LIST OF CHAPTERS
~Mark Howell, Founder of www.SmallGroupResources.net
LIST OF CHAPTERS
~Mark Howell, Founder of www.SmallGroupResources.net
Leading through change is one of the biggest difficulties for me as a leader. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I don’t want to run people off. I don’t want to rock the boat too fast or too much. So my tendency is to try and lead through changes gradually. But there are some pretty significant reasons why gradual change may not be the best.
Dramatic change works better than slow change. Take the transition from being a traditional church to a contemporary church, for example. Your church won’t become contemporary by introducing one contemporary song into a set of hymns with a pipe organ. Surrounding one uncomfortable change by a bunch of old comforts only magnifies the discomfort of the former and the comfort of the latter. If change is to happen effectively, it should be dramatic. You can’t lose weight effectively by eating a salad once a day and whatever you want for the rest of your meals. You have to change every meal.
Change has to be committed to long term. Trying something a few weeks doesn’t work. You have to give it a chance to become habit. You have to give the change a chance to change you. I’ve changed the way I eat. Nearly a year into it I’m down 40 pounds. But more importantly my tastes are changing. The change is changing me. I crave a really good salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This principle applies to organizations too. What may not be very palatable at first, will become an acquired taste, and eventually the preferred taste.
Change must happen to accomplish your desired results. Churches often talk about reaching people. They have “reaching people” in their mission statements or core values. Yet in many of those same churches you can’t really see “reaching people” in their traditions or habits. What we DO communicates what’s important to us. If financial responsibility is REALLY important to you then you cut up the credit cards and commit to NOT get new ones. If being healthy is REALLY important to you then you’ll purge your house of processed foods, sugar. You’ll instead eat clean, organic foods for an entire year. If your church REALLY wants to reach the next generation, you will shed the things that reached the previous generation in favor of the things that are reaching the new generation. Your desired results will never happen without uncomfortable change.
Change has to be communicated clearly and honestly…over and over again. Why do you want to change? This is your vision. When leading others through change, you need a long version of your vision as well as several elevator speeches. You also need a list of talking-points for other leaders in your organization. Here is a talking-point example for a church’s construction project:
As a leader, you must talk about these points over and over again. Talk about your mission and vision over and over again. Set a date to begin the change and stick to it. Keep talking about this vision for at least a year into the change. Talk about it over and over again until you think you can’t talk about it anymore.
Gradual change seldom works with people. It tends to make everyone unhappy. Besides, how many people who could have been reached, die while we are making tweaks and adjustments? The answer is simple: even one is too many.
It’s the divine mandate of those who hear and have God’s message to share it with our countrymen. As followers of Jesus, this of course means sharing the good news of the gospel: God’s love and forgiveness are freely available in Christ by grace. But it is also our divine mandate to share the bad news of immorality, selfishness and ungodliness: God’s wrath.
It is too easy for us to just share the popular side of God’s Holiness (His Love) without sharing the less popular side of His Holiness (His Justice). Too many churches have camped out only on the happy, inoffensive side of God’s message and His character. Too many Christians have forgotten what it means to be salt and light. We have neglected standing up for justice and righteousness. We have conveniently forgotten how God has judged nations throughout history for their neglect of goodness. We have shoved to the back of our minds the reality that our nations embrace wickedness in the name of liberty. We have chosen to ignore the truth that God is a God who is to be feared.
Believers, we are watchmen. Watchmen must speak the truth, whether popular or not. We must stand up for justice and truth. We are not responsible for the results. We cannot force others to listen and believe, but that does not negate our responsibility to speak the truth. If we do not warn our countrymen, however, then we do become responsible for the results! If we do not speak for what is right, blood will be on our hands.
Christians, we are grateful for God’s grace and His love. But are we fearful of His power, His might and His justice? We should be…we should be.
