4 Traits of Pastors that Persevere

Have you ever noticed how resilient little children are? For example, my three year old daughter just got a Barbie Dream House. Not for her birthday, not for Christmas, just because she demanded it. Now, I didn’t get it for her because I’m just as resilient as she is. I told her no over and over again. So what did she do? She talked her grandparents into getting it for her. She then proceeded to play with it for about three days before moving on to her next demand.

BarbieDreamhouse

I’m not even mad about it. First, it didn’t cost me anything, and second I’m impressed by her persistence. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she wouldn’t back down until she got it. That will come in handy later on in life, although I’m not looking forward to her becoming a teenager.

As pastors and leaders, I believe we can learn a great deal about perseverance through our children. Many of us, myself included, love coming up with new ideas and plans, but we stink at following through on them.

I bet right now you can think of at least one good idea you’ve had that you never followed through on. Go ahead, write it down, and make sure to come back to it later. Or maybe you tried it, and it didn’t work the first time so you gave up on it.

Go through this enough and it won’t be long before you give up on trying anything at all. For some of you that’s your story. You’ve given up when God has called you to persevere.

I want to see that change. I want to see you persevere. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. You own it.

No more excuses. No more blaming others. No more waiting around for someone to tell you what to do. From this day forward, you take control of your life and how you react to problems and adversity.

  1. You gather the right people around you.

Being a pastor can be one of the loneliest positions you can have. I’m telling you that you’re not meant to do this alone. Find a friend that you can confide in. If you can’t find one in your church, find one online because every pastor needs a sidekick.

  1. You find the silver lining.

It takes absolutely no effort to find problems. Those who persevere learn how to see the positives. Maybe no one showed up to our event, but our volunteers did a great job setting things up. The offering was really low this week, but we had five first-time guests. Always look for the positive.

  1. You focus on what you can change.

There are some things you’re just never going to be able to change. You have to learn to let them go and focus on what you can change. There are some people who will never change. Quit stressing about it, and let God handle it. Put your energy into the things you can change, and don’t waste your time with the rest.

Being a pastor is hard. I’ve written about it before. Unless you begin taking the right steps, your chances of surviving ministry are slim. I hope we can change that. I hope you’ll choose to persevere.

What’s one great idea you’ve had but have never put into practice? I’d love to hear about so leave a comment below. Plus if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Change and Church Health

Have you ever noticed that no one cooks as good as your mom? You may not want to admit it in front of your wife, but there’s just something special about mom’s cooking. Especially if you grew up in the south and had the pleasure of experiencing beans and cornbread.

Health

Unfortunately, over the past few years my mom’s cooking isn’t as good as it used to be. We still have beans and cornbread and all the stuff that comes with it, but the flavor isn’t what it once was. Something’s changed.

My parents are getting older, and my dad’s health isn’t what it once was. In the past few years he’s been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and has had to have multiple stints put in to open up arteries in his heart.

In order to live a long life, his diet had to change.

This means sweet tea is now made with Splenda, potatoes are baked instead of fried, and a lot less salt and fat in the pinto beans.

It certainly doesn’t taste as good to me or him, but we both realize it’s either change or face a shortened lifespan.

Many churches are facing the same choice, change or face the consequences.

But change isn’t easy for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Tradition

First, let me say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tradition. None of us would be were we are today without the great Christian men and women who have gone before us in ministry. The issue arises when we are so in love with the past that we’re not willing to make the changes necessary to reach people today.

  1. Risk

Every change involves risk. The bigger the change, the bigger the risk. The smaller the church, the bigger the risk. It may be that the change that needs to be made may be the very thing that used to bring people to the church. Many pastors are able to see what needs to change, but they’re not willing to risk losing key members of the church in the process.

  1. Uncertainty

Some people fear the dark because they can’t see what’s in front of them. Change has the same effect on people. When you’ve been doing ministry a certain way for a long time, it’s hard to imagine how you would do it any other way. For example, the cake walk may not be the best way to raise money anymore, but at least you know how to put one on.

