Guess what happened today, Good Friday?! Remember that baby that Jonny and his wife were expecting… for the last nine months? He made his arrival this morning, joining Mom and Dad, and big Brother! We actually had two babies born from moms in our church today, two hours apart, in the same hospital, just across the hall from each other. It was a good day in our community!
Normally we publish a blog post on Friday mornings, but we were all a little busy “integrating” with our community today – so here is a special Easter weekend edition!
We began a discussion about Integrating with Our Community this week, and we will continue it in the future for sure, but for now, let’s wrap up this week’s topic with four “community laws” I try to live by as a pastor.
Community Law #1: Love what your people love. If we as pastors are really going to love our people, that includes loving what our people love. I have never liked it when pastors told me that they have moved into a community to pastor a church, but they did not particularly like the culture of the town or the church.
In a couple weeks our theme will be Staying Put – the Benefits of a Long Ministry, in that podcast we will talk about long term ministry, and how we must love our people, and love what they love! If we choose to mock and laugh at the culture of our people, or to stand on the sidelines and watch their lives from afar, we will never have an effective ministry. And, if we can’t even integrate into the community of our own church family, we’ll never have the heart, desire, or commitment to reach into our neighborhood community.
In our town we have an annual five day Tulip Festival. The first year I was here and experienced it I did so as an outsider. I thought it was strange. Nice, but strange! After two years I realized the positive outcomes and benefits this Tulip Festival has on our community every year. I also realized how proud our people are of their town and how much they love the Tulip Festival. I chose to love what my people love. Every year I look forward to the Tulip Festival, I participate in some way, and I get to live life with people in our community. I am better for it!
Community Law #2: Love what your community loves. What are the things that set your community apart from other communities in your region of the state? Are there certain restaurants, attractions, or events for which your community is known? Is there a sports team, Philharmonic Orchestra, or other community attraction in your town? You can choose to love what your community loves.
Perhaps in your community there is an annual event or tradition at which most of the town shows up, or there is a national landmark, local attraction, or the commemoration of an historical event which draw lots of people and about which your community is proud. You can choose to love what your community loves, and in turn, love your community!
Community Law #3 - Go where your community goes. Where does your community go? Do you pass up local businesses to get a “better deal” in the next town? Unless it is absolutely cost prohibitive, you should shop in your community, and go where your community goes. Is there a park, library, or restaurant where a ton of people from your community can be found? Then you go there too! When you go where your community goes, you will be able to integrate with your community that much better.
Community Law #4 - Do what your community does. Do people in your community take care of their lawns, then take care of yours. Do they take walks in the park? Then you take walks in the park too! Do people in your community recycle, cycle, watch movies, go to the Y, attend the Opera, shop at the Farmer’s Market, walk their dogs, or fly RC planes through the park? Then you do it too. Do what your community does, and you can begin to integrate with your community.
Really Pastor, it starts with you. Will you love your people enough to love what they love? Will you love your community enough to love what they love, go where they go, and do what they do? You can do it, and you’ll be better for it, as a pastor, and as a person!
As we begin this discussion, we have to admit that there are many Ideas, both in the church and in society, that work to divide us, to separate people in their Monday – Saturday world, from any reality in their “Sunday” world. Many, of course, don’t bother with Sundays because they have ideas that make the integration of church life into their real life unsustainable. They just cannot see how faith could ever plug into real life. What are those ideas that divide?
Here are five ideas that discourage integrating:
All of these ideas and more exist in our culture to deeply divide the two realities of religion, and real life.
It would be good to ask that age-old question: If your church closed, would anyone even notice? Would the community miss your church, or would they simply be glad to rezone a property to receive more tax revenue? If you would not be missed, your church is likely living up to those above bad ideas.
When we talk about our church integrating into our community, we really have two ways this happens. First, we can refer to the individuals in our church being dispersed throughout our community when they are not engaged in corporate worship or mission. Second, we may refer to the corporate expression of our church when we gather for worship, service, or mission. In today’s podcast, we are referring more to the corporate expression of our church in the community.
Three challenges to integrating:
We have to decide if we even want to integrate. We need to count the cost, and honestly ask the question – Are we really ready to make church “not about us”? For most churches, what they do, the programs they develop or adopt, the services they plan, and the way they spend their money all point to a group of people who are making it all about themselves. This is hard to admit, and even harder to recognize in your own church. To be fair, this is normal and natural for how groups and people cycle. But we cannot accept it if we are to make a difference in our community.
