Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
You can read the article " Is Your Church Stuck or Just Small" it will be a blessing to you.
-Keep strong on your journey serving Christ.
Friday, May 30, 2014
You go to the house of a family that you have missed from church for a few weeks. In the back of your mind you are hopeful that you will hear about a recent vacation. The conversation is pleasant, and they seem genuinely happy to see you. However, in time the conversation is opened up and they share that they are seeking another church, or not planning to come back. "You see pastor, its not you. We love you, but we feel like we need to make a change." You have probably felt the discouragement of these words. It reminds me of the old Warner Brothers character that went around saying, "I love ya. Bye, bye." You go home wondering what you or the church have done to offend the family, or what you could have done differently to have kept them from leaving.
Here are a few lines I have heard over the years, as I have spoken to people who talk with me about why they are leaving our church. You have probably heard theses too.
- "I love the church pastor, but we need more for our family than your church can offer."
- "I love you pastor, but there are people there that I know are doing (name the action)."
- "Pastor you are a wonderful pastor, but I just feel like I am not being fed."
- "Pastor you and the people are so wonderful, but I don't like the changes with (music, schedules, or any variety of big or small changes are often listed)."
I could go on with this list, and you could probably list dozen's of situations like this. I think that as ministers and leaders we must acknowledge there are usually deeper issues going on that they simply can not express. I am starting to learn that people don't always know why they left. I think that there is a stirring that is within them that is coming from deeper issue, and they leave over a feeling, which is often not easy for them to express.
Even if we are given opportunity to get some sort of exit interview they will likely share these ambiguous answers, which do not help us to improve our ministry. If there is a weakness, we may not know, because they are unable to express their deeper feelings. There may be situations of past changes, past ministers, or past friendship that prevent them from opening up to share with us. It may be this past pain that also has kept them from the deeper relationship that would keep have helped them to remain connected.
There is also the reality that we who are in a small church cannot offer the big church perks. It may frustrate us at times when some will leave without ever having sincerely offered to help the very ministries they desire. This often only seems to put salt in our wounds. However, we know that we can't do what those larger ministries do, and we shouldn't try. God has created us and our church for the unique place we are in. We can't imitate or pretend to be what we are not. We can only offer the best we are, and seek what unique ministry God has for us. We are not in competition with the big box church down the street. We are all on the same team, with a focus on different areas.
This past week in a Bible study group we were talking about when people leave our church. I am not talking about people storming out of the door, but rather people who have been fairly faithful or steady simply stop coming. Some wondered if it was not important to chase them and at least ask why they left. Others wondered if chasing people would only push them further. One thing we came to realize in the discussion was that if they were not getting connected with others then chasing them with any success was a near impossibility. If we hadn't connected to them deep enough before then chasing them wouldn't help, because we really didn't know them well enough for their trust to be open to us anyway. This does not mean that we shouldn't try to reconnect with them, but was a simple observation to the reality of such situations.
I never used to chase people when I started in ministry. I had the belief that if someone wasn't happy with us then they likely left for a church more suited to their taste. If they had moved on to another church then I could deal with the sadness and loss, because they were at least still growing in faith. If they had left because of a lack of deeper connection I felt that chasing them would either alienate them further, or waste a whole lot of time which could be better spent ministering to those who wanted to be there. Don't get me wrong I never tried to avoid, alienate, or wrote off people. I usually stayed in polite contact passing information and inviting them to events. I just didn't like going after people, who knew where we were, and had obviously chosen to go in a different direction. I just refused go to their homes time and time again or call them over and over, if they showed no interest in responding.
Over the past eight years my view has changed, and I tend to chase people at least for a while. In many cases life became busy, and the lack of deeper connection to others led to their drifting out of our church. Some openly admitted that they were seeking some sort of feeling, and now that was filled they didn't feel the need for being a part of the church. A few have actually shared some useful information about some minor problems in our church ministry that we have had to address over time. I still hurt when people leave, as I am sure any pastor of any church would. After all we are the under-shepherds responsible for the fold. We cannot help but feel the pain of a loss to the church, and the impact on the Kingdom of God.