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have, and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up. 

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

My dad understands that if he wants to be around to see his grandchildren grow up, then his diet had to change. For many people in the church, we need to come to that same realization.

If you want the church to be around for the generations coming along after you, you have to be willing to change. It may not taste as good as the beans and cornbread you ate when you were growing up, but it will increase the life expectancy of your church.

Do you have a success story about change in your church? I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Five Stages of Church Growth

I don’t like kids. Let me take that back, I like my kids…most of the time, but I probably don’t like your kids. Nothing personal, it’s just that they can be annoying and require a lot of attention. In many ways they’re like the local church.

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Not that the church is annoying, just some of the people in the church. Luckily most kids grow out of it. Your church may not be so lucky.

But just as your kids grow up and go through different stages of life, your church does the same. Some of those stages are incredibly enjoyable, while other stages you’d rather skip over.

As I think about the church, as well as children, I see five unique stages we all go through.

  1. Conception

This is the fun part. At least it should be, if not, you may be doing something wrong. This is the stage where you dream and plan. While many people will be excited for you, others will think you’ve lost your mind. I mean have you really considered the cost of having a baby? Think about the freedom you’ll be giving up.

  1. Baby

Ah, my least favorite stage. While this stage is exciting because you experience a lot of firsts, it’s hampered by the number of diapers you have to change. You rarely see your friends anymore, and you’re always exhausted. If it weren’t for those special moments of life change that pop up from time to time, you would consider giving up.

  1. Child

A time to learn and a time to grow, this is the child stage. Some of your best memories will come during this stage. You become established, and you learn who you are. You have seemingly endless amounts of energy, and your passion has never been greater.

  1. Adult

You’ve stopped growing, you take yourself a little too seriously, and your vision isn’t as good as it once was. You may become lethargic and your passion may wane. You’re now much more likely to make excuses for problems rather than find solutions.

  1. Senior Adult

You look back on your life and wonder what have you accomplished. Hopefully, you realize that in order to reach the next generation you must be willing to change. You now are able to use your experience to pour into others.

Each stage is special in its own way, and each stage has its own set of difficulties. Navigating each stage takes a bit of skill and a lot of luck. Learn to enjoy it because it goes by quicker than you’d ever think.

What stage would you say your church is in? Why? Leave a comment and let us know, also make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and other tips on raising children delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Two Ways Student Pastors Can Prepare for Fall

Guest Post: Will Riddle

I love the summer. When the summer season rolls around, it means a return to one of my favorite pastimes… surfing. While I’m still, very much, a novice surfer, I love to surf. Throughout the summer, I often travel to Folly Beach in Charleston, SC for day trips just to surf. There’s nothing that allows me to truly disconnect from the grind of life like paddling out into the waves. Sitting on a surfboard waiting on a perfect wave ensures that there’s no email to read, there’s no text message to send, there’s no phone call to answer, and there’s no social media to check. Surfing, for me, is peaceful. It’s restful.
studentsurfer

While paddling into the waves does bring some peace and rest during the summer season, I can’t say that it’s a good picture of what the majority of summer is for my family. Summer means that my kids out of school while I still have to work. Summer is getting my son to his baseball practices. Summer is planning a family vacation (and we all know the feeling of needing a vacation after a vacation). Summer is great on so many levels for my family, but it’s a chaotic season that can cause the months of June and July to feel like a full out sprint to August and the start of the fall semester.

The fall, for us, means a return to normal. Because summer can feel like a sprint, there’s a need for my family to hit reset as we head into the fall season. The travel slows down, kids return to school and the hectic nature that summer can cause is traded for a more routine and predictable pace. Slowing down and developing a consistent and sustainable routine is a high priority as we come out of a busy season.