Once again a message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’ “Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.” ~Ezekiel 33:1-9( NLT)
Mike, a friend of mine that I’ve known for over 25 years, is a mechanic. He has owned his own shop since the 90s and recently he mentioned how similar his job is to mine. At first I thought he was way off base until I heard his reasoning. That conversation got me thinking about how often I hear pastors say things like, “Unless they’ve been one, no one knows what it’s like to be a pastor”. While there is some truth to that statement, there is also a lot wrong with it. If a pastor believes no one can relate to him/her, then that pastor is much more vulnerable to loneliness, discouragement and even depression. So today I’m starting a series of posts that are meant to encourage pastors. If you are a pastor, you are not as alone as you might think. There are people in your community and most likely in your church who understand more about your personal struggles than you might imagine.
Pastors, here’s how your job is like that of an auto-mechanic:
1.) The majority of feedback that a mechanic receives is negative. Think about it for a minute, when was the last time your mechanic did a great job and you went out of your way to say so? Sure you said, “Thanks” before you left the shop, but it’s likely that you were more focused on the money you just spent than you were focused on the quality workmanship your mechanic provided. Sure, you noticed how well your car was running on the way home, but you probably didn’t turn around and go back to the mechanic to rave about it. Most people who give their mechanics feedback do so when they are disappointed. You know how that feels don’t you, pastor? Your mechanic must be tired of having several similar conversations with grumpy people day-in-and-day-out. Mechanics probably get’s worn out by constant negative feedback that makes them feel that them is not doing a very good job.
2.) Most people only go to a mechanic when they have problems. Do you ever pop in on your mechanic just to say, “Hey, everything’s great and the old Buick is running just fine”? Probably not. It’s no wonder, pastor, that you don’t get many church members calling just to tell you how wonderful things are going. They are too busy to give you happy updates. Rather, most people tend to contact you when they have something broken in their lives. So it’s easy for you to become apprehensive every time you get a Facebook message, an email, a text or a phone call. Your mechanic knows exactly how you feel.
3.) Your mechanic’s business comes in waves. For most mechanics, it’s either feast or famine. When things are busy, they are really busy, but when things are slow, they can be ponderously slow. Yet what the mechanic does in the downtime is almost as important as the uptime. The same goes for pastors. There are seasons of planting and seasons of reaping. There are times when you preach your guts out and see little fruit. Then there are times when you feel like Billy Graham 2.0! Yet what you do when people aren’t responding is just as important as what you do when they are. An active prayer and devotional life coupled with strategic planning, marketing and preparation will get you ready for the seasons of growth that are coming. It’s common for pastors to feel frustrated by the seasons where there is a seeming lack of results in their ministry, and their mechanics can certainly relate.
So there you have it, pastors: your mechanic has quite a bit in common with you. Next time you feel badly about your job, take your mechanic to breakfast. Ask your mechanic how he/she feels about the three items listed above. I think you’ll suddenly find a new friendship budding.
Are there any other similarities between pastors and mechanics that you would add to the list?
“I’m not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God’s love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me. If another came, acting self-important, you would welcome him with open arms. How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?” (John 5:41-44 MSG)
Wow. These words should be spoken at the pastor’s conferences I’ve been a part of. Ministers are affected by the same desires and temptations of the world. Prestige and admiration are among those desires. The result is church leaders who wind up seeking glory, salary and advancement rather than simply seeking more of Jesus.
Lord, help me to desire only more of you. I am susceptible to these follies and I am sorry. Forgive me and help me focus on what is best: promoting You and Your Kingdom rather than promoting myself.
So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:26-30 NLT)
I’m a pastor. I’ve been in vocational ministry since 1990. At times, the ministries I’ve led have grown. At times they’ve gotten smaller.
I must admit that I like the former and not the latter. As a driven person it’s hard to watch something I lead shrink. As soon as there’s a decline I start looking around wondering what I’m doing wrong. It keeps me up at night. I become frustrated. I get discouraged. I’ve sometimes even been depressed…even to the point of attending counseling.
How did John the Baptist do it? When his ministry shrank, his disciples were in a panic, but he was not. In fact, he was filled with joy. Can a church leader have that kind of peace today?
I’m learning the lesson of John The Baptist. We can all learn it. If you struggle with discouragement, fear, doubt, or even depression when your ministry declines, take the steps below.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR MINISTRY DECLINES
1) Read John 3:26-30. Read it again. Read it regularly.