We can do our best to make stronger connections in the future, and keep the door open to those who have left. However, we must also remember that we can't make everyone happy, and we are not called to try that. We are called to be God's hands and feet in witness to the world of His love. People have different personalities, and respond to different things. No one church can ever touch the heart of everyone that is why God has given us so many churches. That is also why there are so many people who are lost and hungry for a real relationship with Him still around us. Instead of worrying that we may not be the right fit for someone who goes to another church, maybe we should open our eyes to the five or ten people living nearby that go to no church at all.
Don't allow the discouragement of hearing someone say "I love ya pastor, but...", to create a painful stumbling block in your heart. Instead remember that you are not alone. Remember also that there were many whom Jesus could never get through to. Care for those who will listen, and reach those who have yet to hear. If you do get people to open up, be gracious and listen to areas that they may show you in your ministry that you can improve. We all have room for improvement, since none of us has yet reached the perfection of heaven. We all minister together with God's Spirit for His Kingdom. He will help to carry us on His mission.
- Keep strong in your journey,
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
It may sound a bit cliche, but there really is an art to listening. The art may really be in learning to simply shut up and listen. We need to listen to know how and when to respond to those who are calling us for advice. As ministry leaders we get called upon to give advice for a variety of reasons. Many of the reasons people come is for spiritual guidance. People also come for advice about which job to take, family decisions, and even medical decisions that have to be made.We are obviously not qualified to answer in many questions, and we should know when to refer people on to other experts.
There are times when guiding others when we are being asked for advice, but there are many times when we simply need to shut up and listen. Much of a ministers time is spent advising, preaching, and teaching. That is good, when someone is really seeking our sincere advice or comment.
However, being a good listener means knowing when we simply need to let them share what is on their heart and mind. Often it is best to let someone talk out their situations, and give them minor guidance in seeking solutions. At other times it is far better to be quiet and listen, because while the person says they are wanting advice they are really not yet ready to listen to guidance. If we have been listening well, then we will be ready to give a better response when the time is right.
Monday, April 21, 2014
Being a small-town pastor is a lot like running the mom and pop cafe in our village. Every time I walk in for coffee the same man is in the back cooking the food. To keep the business running it takes full commitment, long hours, and a lot of hard work. That leaves little time for pleasure, and requires a lot of focus.
Working through this past holiday weekend, I found myself being convicted by Jesus' words to Martha. There was much to worry about with extra services, breakfasts, nursing home ministry, and some deep spiritual concerns for some of our congregation facing some tough issues. I am like many pastors, seeing needs and concerns that need done I simply take it upon myself to get them done.
I sat alone Saturday evening, finding a few seconds of peace, and I wondered if I were simply falling under the Martha Syndrome. I was so worried about everyone having a good worship and fellowship experience that I was missing the joy of simply enjoying Christ and His hope for us.
I think that many weekends, we who minister find ourselves more like Martha and less like Mary. More worried about doing than simply being. Never forget that we all need to spend our own time with Christ and refreshing. We also need to enjoy the blessings of the worship even as we are called to help to lead it.
Serving on the journey,
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Pastors and church leaders are often driven by passions from a variety of things. Some are driven by the desire to see the community in which they live come to know the personal relationship with Jesus. Others are driven by a passion to encourage people to grow in their personal walk with Christ, and to reach out to the world around them. There are some that really are driven by a passion to hold the Word of God high, and study of the Word drives them.
So what is driving you and your ministry right now? Where is the depth of your passion being drawn? Where our focus and drive is will affect our ministry in so many ways.
We may be driven by a passion for our community, which means our eyes will be open to creative ways to meet new people and invite them into relationship with Christ. However, our drive to meet those outside the faith can for some people cause them to become offensive to brothers and sisters that have been close to them for many years. Christ calls us to love one another, and that includes our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Others may be driven to help those who are believers to grow in deep devotion. However, in this case, but often the focus on devotion may cause us to close our eyes to the needs of those around us. As with many things in life we need to return to balance a balance of working on the inside while seeking the outside. Both parts are important.