Student Ministry is no different. Summer consists of mission trips, camps, and conferences and various other events to plan all while still executing the day in and day out of ministry. It’s a breakneck pace. Students are out of school with a lot of free time and we all feel the pressure to keep them engaged with the ministry and the church until the return of fall. Summer for ministry is just as chaotic as it is for my family. And just as with my family, there’s a need to hit reset in ministry as well.

Understanding the need to hit reset for my family and ministry has really shaped how our student ministry prepares for the fall season. At the close of every summer I want to ensure that we do two things above everything.

RECAST VISION: REMIND YOUR TEAM OF THE WHY.

Although summer takes place at breakneck pace, the trips, camps, conferences and other events always generate excitement and are fun for everyone involved. As summer comes to a close and the pace slows down, I always plan a volunteer meeting to recast vision and refocus our team on the why behind what we do.

While the trip and event side of ministry is exciting, it’s not our main focus. Our focus as a ministry is relationship. Everything we do is done for one reason and one reason alone, to put us in a position to build a relationship with a student. We are called to lead, pastor, encourage and support students through healthy relationships that model and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

This seems like an obvious aspect of ministry that should go without saying, but in my experience, even the simplest concepts can be lost in the busyness of doing and executing ministry.

As you and your team head into the fall, make time to remind them and yourself of the why behind the what.

BE PREDICTABLE: MEET FAMILES WHERE THEY ARE.

Just as my family hits reset in the fall and trades the hectic nature of summer for an even paced routine, other families do the same. Your ministry should help them do that as well.

Families are stepping out of the chaos of summer and they are looking for the fall to create a consistent and manageable pace and schedule. The fall schedule for your ministry doesn’t need to fight against what families are fighting for.

This doesn’t mean that ministry all of a sudden becomes boring or mundane. It does mean that you need to work to create a fall schedule that doesn’t keep families guessing or on the go. You can do this very simply with a couple things.

  • Create a calendar for the fall that’s posted to your church’s website. Also, have a hard copy available for parents to pick up at the welcome desk on Sunday or whenever you may host your regular student gathering.

This seems so simple, yet many of us in student ministry fail to follow through on some the most obvious and simple tools that best serve families.

  • Don’t plan extra activities outside of your regularly scheduled student gatherings. Students and families have spent an entire summer managing a schedule that kept them on the go and away from home. Your fall schedule doesn’t need to offer more of the same. Rather than creating extra events, maximize your regularly scheduled student gatherings to incorporate everything you’d like students to experience. For our ministry, we made the decision that we weren’t going to allow our lack of preparation to be an inconvenience for families.

As you prepare for the fall, gather your team, remind them of the why behind the what and help them enter the season with a clear focus. For families, meet them where they are. Embrace consistency that helps families engage with your ministry rather than avoid it.

Will is the Student Pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Ga. He’s served in ministry for the past 17 years and joined the staff at Stevens Creek in 2011. He stepped into student ministry in 2013 and has seen the ministry grow from 30 students to 300 and volunteer teams grow from 15 people to 100 in less than three years. He loves what he does and loves working with other Student Pastors to help reach the students within their community. He lives across the Savannah River in North Augusta, SC with his wife Suzanne and their three children Aiden (9), Silas (7) and London (2).

Six Reasons Student Ministry is Harder Now

Than It Was 10 Years Ago

Take a look around the churches in America and it’s easy to see that student ministries are struggling. Many have seen attendance steadily decrease over the past several years to the point that some churches no longer offer services specifically for students.

Student-Ministries

This trend both saddens and frustrates me. Like many of you reading this, student ministry played a huge role in my growth not only as a young Christian, but also as a leader and pastor.

Yet, something has shifted. Student ministry isn’t the same as it was just a few years ago. I’m sure there are many different reasons for this. Here are the six that come to my mind.

  1. It’s no longer the cool kid.

Student ministry used to be the place you could do all the things that you couldn’t do on Sunday mornings. It was the place for loud music, black lights, and fog machines. Over the last several years, many churches have introduced similar elements into their weekend adult services in order to reach a young audience.

