10 Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

i love my churchThis is a great post by Thom Rainer on how to make guests more comfortable when visiting your church.

  • Thou shalt pray for people in the services whom you don’t recognize. They are likely guests who feel uncomfortable and uncertain.
  • Thou shalt smile. You only have to do so for about an hour. Guests feel welcome when they see smiling people. You can resume your somber expressions when you get home.
  • Thou shalt not sit on the ends of the rows. Move to the middle so guests don’t have to walk over you. You’ll survive in your new precarious position.
  • Thou shalt not fill up the back rows first. Move to the front so guests don’t have to walk in front of everyone if they get there late.
  • Thou shalt have ushers to help seat the guests. Ushers should have clearly-marked badges or shirts so that the guests know who can help them.
  • Thou shalt offer assistance to guests. If someone looks like they don’t know where to go, then they probably don’t know where to go. Get out of your comfort zone and ask them if you can help.
  • Thou shalt not gather too long in your holy huddles. Sure, it’s okay to talk to fellow members; but don’t stay there so long that you are not speaking to guests.
  • Thou shalt offer your seats to guests. I know that this move is a great sacrifice, but that family of four can’t fit in the three vacant seats next to you. Give it a try. You might actually feel good about your efforts.
  • Thou shalt not save seats. I know you want to have room for all of your friends and family, but do you know how a guest feels when he or she sees the vacant seats next to you occupied by three hymnals, one Bible, two coats, and an umbrella? You might as well put a “Do Not Trespass” sign on the seats.
  • Thou shalt greet someone you don’t know. Yes, it’s risky. They may actually be members you don’t know. And you may get caught in a 45-second conversation. You’ll be okay; I promise.

“Autopsy of a Deceased Church” by Thom Rainer

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

  1. The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.
  2. The church had no community-focused ministries.  This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
  3. Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.
  4. The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.
  5. There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.
  6. The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
  7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
  8. The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.
  9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
  10. The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
  11. The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.

What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?

Source: Thomrainer.com

“Real Leaders Apologize” by Thom Rainer

heart of a servant leaderFor some leaders, apologies seem to come reluctantly if they come at all. Perhaps a mea culpa seems like an indication of weakness. Perhaps the leader’s ego is too fragile to admit that he or she is wrong. Perhaps some leaders really don’t believe they are ever wrong.

There are certain facts upon which most of us can agree. First, all people make mistakes, including leaders. Second, some of those mistakes will rise to the level of needing an apology. Third, a sincere apology is usually received well.

Here are some miscellaneous notes I have gathered as I have observed apologies or lack of apologies by leaders:

  • Many apologies begin with “If I have offended anyone . . .” That is a non-apology apology. Leaders need not apologize if they don’t know whom they have offended. It’s a cop-out apology.
  • A good apology states the nature of the offense: “I was wrong when I said you are a jerk.” The apology does not sidestep the issue, but confronts it head-on.
  • One of the roles of good leaders is to build strong relationships. All leaders mess up relationally at times. The organization needs leaders who are willing to apologize not only to heal a relationship, but for the health of the organization.
  • Apologies defuse antagonism in the organization. Antagonism can seriously harm the health of the organization.
  • Apologies should be a part of a leader’s life on both a professional and personal level. It takes both humility and integrity to admit fault and to apologize for it. But most recipients of our apologies are grateful beyond measure that we are willing to do so, whether they or a co-worker, a spouse, or a friend.

Allow me to speak directly on this matter to fellow Christians. I recently spoke with a young man I befriended on a trip. He is not a Christian, but he is a seeker in the true sense of the word. He also seems to be very smart and informed. “Thom,” he began, “I read a lot of interactions among Christians online. I really am interested in learning from them.” He paused for a moment, and continued, “Why is it that you Christians fight so much? Why are you so antagonistic toward each other?”

My purpose in providing that true story is not to tell you how I responded. My greater purpose is to remind ourselves that the world is watching. We will certainly make mistakes and say things we regret. But we can always apologize. If we are wrong, we should always apologize.

Real leaders apologize.

Real Christian leaders apologize.

Source: Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources

Every Pastor’s Job Description

Pastors Job DescriptionI absolutely love being a pastor and getting to studying God’s Word in preparation to share it with my church family each Sunday. There is a satisfaction beyond description from seeing someone move from casual attender, to consistent attender, to serving, to leading, and finally becoming a disciple-maker. Watching members grow in their faith and service often brings me to tears. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and long to be around my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I once heard a wise statement about being a great pastor, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” A shepherd lived with, protected, fed, and led the sheep. They knew him, trusted him, and followed him without reservation. The pastor’s first responsibility is to be a shepherd to the people. Shepherding should be a task the pastor loves. If a pastor doesn’t like being with the people then you have to ask why is he a pastor to begin with.