2) Recognize that increase comes from God. Your ministry does not grow because of you. It grows because of Him.
3) Recognize that decrease comes from God as well. The reasons for decrease are His. Maybe God is sending people to another shepherd because of failures on your part. Maybe He is chastising you. But maybe the decrease is for other things altogether. Maybe God is pruning your church before another season of increase. Maybe He is preparing another leader in your city to become the next Rick Warren. Maybe God is moving people to environments that are better suited to His plan for their development.
4) Rejoice at Christ’s success. Whenever you see victories for Christ’s Kingdom, rejoice!! Especially when those victories come in other ministries. Why? Because it’s not about you. It never has been and it never will be. Do you celebrate when you hear that the church across town is growing? Do rejoice when other ministries flourish? Why not? If you cannot celebrate God’s victories that happen outside your jurisdiction, then the real condition of your heart is revealed: your jurisdiction is most important to you. In other words your kingdom takes precedence over His Kingdom. Those words sting a little don’t they?
5) Practice getting better while becoming less. You SHOULD practice sound leadership principles. You SHOULD live righteously. You SHOULD have sound doctrine. You SHOULD study. You SHOULD always strive to improve and get better at the work of the ministry. But you should NEVER take any of the credit for increase. You should NEVER be so arrogant as to think that your ministry grew because of you. Live humbly and be holy, but not for the sake of increase. Do so for the sake of God’s glory. Let your ego diminish so there’s no question who deserves the glory: Jesus.
6) Quit beating yourself up. You should never take the blame for the decrease. Yes, you are to blame for your own sin, ego laziness and pride. But God is responsible for the rain and the draught. Flagellating yourself and hurling abuse on yourself is what I call “reverse arrogance”. If you shoulder all of the blame for decrease, you are subliminally feeding your ego. If you you blame yourself for every decrease, you’ll take credit for every increase.
Evaluate yourself today. What’s your biggest ego problem: is it the obvious arrogance of “I made this church grow”? Or is it the reverse pride of “I made this church shrink”? Kick your pride to the curb altogether and remember the words of Job:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.” (Job 1:21 HCSB)
Life without risks is missing something vital. Think for just a second about the things that wouldn’t exist without risks:
Someone had to be brave enough to eat the first squid.
But what about more serious things like dating, marriage, love? They all require risks. A fulfilling life, is linked together by moments that are made up of risks. A fulfilling (or abundant) life is dangerous, but it’s worth it.
Now think about this for just a minute: church without risks is also missing something vital. Think about the things in church that wouldn’t exist without risks:
When we think about it, a fulfilling church is also made up of the risks that people have taken through the years. Fulfilling church like a fulfilling life: it is dangerous…but it’s sooooo worth it.
It’s not enough for us to just sit back and enjoy the comforts the church has to offer. Because, in reality, a lot of those comforts can ultimately cause bedsores. When we get too comfortable we easily slip into a mode where we are focussed on ourselves, our wants, our desires and our preferences. Pastors and congregants alike fall prey to this syndrome. The only way to combat these bed sores is to constantly remember that the church doesn’t exist for us, it exists for the mission of Christ: making disciples of everyone…EVERYONE.
We must have the faith to step out, stretch our bones, standup, and make a difference in the world by taking risks. It’s the only way to fulfill our mission. I love what Rick Warren once said: “If you are not taking risks in your ministry, your ministry requires no faith. If your ministry requires no faith, you’re being unfaithful.
The bottom line is this: there is too much at stake for us not to experience real fulfilling, abundant church. We do this not by filling our seats but by fueling our risk-taking-boldness. We must take the risks that will pay off for Jesus’ sake. Let us never forget the Bible says:
So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show it self by it’s good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and
~James 2:17 (NLT)
May we, the church of Jesus Christ, sacrifice comfort (and eventual bed sores) for faith risks and true joy. Take risks and experience the fulfilling life that he has for you!
Kids ministry isn’t something I write about much, but I’ve been chewing on kids check-in processes lately so here goes. Almost every church has a process for checking kids in on weekends, but not every church is making the best use of kids check in processes. Let’s quickly refresh our memories as to why we have kids check-in and think about how our systems really matter. I’ll start with three quick ideas and then I’ll camp out on a fourth one that’s absolutely essential.