  1. Students are more connected now than ever before.

Remember when you could only see your friends at school, church, and the occasional birthday party? If you wanted to talk to them, you had to call them on the phone. Those days are long gone. Through Facetime, Snapchat, and a plethora of other social media platforms students have found community online.

  1. Parents aren’t making it a priority.

As parents are attending church on a less frequent basis, we see their teenagers doing the same. Many parents run themselves ragged throughout the week to the extent that a night at home is more important than sending their kids to church.

  1. Youth sports.

Days and nights that used to be off limits for youth sports leagues are quickly disappearing. It’s not uncommon anymore for kids to have practices and games on Wednesdays and even Sundays.

  1. Shrinking budgets.

As church budgets shrink, one of the first places churches look to cut is the youth budget. While this may make sense short term, it can have devastating effects long term as we see fewer and fewer teenagers making their way back to church as adults.

  1. No mid-week service for adults.

In many churches we grew up in, Wednesday night wasn’t just designated for students. Adults still had their own services, Bible studies, or prayer meetings. As Wednesday night has changed to primarily student services, we’re asking parents to drop off their kids and pick them up an hour later, and many aren’t willing to do this.

Student ministry is changing, but that doesn’t mean we give up on it altogether. It just means we have to change with it. I don’t have all the answers, but hopefully we can get the discussion started.

What’s working for you in student ministry? Let us know about it in the comments below, and if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more direct to your inbox each week.

Mid Year’s Resolutions

Today is July 1st, the halfway point of the year. At least it was when I wrote this. You may be reading this at any point throughout the year and the concept still applies, there’s never a bad time to make a good resolution.

mid-year-resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are all the rage on January 1st but are mostly forgotten about by March. What started out as a good idea quickly became more of a chore until it eventually fizzled out altogether.

Oh well, better luck next year, right?

Wrong!

Why should we wait months to begin new resolutions when our life needs them right now?

I’ll let you in on a little secret, you can begin a new resolution on any day of the year. There’s nothing special about January 1st. Oh, sure you get the day off work. If you’re superstitious and from the south, you eat black eyed peas and hog’s jaw for good luck, but overall it’s really not any different from any other day.

Last year I made a resolution to start waking up everyday at 5:00am to work on this blog. It was a Wednesday, July 1st. The blog is still going strong, but the waking up at 5:00am not so much.

Some resolutions stick, some don’t.

My new year’s resolutions this year were to read through the entire Bible, drink more water than Cokes, and get my girls to sleep in their own bed.

I’m still reading my Bible, I drink more sweet tea than anything, and my girls are finally sleeping in their bed as of last week. Not too bad in my opinion.

What did I do to celebrate? I set a new resolution to read the Bible to my girls and pray with them each night. I’m only two nights in, but it’s become the highlight of my day.

The first night we prayed I had to interrupt my three year old during her prayer because she had drifted off into a story about a vampire. It was a special moment, one I may have missed if I had waited until the New Year to begin.

If you’ve wanted to set a goal, make a resolution, or change something in your life, quit waiting for a special day, and just do it. Life is too short to wait for the New Year.

What resolution do you need to set for your life? What have you been waiting for? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below

Pastors Q & A

Question Number One

“What’s one thing you’re currently doing in ministry, that you wish you had started years ago?”

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“Saying no and trusting others. I said yes to every speaking opportunity. I said yes to fill every void and need (Sunday School teacher, Missions leader, etc) I said yes to every meeting. I said yes to every activity. Which was basically saying no to my wife. No to my daughter. No to my family. And most importantly, no to God. I was doing so much I had zero time to invest in the relationships that mattered most. One reason was because I didn’t trust. I thought in order for it to be done right, I had to do it.” – Cody Hogden, First Baptist Church Orangefield