Let’s also be truthful about the fact that to integrate into our community is going to be hard, will require intentionality, and necessitate long term perseverance. As we said on Monday, it should be viewed in terms of years, not weekends.
Are we willing to put in the time and make a church-wide, lifelong commitment to the community? Can we make the investment that will be needed to move the ball down the fields in terms of making a difference? We just cannot think that our corporate investment into the community on Sunday mornings is going to be enough. It won’t be!
Five steps toward integrating:
This is going to be an ongoing conversation on the 200churches Podcasts. In the coming months we will return to this discussion from time to time. Read Matthew 28:17-20. We must integrate into all communities in order to make disciples. Let’s just start with the one we’re in!
One of the hardest things for a church to do is actively participate in the life of a community. Churches are excellent at creating communities, at drawing the community in, at building programs targeted at a specific community, but the task of actually going out and integrating into a community is a tricky thing. Our "church" is in the community in the form of people, but how are we corporately involved? Our starting place this week is the cliche question: if your church closed tomorrow, would anybody outside of it notice?
Last week, our podcast guest talked about how important it is for church leaders to recognize the leadership that their church members demonstrate in their everyday lives. He challenged us to think beyond "church" and see people as fully integrated; to break down the divide between church on Sunday and living as the church every day. We believe that our corporate body should be as integral to the community as our individual members are, but we recognize that it's difficult to accomplish.
As leaders, we often want to start our planning, by planning our programs. But programs are usually designed to bring people into our buildings or onto our properties, not to take our body out into the community. It's tough to admit, but we can't programmatically approach our desire to be a part of the community. We need to practice a relational approach, and be emotionally invested in people. We should be comfortable up front with a commitment not measured in weekends, but in years.
We hope this week to start a conversation that won't get wrapped up by Friday. This is an issue we want to continually wrestle with here at 200churches, because we believe that the church should be an integral part of the community. Corporately and individually, we are called to be salt and light in this world. We want our 200church to be missed if it closes, and we want yours to be, too. So we hope you enjoy the Podcast and blogs this week, and please chime in about your own struggles and triumphs integrating your church into your community.
Today I got to sit down over lunch with a 200church pastor from another city. We talked about the blessings and challenges of our ministries. One of his struggles is that not many of his people are stepping forward right now to serve. His church is in a very different place than mine, yet I have been where he is at and hopefully I encouraged him along the way. We have been talking this week about volunteer leadership – today we ask the question: How can we nurture volunteer leadership?
To answer that, let’s consider something said in this week’s podcast. In our podcast this week, Jan Schuiteman asked the question: “Why is serving in the church different than serving in business?” Jan thinks there’s no difference, there’s no separation between sacred and secular, and that our whole life is lived in community with others in the Kingdom of God. He says that he serves God whether he is in the church’s facilities, his work facilities, at home with family, or in the community. We agree, and we are thankful for his insistence on the philosophical paradigm shift that is required to live that out!
Remember we are answering the question: How can we nurture volunteer leadership? Jan’s statement brings up another question – when are “church people” serving? If a church member is leading a project team at work, is that his or her ministry? Is it really any different, as a Kingdom disciple of Jesus, than leading a ministry team at church? We think the specifics of the project and the details of the tasks might be different, but in terms of working with others, doing life together with others, and being a Kingdom contributor, both are important and both are ministry.
We think this is the key to nurturing volunteer leadership – when we remind, teach, and live out the truth that wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re doing it with – it’s all ministry! Life in the Kingdom is serving others in love and honoring God with our gifts, talents, and abilities. Those things happen no matter where we are, and our presuppositions about church ministry and church leadership must reject the old “It’s only true ministry if it’s done in the church building.” We don’t really believe that anyway, but we organize, talk, and lead sometimes as though it is true.
We nurture volunteer leadership when we call ourselves and our people to live lives of ministry in service to God, no matter our profession, vocation, or calling. Just as we say that leadership in the Kingdom matters regardless of church size, so ministry and service to God matters regardless of the location or organizational setting.
Wouldn't it be great to have ministries that represent your church wherever your people are? Well, that’s how it should be, right? Let’s give our people permission to serve wherever they are, yes, even lay out an expectation that they will be serving God at home, work, church, or play. Serving God is a matter of the heart, and of using what he’s given us to honor him and help others.
We want to end with Jan’s question yet again: “Why is serving in the church different than serving in business?” Can we answer with a very basic, yet mind blowing answer? You already know this. We just don’t act like we know it sometimes. The answer is this – it is no different, because we don’t serve IN the church, we ARE the church! Wherever we are, we are the church serving, bringing the presence of Jesus to our context and culture.
