In most cases in small towns, it just needs to be a little better than average.

Where do I find a band? I’m not saying you even have to have one. When I was in college I attended student services a Church of Christ put on and the worship was acapella. It was a much better worship experience than the churches I had attended in my hometown which all had bands.

If you have musicians on stage that can’t play, they’re hurting the experience not adding to it.

So, do we do away with all musicians? Not necessarily. I think that can work for some churches, but I think most people like music being a part of worship.

Here would be my suggestion. Find at least one person who can sing. They don’t have to be great, but they need to be better than average. Let that person sing along with a track until you can find capable musicians.

Isn’t that like karaoke? Yep, and it’s the same thing tons of professional artists do every week.

My bet is that you have at least a couple of people in your church that can sing. They’re probably not going to volunteer because they’ve seen what you’re allowing on stage and they don’t want to be a part of it. Find out who these people are and try them out.

If you can’t identify anyone to sing, go and visit a local college or high school talent show. I guarantee you’ll find someone who can sing, and there’s a good chance they love Jesus. Ask them to come sing at your church. If finances allow, offer to pay them to start leading worship for you.

It could be the best investment you’ll ever make.

If you pastor a small town church, what are you doing for worship? How do you find talented people?

Time, Money, and Self-Improvement

If you know me very well, you know that I like money. I wish I had more of it. If you dislike money, or feel as though you have too much, I’d be glad to take it off your hands.

improvement

Money allows me to do things that I enjoy going to Disney World for example. It also allows me to buy things like toys for the kids, dinner for the wife, or a new pair of Buckle jeans.

Money takes care of other less exciting things like paying on the mortgage, and car, and electric, and water, and student loans, and phone, and on and on.

And money allows me to help others. Over the years my wife and I have helped others pay rent. We’ve provided Christmas for kids. We practically gave away a car, and our tithes and offerings each week help introduce people to Jesus.

Then there’s another category money covers that I’m beginning to really appreciate. A category that most of us never even think about.

The category of self-improvement.

The amount of resources available to every one of us today is unmatched in the world’s history. Through books, blogs, podcasts, and everything else on the internet you can do or become just about anything.

Want to improve your marriage? There’s a million resources.

Want to learn how to cook? No problem.

Get in shape?

Learn to dance?

Become someone worth following?

You can do all of these things, and more, but it comes at a cost. Sometimes financially, but more often than not the cost is your time.

And few people are willing to pay it.

But if you’re willing to pay, if you’re willing to make the investment, it pays huge dividends, not only to you, but to your family, your friends, and your church.

It takes time. It won’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it you’ll see a harvest.

So, my question to you is, are you willing to pay the price?

In what ways did you invest in yourself this past year? What’s your plans to invest in yourself in 2016?

You have a Website, Now What?

Ten Keys to a More Guest Friendly Website

Your church is being stalked. Every day people are visiting your church website and peering into the online window of your church, and some of those people may not be wearing pants.

GuestWebsite

If your website is the window into your church, what do you want people to see?

This is an important question, because what they see will determine whether they ever visit your church.

Here are the ten things I want them to see:

  1. Current Series – The very first thing I want people to see is the sermon series we’re in, because this has the greatest potential to draw someone to our church. For example, if someone is having some difficulties in their marriage and they visit our site and see we’re in a series called “Marriage Under Construction”, there’s a very high likelihood that they’ll be making a visit to our church. So, I want this information front and center on the homepage.
  1. Location and Service Times – Hopefully, once people visit your website, they’re going to be compelled to visit your church. Make sure they know when services begin and the address of your church. We provide a small map on our website for visitors to get a general idea of our location, as well as provide a link to Google Maps for them to get directions.
  1. Kids & Student Ministry Info – In this day and time it takes a huge amount of trust for someone to leave their kids with you for an hour or two. We want guests to know that we do everything in our power to provide a safe and fun environment for their kids to experience the love of Jesus on their level.
  1. Opportunities for Connection – People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Make sure you give them opportunities to get involved. We do this by listing serving opportunities as well as listing the small groups they can join.
  1. Opportunities to take Next Steps – One of the goals we have at our church is to help people draw closer to Jesus one step at a time. We don’t expect them to be Mother Teresa right after they give their lives to Christ, we just want them to take the next step. For us that means baptism. Then we hope to get them serving or involved in a small group. Then we hope they’ll start giving.
  1. Our Beliefs – Eventually, most people will want to know about your beliefs. We try to keep it simple and just give them the essentials. We believe Jesus is the Son of God. We believe He died for our sins. We believe Jesus rose from the dead. You get the idea.
  1. Pastor Bio – Make sure your website has some pictures of your pastor and his family, and a short bio. A lot of websites list their entire staff, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. You may want to list your Student Pastor or Kids Pastor so parents can put a face with a name, but I wouldn’t worry too much beyond that.
  1. Media Archive – Does anyone remember tape ministry? We still have a large collection of sermons on tape in a storage closet at my church. Lucky for us, the Internet has made it easier than ever to share past messages. Now we can record video or audio of our messages and upload it to the Internet for all the world to see. There’s a good chance someone who’s thinking about visiting your church will watch or listen to a past message to help them make that decision.
  1. Upcoming Events – People want to know what’s going on at your church. Are you involved in the community? Can they get connected outside of just Sunday mornings? Sharing upcoming events helps answer these questions.
  1. Opportunities to Give – At last but certainly not least, every church website should have an opportunity for people to give towards the ministry. If your website doesn’t have this, you’re making a huge mistake. The majority of people today aren’t carrying a checkbook or cash into church. Everything is paid by debit or credit card these days. Give them that same option through your website. If you do this, I guarantee you will see giving increase, and more giving means more ministry.

What did I miss? Is their something I left off that you think should be there? If so, leave a comment below and let me know.