1) Attendance – This one’s a no-brainer. Knowing who is there or absent each week is valuable information. It helps us see trends in family church going habits. It helps us know who to call or send cards to when they’ve been gone. It allows us to execute better and more personal ministry.
2) Emergencies – A good check-in system includes the ability to communicate with parents in the auditorium when their child has an emergency. From minor emergencies like a blown-out diaper to major emergencies like allergic reactions or injuries, it’s vital to be able to communicate with parents in a timely manner while minimizing distractions. Churchteams, the church management software our church uses, allows us to text parents when there’s an emergency. I love this option because it really helps keep distractions down!
3) Guest Information – Guests are never more open to giving a church their information than when they are checking in their kids. Good kids’ check in processes capture all of their contact information allowing staff and volunteers to follow-up with guests.
4) Security – This is the first thing most church leaders think of regarding kids check in. We all want children and families to be safe in our churches. But it’s important for us to remember that your kids ministry security is only as good as your procedures.
What do I mean by this? I’ll use my own church as an example. I’m a senior pastor and have two kids in our kids ministry. Since I’m always occupied on Sunday mornings, my wife usually checks our kids in. The kids check-in software in Churchteams generates a random code each week that is printed on my kids’ name tags and printed on a third tag with the same code that my wife gets. After church my wife goes to pick up my kids. Volunteers are supposed to match my wife’s tag with my kids’ tags before she’s allowed to take them. When we first started using our kids check-in software our volunteers were very lax about making sure tags matched.
I discovered this problem one Sunday when my wife was out of town. After church no one asked me to show my tag. I asked my wife if this was normal and she said, “Yes. In fact, they don’t check anyone’s tags.” I nearly blew a gasket! The next day I addressed this with our kids ministry staff leader.
Some of you may be thinking, “Why’s that a problem? You really need to calm down there, preacher.” It’s a problem because the principle behind the tag-comparing-rule matters. It IS important. Why? I’m glad you asked.
No one gets singled out – It makes guests feel uncomfortable if they have to show a tag, but no one else does. They may wonder, “Why did they single me out?” Face it, guests are far less likely to return to your church if they feel put on the spot.
Guests feel safe – Nothing is more worrisome to parents than giving their kids over to people they don’t know. They feel much better when it’s clear that no one is allowed to pick up a child without a matching tag. Guests will love it when it’s obvious that security is a high value to your church.
It eliminates assumptions – Imagine this scenario: a man in your church has been abusing his wife and she kicks him out of the house. The man has mental health issues and a Judge issues a restraining order and gives the mother full custody of the kids. The mother feels ashamed of the situation so she doesn’t tell anyone at church. One Sunday she comes to church and checks her kids in. After church before she’s able to pick up her kids, the husband casually walks into the building, picks up the kids, and takes off. BOOM! A preventable kidnapping just happened in your church! You’re in the news. You get sued. You lose. Your church caves under the financial pressure and closes.
Yes that’s a worst-case scenario, but it IS a real possibility. Why risk it? When kids ministry volunteers and staff assume it’s safe to hand off kids without checking for matching tags, they put the church at tremendous risk. DON’T LET YOUR CHURCH FACE THIS KIND OF RISK!
Whatever your church uses for kids check-in, make sure your systems allow you to easily handle attendance, emergencies, guest information and security.
Google, the multinational corporation specializing in information worth billions of dollars, understands something every church should understand: circles. Google’s social media arm called Google+ has a unique approach to social networking allowing users to group all of their contacts in “circles”. With Google+ you can organize your relationships by creating any kind of “circle” you want: immediate family, cousins, work friends, co-workers, sci-fi lovers, BBQ fanatics, football junkies, New Mexicans, college friends, neighbors, fishing buddies, etc. The list is as limitless as your imagination.
What does this have to do with church? It’s all about how we think about organizing people. Most churches use some kind of system for organizing parishioners. Hopefully your church has ditched the spiral-bound attendance books and has moved on to some kind of is software. In any case, the systems we use for organizing people reflect how we think about people.