When disciples practice service wherever they are, we have created a culture of volunteer leadership! NEXT WEEK’S topic is a great one – How to Integrate Your Church Into the Community.
This week’s podcast centers on how to work with, and learn from, volunteer leaders in your church. One of our volunteer leaders, Jan Schuiteman, joined us on the podcast today and spoke to 200churches pastors from the perspective of a very invested, very committed volunteer leader. Jan is a successful businessman who has started and developed a number of companies, but his passion is ministry and people.
Jan understands business, ministry, relationships, and the church as all part of one entity – Kingdom life. One of his questions to pastors of 200churches is “what’s the difference between being in vocational ministry and leading a business?” By dividing “lay” ministers from “vocational” ministers, Jan believes we’re creating an unnecessary leadership gap in the church. Jan believes that all leadership is about creating relationships, showing and living grace with people, looking for divine appointments, and making a difference in someone else’s life.
We asked Jan in the podcast to tell our listeners what he has done in the business world and what kind of leadership he has been involved in, and his answer betrays his commitment to God and to others. Jan doesn’t spend time bragging about his success in business, but can talk all day about helping people to serve God where their “eyes light up.”
After working with Jan for over nine years now, even Jeff was challenged when we listened to our interview again. Jan truly believes everything he says, and he challenges us all to view life from the vantage points of relationships and grace, not production or profit.
I hope you enjoy this special episode of the 200churches Podcast. We know that pastors will be encouraged by Jan as he shares his perspective as a volunteer leader and leadership mentor!
This week's theme is working with and learning from our volunteer leaders!
What do the people in your church know that you don’t know? The answer – a great deal! What was the last helpful and encouraging thing you learned about someone in your church, or from someone in your church? There is a vast reservoir of knowledge, experience, and wisdom residing in your church family, and you are blessed if you learn from it.
When I arrived at my church, I realized there was much I did not know about the church, the community, and frankly, about how best to lead the people toward maturity in Christ. I have enjoyed learning from the volunteer leaders in my church over the years.
Here are some ways that I have learned from the volunteer leaders in my church:
Schedule learning lunches. These are mostly informal lunches, usually scheduled in advance, but sometimes on a whim. I use these times to pick the brains of my leaders, share my wonderings and questions, and use them as a sounding board for new ideas. These lunches have been invaluable. Many times my leaders will insist on paying for my lunch, but often, I can’t let them, because I have received so much wisdom and insight from them that I owe them at least the lunch!
Take member field trips. I have taken rides on combines and tractors, walked the fields, and rejoiced in some great crops. I’ve flown in their planes and taken tours of their companies. One day I worked fourteen hours with a doctor felling a tree and turning it into firewood. I’ve toured warehouses, sat in offices, had them cut my hair, and eaten in their restaurants and boardrooms. Every time I get out of the office, and spend time with a member or attender of our church, I learn a lot about them and how God is using them in our community.
Help them on “property projects.” Many of our members will come to the church property to get some work done that is in their area of expertise. Sometimes I help. Okay, it’s more like watching, but I do help when I can. Those hours spent with a church member are invaluable in getting to know them, their mother’s name, the struggles they’ve been through, and their passion for the church. A couple years ago I even helped one of our guys install some new windows in my house, the parsonage. That was an adventure – but none of the contractors in our church will be hiring me anytime soon.
Ask for their input. When there is a big decision on the table, maybe it’s time to dismount a dead horse, or kill an existing program, or start a new one – it’s always good to get input from the key volunteer leaders who will be affected by the decision. Here is where you can learn what your people really think. Some pastors are afraid of this, but I think it is absolutely critical to do this. Hey, you’re going to find out what they think anyway sooner or later, why not have the learning on your terms?
Allow them to evaluate. Finally, want to learn from your leaders? Give them an evaluation ahead of time so that they can really tell you what they think about a particular ministry, message, or event. What your people think is likely what many visitors will think. Want input on your Sunday sermon, your handling of the board meeting, or the new staff you’ve just hired? Toss them an evaluation form, put your batting helmet on – then get ready to learn!
On the 200churches Podcast this week we are going to hear from one of our volunteer leaders, who happens to run several companies in the spirit of Kingdom business. He’s been a leader in our church for over thirty years. I hope you enjoy the discussion! Learn from your volunteer leaders – they know too much to let them keep it to themselves!