May God help us to keep the balance of our being in Him, and our service for Him.
- Keep on the journey,
Thursday, March 20, 2014
I was helping with the music, as our song leader led the music. I have to be honest that in my exhaustion I was thinking of about a hundred other things that I would rather have been doing. Then, as we began to sing "Because He Lives", one lady who hadn't moved since we arrived, began to clap her hands. Her clapping was not in beat, but it was with joy, as her somber face turned to joy. I was so touched that it gave me energy into the evening.
I am reminded that we may feel like we are weary in our ministry. We may put out the extra effort, and wonder if it makes any difference to anyone. We can know that no matter what we are doing for the kingdom is important, no matter how small. We may only touch one life with blessing or God's grace, but every soul is important to God.
If you are struggling today or feel that what you do for God doesn't matter, keep doing the good you can. You are making a difference. You may not see it right at this moment, but somewhere there may be someone clapping along unnoticed by everyone else, because you were faithful to do what you knew you should.
- Keep on the journey,
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Some people have a daily place of sacredness where they pray and have their daily devotions. I know of some pastors who have a particular chair set aside in their study just for prayer and devotion times. In weather above the forties I tend to sit on my porch, because the outdoors has always been where I commune with God more easily. We all have different things that bring us closer to God, and help us open up our hearts to Him. I would encourage you to find your sacred space, or your best time, your sacred time to meet with God. Be refreshed regularly in His presence.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Character is influenced by the family we were raised in, the religious influences we grew up under, and the communities in which we developed. We cannot help but be influenced by the values that we grew up around; however, we are not a finished product. Character can grow in our lives making us better and better over time. Even our failures can help us on the road to maturity, because they help us know what not to do or how to work through difficulty.
Many leaders have fallen in our world, causing weakness and distrust by most people in our society. Due to the growing distrust there has been a desire for authenticity in our society. People hunger to see real people leading them in life, and to learn from their real experiences. Unfortunately the downside is that there has been a growth in a cynical mindset, which causes some to believe that no one can ever really grow to real maturity in character. This mindset can lead to people who question the depth of our own ability to ever mature in life.
Character is the major building block of our relationships. True success is not found in the size of our ministry, the fame of our name, or in the fortune of our bank accounts. True success is living well in the plan that God has for us, and living well with those whom God has put into our lives. Our relationships are highly dependent upon the maturing of our character, and living well in our world.
Many of us read the Bible, self-help books, leadership development books, and attend seminars to help us know better how we should live and work in this world. However, character is far more than knowing how to live in this world, or knowing how relationships with God and others should be. We can read and study all we want, but as one old saying goes "the longest eighteen inches in the world is the distance from the head to the heart."
I can desire to be a baker, but that doesn't make me a baker. I can read books about the great bakers of the world, but I will not be a baker. I can even study recipe books, and even purchase all the ingredients, but I will not be a baker. I can only be a baker if I actually bake something. I will likely not be a good baker until I have made many attempts at baking. This reminds me of when my grandmother taught me to make bread. I went to her home and spent an afternoon learning from her how to make her wonderful home-made bread. I added the first two ingredients and then watched her make the rest. I never learned to make bread, because she took over and made it for me.
Character is developed through the challenges which often cause us to dig deep into our lives, and choose the right thing over the easy thing. Character shows in the choices we make in daily decisions based in the Christ-like development of every part of our lives. Our character will show in how we choose in situations like the following, which arise every day of our lives.
- How will we react if the clerk at the grocery store misses several items when ringing us up?
- How will we tip the stressed out waitress who brings us our food?
- What will we do if we are offered a shortcut in our work, which may shortchange the customer but increases our pay?
- Will I choose to follow the regulations and structures of change within the church or business I am a part of, or will I choose to bend the rules to my own desires or whims?