This morning I read a great post by John MacArthur on “Every Pastor’s Job Description.” It was refreshing to hear such a great leader of a mega-church describe a pastor’s greatest responsibility.

MacArthur writes:

Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.

These days, my heart aches for pastors.

It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.

That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.

That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.

Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.

The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.

The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.

Source: Every Pastor’s Job Description

Insecurity–The Church Killer

challenged church, the_t_nvJesus said, “…everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12.48b). Those who find themselves in a position of leadership have been given a great responsibility. We are to lead those entrusted to us toward attaining “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13).

Our calling requires us to keep our heart and mind focused on Christ’s leadership. Being a leader is never easy; however, when we are rightly focused the burden of leadership seems light. Dealing with those who are argumentative, stubborn, or people who just don’t like us can be difficult. Yet, they are not the greatest hinderance to leadership success. When we allow our insecurities to start controlling us we put ourselves and the church we lead in dire circumstances.

In Ronnie Floyd’s post “Pastors and Church Leaders: Will Your Insecurity Problem Hurt Your Church” we are given a few signs of insecurity, the solution for each, as well as the ultimate reason for not being insecure.

Floyd writes:

One of the major challenges that prevent many churches from being focused on their mission can be summarized in one word: insecurity. It eliminates opportunities for evangelism, planting churches, ministry expansion, and making disciples because it creates conflict in the church. I have even seen insecurity ruin ministries.

A Testimony: I will never forget talking with a leader who served with his Pastor for decades in one of the strongest ministries in America. I asked him about the challenges of adjusting from leading church staff leaders from people in the world. He remarked, “I have found that ministers are the most insecure people I have ever met in my life.”

Since insecurity can hurt ministers, churches, and ministries, we need to consider ways to overcome this problem. Here are some helpful tips for identifying the signs of and solutions to insecurity.

Signs of Insecurity

  • Competitiveness – One of the biggest problems insecurity carries with it is overt competition. Churches try to “out-do” one another. Pastors find themselves competing with other pastors. This competitiveness results occurs because of insecurity and further results in jealousy and a critical spirit.
    • Solution: Remember that as a Christ-follower your only competition is the world, the flesh, and the devil; not other pastors or churches. Remember who you are in Christ and abide in this spiritual reality.
  • Combativeness – I have seen many pastors or other church leaders ruin their ministry by the incessant need to have their way all the time. God has not called ministers to always “be right”, but to “be godly.” In my book, “Ten Things Every Minister Needs to Know” I talk about this issue in detail. I am convinced we can do the right thing in the wrong way. We need to operate with the Spirit of Christ at all times.
    • Solution: Recognize that not every hill is worth dying on. Sometimes the best, most Christ-like way is to humble yourself and see that the best idea is not always your own. Listen to others. Learn from others. Learn from your own mistakes. Do not let a word, a sentence, or a spirit take away from your main message. Your goal is always be like Christ, not to always be right in the eyes of others or even in your own eyes. 
  • Complaining – Some of the whiniest people I know are ministers. It also happens that pastors are some of the most insecure people I know. The two often go together. Complaining is a serious obstacle for many ministers of the Gospel. How can we expect others to be attracted to our message and our leadership if we are complainers? This does not magnetize people to the message but it distracts them from the message.
    • Solution: Return to the reason you are in ministry. Church leadership roles are often very hard. When all the bad stuff starts coming your way instead of complaining about it keep your heart in the Word of God and keep your eyes on Jesus and the lost-ness of the world. Most of all, return to your call from God to go into the ministry . . . this is why you are doing what you are doing.

What We Do Not Have Time For

We don’t have time to play games and be insecure. We are not competing against the pastor across town. We are not competing against a church across America. While every church is called to make disciples of all the nations, we have to carry out this commission in the different contexts God has called us to serve. We are not entitled to getting everything our way because we’re in a church leadership role.

Insecure Pastors and Churches

Insecure pastors create insecure churches. Insecure churches are ineffective churches. Competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining do not have a place in the church of Jesus Christ, especially in the life of a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So let’s set aside the competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining and focus on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and making disciples of all nations.

Why There Is No Need To Be Insecure

Our Lord’s command to go and make disciples is prefaced by the statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and is followed by “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18, 20). Because we live in and with the authority of the Great Commission there is no need for insecurity. This is why there is no need to be insecure . . . The Lord is with you always!

Daily, I pray for the authority of the Great Commission to operate within and through my life as a leader. Knowing that the One who has all authority is with us, we can face anything in life and ministry.

If you suffer from various forms of insecurity, I would encourage you to pick up Timothy Keller’s book “The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy.”