This week on 200churches.com and on our 200churches Podcast we have been talking about prayer. To wrap up the week and this theme, I want to tell you why I don’t meet with God.
I always wanted to be Pastor Praymor. I assumed that Pastor Praymor would be more holy, get more things done, preach better messages, make fewer mistakes, visit more people, parse more Greek verbs, pump out great church bulletins, diagram entire epistles of Paul, and generally have more people in his worship services. After all, Pastor Praymor would certainly deserve those things. I mean, earn those things, through his much prayer. Well, I was never able to completely become Pastor Peter Praymor. Thank God.
I’ve been a pastor for over 26 years in just a few churches that ranged from 17 to 700, and at some point, although I don’t know when, I realized it was more important for me to do life with God, than it was for me to make my daily scheduled meeting with God.
After all, my wife would be ticked, I mean really ticked, if I met to talk with her once every morning, even if it was for an hour, and basically ignored her the rest of the day! Of course I would think of her often throughout the day, and maybe even peak in on her a couple times just to see how she was, but not to talk. Then at the end of the day I would get into bed with her and promptly fall asleep because I would of course be too tired to talk to her then.
I know, you can see where this train is heading. Thankfully, my wife is not God; she would not be nearly as patient and forgiving as he is! I certainly don’t meet with my wife once or even twice daily and think that is sufficient for our marriage. Neither should I meet with God once or twice a day, even for a relatively extended time, and think that is healthy or sufficient for my friendship with him. So, I don’t meet with God. I try to just do life with God.
Whenever I am involved in something, I try to ask for his help or advice, express thankfulness to him, and cry out to him for mercy and/or wisdom. Sometimes I just give up, and admit I need him and am powerless without him.
I can’t live without God. And I can accomplish absolutely nothing without his power and blessing. So, I have stopped meeting with God, and have started doing my dead level best to do life with God all the time.
If you meet with God, what do you do with him when you’re done meeting? Do you just turn your back on him and walk away? When you say “amen” is that like saying, “Okay God, thanks, but I've got it now. I’m good. See you later on.”? Of course we know better, especially as pastors, but don’t we really sell our relationship with God short when we simply have “devotions”, and then leave God up in our bedrooms and take off to start the day?
As pastors and leaders of 200churches, we are probably it at our church, no staff, perhaps not even a secretary or janitor. We’d better not leave God in the study, the bedroom, or sitting down on our living room couch – we’ve got to take him with us every single hour of every single day! We need his help and empowerment to shepherd our flock, be available to our community, and love our neighbors.
Pastor Peter Praymor? No, I’ve given up trying to be him. I’d like to be more like Rev. Robert Restwell. Robbie Restwell just enjoys hanging around Jesus every day, asks for his help, watches him do his thing in people’s hearts, and savors the journey. Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he told us to “pray without ceasing”. He did not say “pray in your meeting.”
So, what do you say? Instead of meeting with Jesus for ten minutes this morning, why not cancel the meeting and ask him to shadow you for the day, that you need the company and the help, and that you’d welcome his input and assistance. You might be amazed at the kind of day you’ll have!
But first, go ahead and show Pastor Praymor the door, and don’t worry if it does hit him on the way out!
In Monday’s blog, we got transparent about prayer and talked about the 5 major reasons that we suffer prayer shortages in our lives. As 200church pastors, we know that prayer is vital to our ministries, but often there is a gap between what we know and what we do. On today’s podcast, we talk about approaches for bridging that gap and moving beyond our excuses for why we don’t pray.
The first reason we give for our prayer shortage is that we get too distracted. To counter this, we talked about:
Think about prayer as a two way conversation: Often, we think of prayer as being “requestional” when really prayer is meant to be relational. Take time to really talk to God, not just about our needs, but about our lives.
Take a prayer drive: Sometimes, we just have to get out. Take a drive (without the radio) and just talk to God. Talk out loud! Taking God out of the building can do a lot for a conversation.
Be constantly aware of God’s presence: One of the most difficult things for us to remember about prayer is that God is a person and he is constantly with us. We believe that “pray without ceasing” is more about being aware of God’s presence than wearing out your knees in the sanctuary.
The second reason for our shortage is that we often feel we have no time. What we need to recognize instead is:
We don’t have time NOT to pray! If our goal is truly to have a Spirit-led and empowered ministry, we need to make prayer a priority. We've all probably heard of putting “first things first” in our lives, and prayer is the first of those first things.
When we say we don’t have time to pray, what we’re really saying is that we believe prayer is optional and that something else is more important. Don’t believe those lies any longer and always make time for prayer first.