Grace for your journey,
Daniel G. Shipton
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
In the Ezekiel's call from God he was told to feed and be filled with God's Word. Then he was given the challenge to go to the people. Ezekiel 3:5 says God told Ezekiel that he was not going to "a people of obscure language, but to the house of Israel." To those of us on the front lines of ministry in North America we may feel separate from people in the pews at times, but the reality is that God has called us to the great mission of reaching people similar to ourselves. While there will always be slight differences in every person we are called to minister to the reality is that we all have similar needs, and in community we are often facing similar situations.
Do you ever struggle with being a part of the community you are called to lead? There has been a push in many churches and denominations in the past twenty years to encourage pastors to stay longer in their churches. At one time in America the average pastoral call to a church lasted less than three years. Three years is barely enough time to really get to know the community we live in, or the real heart needs that they face. In fact most people never really accept a minister as caring until they have went through some serious living with them.
All to often the history of small-town churches has been that pastors bale on churches before ever living and being a part of the community. In many cases it is the churches who have pushed pastors out over situations that bring struggle, which may result in deep spiritual growth before they can really grow up. Then the cycle starts over with a new pastor, or a new church. It is a cycle that never allows the church to become a deeper community, living and growing through challenges. It is a cycle for many pastors to run before growing in their weak areas, or really opening up to the community they have been called to .
The trend of being called to a community is a good trend, which I can say I am becoming better acquainted with in my current pastorate. There was a time when I first left Bible college that I wondered how a minister could have anything new to preach after four or five years in a single place. I will soon be starting my ninth year in my current ministry, and I told my wife a few weeks ago that I don't know if I will ever have time to teach or preach all that God has been laying on my heart for the people here.
Being called to a people, to a community is a great thing. It means that we will come to identify with them in their celebrations and in their needs. It means we will not preach or teach merely stale words or educated instruction, but we will connect to their hearts because they are a part of us and we are a part of them. It means we will be willing to work through differences in love instead of running from issues or running people over because of issues that arise. It means we are willing to stay and make the community our home, and care about the needs of those in and outside the church.
Does all of this mean that one will be there for all of their ministry career? For some of us it may very well be that we will remain where we are for the rest of our careers where we now are. I know some who have been at their current ministry for more than twenty or thirty years. Whether we stay for our entire ministry in one place or move after ten or twenty years, we should serve as God calls us. For all of us it means that we must grow beyond the temporary mindset and the constraints of short-term living. We must open up to the possibility of real relationships and becoming a real part of the communities which we are called to.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I am not perfect in my devotional times, and I know from talking with other pastors and church leaders that devotional times are a struggle for many of us to keep. Some of us wrap our devotions into the ministries we are doing, which is partially what these verses are challenging us to do. Through our own feeding upon the Word of God should flow the teaching and instruction we are to give to those we are called to lead. It is from our time feeding in the Word that we can pass on God's message to others.
I fear that many in ministry and leadership fail to feed consistently upon the Word of God. Instead we live in a day when so many other ministers notes and sermons are freely given through electronic medium that we do not spend the time seeking God in prayer and deep feeding. I am not saying we should never use another minister's guidance, because there are some pastors who do this and are deeply growing in their own ministry and life.
The greater problem I see is more of a lazy approach to our devotional lives. I speak with others who often have no clue on Saturday evening what God wants them to say on Sunday morning. I know it can be hard to prepare week in and week out, but the reality is we should be able to speak out of what God is telling us through our daily lives. Maybe instead of spending so much time reading about others journey's in faith, we need to rekindle our own spiritual lives in God's Word. I know reading others journey's, blogs, or teaching is good for us too. However, it doesn't take away from good time spent reading and meditating on what God has for us and our lives.
Several years ago I was in a meeting,. with our then District Superintendent Dr. Ray Barnwell. He told the group that there should never be a reason to fear having a message. He suggested preaching through books of the Bible or segments of Scripture, so we would always be prepared for the coming week of feeding the flock. This is great advice for having direction. Yet, it still comes down to the question of feeding on that word for our own lives, so that we can then bless others with God's teaching. He will often teach us far more than we will ever be able to put into one sermon.