My answer may be more philosophical than practical but what I wished that I had done early on in my ministry was to spend more time understanding the culture and how people learn. I simply thought a well prepared sermon would be effective. But if my speaking style is not conducive to a listener’s ability to learn; then I am not being the most effective I can be. I may reach some older people or some younger people who have been versed in the “old” style of teaching, but I won’t be able to reach the unchurched or unsaved adult. What you notice in the hunting world is really good hunters spend more time scouting and understanding their prey than they do hunting it. They have discovered that success is not determined by the amount of time they spend hunting but the amount of time they spend understanding the practices of the prey they are after. If they know their prey, harvesting it is simple. I spent too much time “hunting” and not enough time “scouting.” – Gary Miller, Locus Church

I am currently the only full time pastor in our church. So we started doing a Tuesday evening conference call for all the pastors to review the weekend and discuss future plans. I wish I had began this much sooner as it has helped build community and trust on our team. The guys have told me how valuable it makes them feel. Ben Fugate, Journey Christian Church

I wish I did better at adjusting time spent doing ministry work and family. I often validated my actions towards neglecting family by blaming it on God and His work. I have a better understanding that God wants both aspects of my life to be healthy. It’s not a one-or-the-other situation. – Jeremiah Marshall, Gospel Outreach Community Church

I would say daily reading, reading a Proverb a day, weekly learning from resources/podcasts/sermons (including T.E.D. talks or sources that sometimes aren’t necessarily Christian), creating a detailed weekly schedule that is centered around my God given purpose/roles, and reading leader blog posts would definitely be something that I wish I started years ago. So, in a nutshell: Growing myself in disciplines and wisdom. — Brandon Petty, Generation Church

I would say the most important thing I am doing now and not then was paying close attention to the pace of my life. Making sure like creation, there is a sustainable rhythm to my days and week. Some seasons the days are much longer like summer. However, I must consciously look for seasons where the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Just like winter. Whatever pace works for a person is the pace they should follow. But everyone must find a pace or they won’t last through all the seasons of ministry ahead. – Gregg Farrell, Crossland Community Church

#1 Deeper spiritual focus early morning prayer and fasting.   #2 Ask better questions. #3 Committed study day that is in concrete(early in the week). #4 Sermon series planning staying a quarter ahead. – Duane Garner, New Vision Ministries

Did a staycation this year, it was incredible. Wish I would have taken more time off. Even if you can’t afford to leave town, take a staycation where you turn off the phone, enjoy your family, and catch up on projects. – Allen Bonnell, Immanuel Baptist Church

I would say rest and reloading. scheduling time to distress so u and your family have finish lines to run to. That’s something I wish I learned earlier in life and ministry. – Dustin Thompson, Refuge Church

7 Ways to Avoid the Summer Slump

Today, June 20th is the first day of summer. I can barely contain my excitement. It may sound like I’m being facetious, but that’s not the case. After enduring a spring that was filled with dogwood, blackberry, and cotton britches winters, I’m ready for some warmer weather.

SummerSlump

But as the weather heats up, we all know church attendance and giving seem to wither. If we’re not careful this may cause us to wither ourselves. It’s healthy to remember that this is a normal thing, and it shouldn’t be a reason to stress.

Yes, on average your attendance is going to decrease ten to fifteen percent as your congregation goes on vacation this summer. Giving will probably do the same, but hopefully you’ve planned for that. If not, make sure to remember to next year.

This post isn’t about how to keep those things from happening, because let’s face it, unless you’re LifeChurch, the attendance and giving slump is almost inevitable.

No, this post is about how you, personally, can avoid the summer slump, and make the most of your summer. Here are seven ways I believe you can do just that.