The third reason we give for not praying is that we forget. So how do we remember?
Schedule your prayer: Scot McKnight writes about this in his book Jesus Creed and it’s an important lesson for all of us to remember. Set an alarm on your phone or computer. Leave sticky notes on your desk. Schedule time for prayer and you won’t forget for long.
Find a prayer resource: In some protestant traditions, the idea of reading or writing prayers makes people shudder. But finding a Book of Common Prayer or writing some of your own prayers can be an excellent way to keep prayer at the top of our minds and our lives. Don’t be afraid of some structure in your prayer life!
Finally, we often miss prayer time because we wonder if our prayer actually makes any difference.
Truthfully, this is a difficult thing to talk about for pastors and church leaders. We’re called to pray at emergencies, at weddings, at funerals and dozens of places in between. One of the best ways to remember that prayer really does matter is to keep track of what we are telling God. Don’t do this with the expectation of getting more positive answers, but just as a way to remember what God has done in your life and your ministry.
The bottom line for all of us is that we need to make prayer a priority in our lives! These are some of the approaches we’ve tried and are continually working on. Are there any others that have worked for you?
Prayer is the pastor’s power and priority. It’s what we do, right? I mean, is not prayer the great calling of the clergy, the privilege of the pastor, the mandate of the minister, the first business of the bishop, and the desperate shout of the shepherd? Hey, that’s a pretty good description of prayer. Now, why don’t I live it?!
If you’re like me, you never feel as though you've prayed enough. All too often I find myself in a shortage of prayer. Maybe you do too. Why is that? Here are some reasons why I think this is so:
I get too distracted. I mean I do start to pray, but inevitably I get distracted by a phone call, a dinging task notification from my smartphone, an email, a noise, a bird, an errant fleeting thought, or the memory of a specific play in the Laker’s game from last night. Why is it when I set myself down to pray, I just get so easily distracted?!
I don’t have time. I woke up a few minutes too late, hurried through my morning routine, and planned to pray in the office. But then there was someone who needed to talk with me, mail waiting to be opened from yesterday, an urgent request from a needy person, my task list staring at me, and that message I had to start just to make sure it got off the ground before Wednesday. Between my ministry, my graduate courses, my wife and kids, and Angry Birds, I just ran out of time.
I completely forget. Sometimes it’s like this – I meant to pray today, but honestly it just never crossed my mind. My first waking thought was how I would approach my 2:00pm appointment with someone who wanted to share “just a few concerns about our ministry.” Then, one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was on my way home for supper… at 6:45, and it had never crossed my mind all day to pray. That is somewhat troubling and disconcerting to me now that I think of it.
I wonder if it will really make any difference after all. We pray and pray for people, and then they die anyway. Sometimes I am reluctant to pray too specifically for someone who is sick, for fear that they will not be healed, and my God will look weak, or worse – unconcerned with their plight. If God is in control of all things, isn’t he already in control of basically any request I might send his way. I wonder sometimes if my prayers should be mostly relational/conversational, and hardly at all requestional.
It is not a priority to me. Perhaps I have just not made it a priority. But why haven’t I? I’m a pastor doggone it! If anyone should have prayer as a priority it should be me. Now I feel sufficiently guilty for my intermittent prayerlessness. I do believe that if there is one thing that I put off today to do tomorrow, it should not be prayer. Prayer should be the foundation of my day, of my ministry, of my life. Not sure where that leaves me. I’d better start doing… better!
If I were honest with myself and you, I would say those five reasons are truer than I care to admit. I want to grow in this area of prayer, because I really do believe that prayer is our first priority as pastors. I want to believe it so much that I never "forget to pray".
So this week, our topic here at 200churches.com is going to be prayer. On Wednesday our podcast will focus directly on how, as pastors, we handle this area of prayer. Then on Friday, we will have a concluding post on our way forward, and how we might positively embrace our relationship with Jesus through prayer. I hope that we are all encouraged and inspired to enjoy this gift of prayer – talking to the one who loves us most! Remember, no matter the size of your church, your godly, and prayerful leadership of your church family matters HUGE in the Kingdom of God!
This week we have been talking about finding balance between our personal lives, family lives, and ministry lives. In the future on 200churches.com, we are going to try to spend one week on one theme. We publish a blog post on Mondays and Fridays, and our 200churches Podcast on Wednesdays, and we thinking spending the whole week on the same theme will be helpful and encouraging to you.
So for this week here are our final four thoughts on balance:
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