In thinking about this, I realized that a mother bird feeds herself well with the food she finds. Then and only then does she fly back to take food to her young chicks in need of food. If we are not caring for our own spiritual growth, and our own deep relationship with God how can we lead others to a deep place with Him?
Feed well in the depths of His Word on a regular basis, so that you may carry on the work He calls you to in Him.
-Blessings for the journey.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
In recent weeks all of us across most of North America have faced the challenges of the first hard winter in over a decade. It has caused lower numbers in church attendance for over a month in many parts of our country. It is easy to get down when we are living for the numbers, but it amazes me how people continually resort to complaining. Don't get me wrong, I am not making any plans to join the polar bear swim team. I realize it is an adjustment for us to deal with the cold and snow, and some truly have had a hard time with getting out. However, I was challenged after conversing with another pastor recently by how negative we and many other ministers have become with the weather.
I think that it reveals a deeper issue in most of our hearts, which really has to do with pride. We get used to our numbers growing, or at least staying steady. When the numbers go down and we have no way to control things, like the weather, then we tend to complain. God is still God, and He remains in control of the weather. We speak of the good blessings of God raining on the just and the unjust alike, but it also snows on the just and the unjust alike. We and our neighbors are all in the same place.
Instead of living in a place of complaint, maybe we need to come together with those who are able to gather, and still focus on "whatever is pure, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable" (Phil. 4:8). The truth is when we keep our eyes on what we have to be grateful for, and looking at what is good in our world and community we can restore the joy of our soul. May our hearts and minds be filled with the good God is doing, instead of the momentary struggles we may be facing. In His strength we will remain steady.
- Keep on your journey faithfully
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
We have all been there, the phone rings and someone has what seems a life or death situation to them, and when we rush in to help. We later take time to evaluate, and realize that this was not a life or death situation. Maybe we have been jolted from bed to rush to the hospital. Maybe we just received a call right after arriving to the office and now our whole day is on hold. The emergencies at times can be very real; however, in some cases they can be less than true emergencies.
I have had my share of calls begging for help, or demanding my attention. Being in a smaller church I do my best to respond to the needs as they arise. I remember being stopped once night as I rushed to the hospital, and being warned by a policeman to slow down. That night the emergency was real, a young husband died and a family had serious need of comfort. I have had other occasions of middle of the night phone calls from those leaving sinful lifestyles, and needing someone to pick them up in the middle of fairly dangerous neighborhood. One night I was driving home after helping someone, in a neighborhood that I shouldn't have been in at that hour of the day, I thought of my wife at home. I thought of how she would be out of a home, in great distress, and alone if I would have been hurt or killed.
I know that ministry calls us to be available, and to do our best to meet the needs of those we are trying to help. However, I believe God gives us the brain power to better decide when we are really the right person to help. I have listened to other pastors share their stories of late nights out, of nearly becoming stranded in storms, or simply allowing others to take advantage of both their caring nature and their position as a minister. I am struck with the amazing way we can stroke our own ego by thinking we can be some kind of superhero's to our congregations. We are undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. Sometimes we need to better evaluate our time, and ability to meet others needs.
Moses had to do this in Exodus 18. His father-in-law Jethro confronted him on trying to solve all the problems of the people all on his own. Jethro suggested that he allow others to help bear the load. In the end only the most important problems came to Moses, and everyone's problems were cared for by the whole community. We need to stop and evaluate how we are doing at this in our own lives and ministries. Perhaps we should let someone else take some of our burdens. Perhaps we need to learn to say no, when we know the situation is not an emergency. Perhaps we need to recognize that we just may not be the superhero, the fireman, or the EMT that they are really in need of at that moment.
May God help us all to do better about managing and living our lives for Him.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Friday, January 3, 2014
There is an old saying that revival must start with us. As pastor's and leaders this cannot be overstressed. We can preach revival, but until we start to sit down and let God reignite our passion in His Spirit we cannot help to spark others in their own seeking of revival.
Maybe it is time for you to consider taking a day away with God, and letting Him show you where you need to be reignited. Maybe you need to spend some time at the altar of God's grace to be refilled with His vision for your family, your church, and your community.