  1. Take a Family Vacation – Everyone else is, so you might as well get in on the action. The summer is the perfect time to do this. Line someone else up to preach for you on Sunday, and enjoy the week off with your family. Don’t make the mistake of feeling like the church can’t survive one Sunday without you there.
  1. Rest – Don’t mistake your family vacation for rest. If it’s anything like my family vacations, it can be one of the busiest, most stressful weeks of the year. Take a few days off during the summer to rest, relax, and recharge. Your physical body, as well as your church body, will thank you for it as you come back healthier and more energetic.
  1. Have Fun – Four or five times this summer, just go and do something fun. For you this may be a day of fishing, a day on the golf course, or a night out at the drive-in. The goal is just to enjoy life.
  1. Read – Pick up a book or two you can read through this summer. You can keep it fun and light, or read something you could use in a future sermon series. Here are a few of my favorite reads if you need some ideas.
  1. Evaluate – What’s working so far this year? What isn’t? Are you where you’d thought you’d be? What needs to change? What can you do better?
  1. Plan – What do you hope to accomplish in the fall? Now is the time to put a plan in place. What’s the focus? What’s the priority? Write down the action steps that it will take to get there.
  1. Pray – For yourself, your family, and your ministry. Be open and honest with God, telling Him your hopes and dreams for the future. Write down your prayers so that you can look back on them and see all that God has accomplished in your life.

Just because the summer is slumping doesn’t mean you have to be. Summer can be the most productive season of your year if you play your cards right. A summer done well can turn a summer slump into a fall bump. I hope that’s the case for you.

What’s your focus during the summer? Are you fighting the slump or embracing it? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, strategy, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Replacing our Buts

“This was their report to Moses: ‘We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. BUT the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!’” Numbers 13:27-28

ReplaceYourBut

God had just rescued the children of Israel from the hand of the Egyptians, and now He was getting ready to bring them into the land that He had promised them long ago. Only one thing stood in their way…a big BUT.

That one BUT would keep everyone of them, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, from receiving what God had promised.

I wonder how many promises we miss out on because of that same word.

I need to read my Bible, BUT I’m too tired.

I want to get healthy, BUT I lack self-control.

I want to stop yelling at my kids, BUT they’re so frustrating.

I want my church to grow, BUT they don’t want to change.

If we are going to be followers of Jesus, we have to start putting our faith into action. That starts with replacing our BUTS with another BUT found in the book of Ephesians.

BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” Ephesians 2:4-5

Here’s what that looks like:

I may be tired, BUT GOD is so rich in mercy and He loves me so much, I’m going to read my Bible anyway.

I may lack self-control, BUT GOD is so rich in mercy and He loves me so much, I’m going to get healthy.

My kids may frustrate me, BUT GOD is so rich in mercy and He loves me so much, I’m going to love my kids the same.

The people in my church may not want change, BUT GOD is so rich in mercy and He loves people so much, I’m going to do whatever it takes to reach them.

Don’t let your BUT keep you from the promises of God.

What BUTS have you been placing on and in your life? What promises have you missed out on because of it? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.

Selling Christianity

A 2015 Gallup Study shows that 75% of Americans identify with the Christian religion, a five percent decrease since 2008. What’s even scarier is that the percentage drops to 62% among those between the ages of 18 and 29. At this rate some of us may very well see percentages drop below 50% in our lifetimes.

Communion Nails and Crown of Thorns

I’m sure we can all think of various reasons this may be happening, but let me suggest one you may not have thought of.

Christians by in large are horrible salespeople.

Our product is great. We have a Savior King, who rose from the dead, promises to take away our sins, and who’s preparing a home in Heaven for us one day.

That should be enough to get anyone to sign up, but as Dave Ramsey teaches in his book Entreleadership,

“People don’t buy products or services, they buy what those products or services do.”

The problem is, if you look around at many Christians today, you can’t really tell that Jesus is impacting their lives. So we’re trying to sell a “product” that seemingly makes little difference in the lives of many Christians.

Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, my purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10

How many of you would say you’re living a rich and satisfying life? Raise your hand.

If you’re not living it, why would anyone else want what you have?

Are you serving? Are you giving a tithe? How long has it been since you invited someone to come to church with you?

If we don’t have the desire to serve others or trust God with our money or invite someone else into a relationship with Jesus, what are we really doing?

If we aren’t allowing God to change us, what good is our relationship with Christ?

If a non-Christian looked at your life, would they want what you have? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.