Google+ has a way of thinking about people that can be paradigm-shifting. It starts with two fundamental beliefs: 1) Everyone belongs to some kind of group. 2) Every group needs uniquely targeted communication. On my Google+ account I have circles for ministry colleagues, small group pastors, life-long friends, Star Wars fanatics, family, and so on. It’s a hard pill for me to swallow, but I have to recognize that not everyone I know wants to read my Star Wars related posts. So when I share anything about Star Wars on Google+ it’s posted so only people in my Star Wars fanatics circle will see it. This is different than the Facebook or Twitter style of communicating with simply blankets all of your friends or followers with the same message.
This way of thinking can be a powerful concept for Church leaders because it forces us to think both strategically and personally at the same time. Let’s face it, people are inundated with too much information today. And no matter how important we think our church programs are, not everyone in our database wants every morsel of information we want to send them. That’s where circles come in. Let’s examine the two beliefs I mentioned earlier in a church context.
1) Everyone belongs to some kind of group - At the church I pastor, we are trying to think about people in circles rather than database columns. We call these circles “groups”. No I’m not referring to only to people who attend “small groups”; it’s much broader than that. Every person is a part of some kind of group. In our church management software we have groups for anything we can come up with: first time guests, 2-year-old ministry volunteers, greeters, band members, office volunteers, small group leaders, small group coaches, actual small groups, staff members, elders, high school students, food pantry volunteers, etc. Many people are in more than one group and that’s okay. In order to help make sure no one falls through the cracks, everyone in our database belongs to a group of some kind. Everyone belongs.
2) Every group needs uniquely targeted communication - By “grouping” or “circling” people it helps us strategically organize and target our communication. The word “strategy” sounds very official and business-like. But targeted communication is not simply a matter of strategy; targeted communication is personal. By only sending relevant content to each group, we protect the people we serve from over-information. This allows us as church leaders to demonstrate “You matter to me, so I’m only going to send you stuff that matters to you.”
Here’s an example from the church I pastor: we have a group on our ChurchTeams database called “the radical”. This group is made up of the people who are radically passionate about our church and who have leadership influence with others. Some of them are “officially” leaders in that they lead small groups or serving teams, but every one of them are “practically” leaders in that others listen to them and follow them. When our church is rolling out any new efforts we announce them first to the radical group. They usually get an email with a private video explaining what’s coming at New Life Bible Church. This group loves getting these emails because they hear about things before everyone else. Then they begin to virally influence others before the official news is passed along to everyone else.
Now this is important, so don’t miss it: the people in my Google+ “Star Wars Fanatics” circle don’t know they are in that circle. They just know I like to send them Star Wars related info from time-to-time…and they enjoy it because it matters to them. Likewise, the people in the “radical group” I mentioned in the last paragraph don’t know they are in a group called “the radical”. They just know that I like sending them sneak previews from time-to-time…and they enjoy it because it matters to them.
The reason I’m writing this is simple: learn to think differently about the people in your church and how you communicate with them. Make sure the systems you have in place make this kind of targeted communication easy-to-execute.
Do the people in your church enjoy getting the information you’re sending because it truly matters to them?
Do your church systems make this kind of communication easy?
Does your church software help or hinder in this regard?
Originally posted 11-17-2010. Reposted 12-02-2013.
I speak and write a lot about Triple-Threat Leadership which posits that there are three indispensable leadership skills, one of which is “fostering relationships.” After teaching Triple-Threat Leadership at a conference, someone once asked me how he could become a more relational leader. This is a very common question for leaders who are driven to accomplish results and often feel like they don’t have time to slow down for people. Fostering relationships doesn’t mean that a leader has to be intimate friends with everyone he/she leads. Rather it means that everyone being led feels valued. Below are a few practices that can help you practice what I call “Symbolic Relational Leadership”, which equips you to value people without having to become “close” to them all. Symbolic Relational Leadership equips you to make the people feel valued even when you aren’t able to personally touch them.
These are just some of my ideas. Got any more you think should be added?