Funniest Questions I Received as a Church Planter

By | Church, Church Planting | No Comments

Here are the funniest questions I received as a church planter:

“When are you going to build a church?” 

I always thought, “Well, that’s what we are doing now meeting in this high school.” (Oh, you mean a building, but, of course, you’d agree the church is not the building, right?  )

“Are you going to keep doing this?” 

For whatever reason, it seemed that some believed a church plant was temporary. (Until a “real church” comes along I guess.)

“What’s your other job?” 

I realize all pastors get this one, but many plants start with bi-vocational pastors. Not all do though and sometimes planting IS our job. Trust me, there’s plenty to do.

“When you get a building will you quit having small groups?” 

This usually came from someone who was accustomed to Sunday school, but it was funny that their tradition led them to believe that a lack of space would be our only reason to do church this way. (Meeting in homes during the week – that’s so first century  )

“How did this thing get started?”

Many times this was an innocent question. I learned, however, mostly because of follow up questions, that sometimes this was a question looking for some inside scoop, a scandal of sorts, a church split – that kind of thing. There’s almost an expectation that a “story” exists with a church plant. In my experience, a church plant is far more about what God is calling someone to than what someone is running from.

Have you been part of a church plant? What questions were funny to you?

One Sign You’re Doing Good Work as a Leader

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

Do you want to know one sign you’re actually doing well as a leader?

It’s not fool proof, but it’s pretty telling – in my experience.

You’ll know you’re doing good work when…

People oppose you!

And I think we have Biblical principles to illustrate this.

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door of effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Here is the reality – few people worry about the people doing nothing.

Have you noticed the more you do for good the more opposition you receive? 

7 Actions I Recommend When A Church is Declining

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization | No Comments

What should you do when a church is in decline? I get asked that question a lot.

It should be noted there are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. There are different reasons which cause decline. And ultimately, God is in control of all of this.

I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

There are a few suggestions, which come from working with churches in decline.

Here are 7 suggestions:

Evaluate

What is going wrong? Why are less people attending and new people are not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic, a people problem, or a Biblical issue? Don’t be afraid to admit if your church is just plain boring.

If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary.

Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. Evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers. You can’t address problems until you know them.

Own it

The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address.

Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith.

Address major, obvious issues

This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. When the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. Sometimes walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure. In these times you may need to step out boldly into a new area of ministry.

If the church is in disunity it must come together first. When the church loves the traditions of men more than the commands of God it must turn from sin. And, if the problems involve people, you can’t be a people pleaser. (I told you this is hard.)

Find alignment

Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it.

In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Church leaders must be working together to build enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup

At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28)

I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again.

Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy and build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite

Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. When special events are the church’s wheelhouse then do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working or things that tend to drain energy and resources. Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry.

You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate

There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue.

The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

5 Actions Before I Preach

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization | No Comments

As a pastor, I was often asked what my routine was as I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus, but I realize I have a responsibility as a shepherd to do all I can to be prepared.

Ideally, I always tried to be completely finished with my sermon Friday, so I could take Saturday off. Sometimes I would spend an hour or so on Saturday doing one final edit. I tried to limit my activities and get a good night’s rest Saturday night. I spent Sunday mornings doing one final edit of the message.

I had some Sunday morning routines, which best helped me prepare.

5 ways I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings:

Read something in the Bible other than the passage I’m preaching on 

I wanted to feed myself before I try to teach others. Often I am reading through the Bible and I continued this on Sunday mornings.

Pray 

I spent longer on Sunday mornings than other mornings in prayer. It prepared my heart. I prayed for those who will be in attendance and those who may still be debating attending. I prayed for God’s presence to be with us. I prayed for other leaders in the church. I sought a sense of oneness with God’s heart to mine.

Exercise 

I didn’t get to do this every Sunday, but when I did I was more mentally alert and physically prepared than when I didn’t.

Worship 

Ideally, I loved to put the Sunday morning line up of worship music in a playlist and allow the music to lead me in worship. Either way, I tried to find a time to worship on Sunday mornings. When I’ve made much of God before I get to church, I find I’m better able to make much of Him.

Pray 

Just before I preach I have a fairly standard prayer. It goes something like this, “God, I can’t do this. You know I’m not worthy to speak on Your behalf. You know and I know that it’s only by Your grace I can be here this morning. If You don’t show up, today will be meaningless.”

That’s how I prepared on Sundays. What’s your process, pastor?

12 Principles of Leadership Inspired by Jesus

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni.

There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership.

I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. There have been teams I have chosen to support because of the coach that leads them.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus:

He invested in people others would have dismissed.

When I consider the disciples I see a group of men who were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

I recall how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. There was little micro-management it appears.

He had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

Imagine this – the King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

He was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

He was into self-development.

We find Jesus constantly slipping away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

The disciples were very purposefully prepared to take over the ministry. Jesus pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

He held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

I see Him willingly jeopardizing Himself by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

He celebrated success in ministry.

People that were faithful to Him and His cause were rewarded generously.

Jesus finished well.

Do we have any questions whether His ministry was effective?

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

One Danger In Vision-Casting

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

Vision casting can be dangerous for the health of a team.

Sometimes vision-casting can destroy an otherwise healthy team.

I know that goes against what all the great leadership books and experts say, but it’s true. I have been guilty of this one – many times.

The most prolific vision-casters can ruin a good team.

Let me explain.

Casting a vision is one part of success in an organization. It is an important part. I have been known to cast a vision of things to come. My favorite way this happens is to go away for a few days, think, pray, and jot down notes. Then I come back to our team and draw out my thoughts on a whiteboard.

Oh, that’s so much fun! (My team knows when I go out of town it can be dangerous.)

So, yes, casting a vision is an important part of leaders. And, for clarity sake, I’m not talking about the one over-arching vision which drives the organization. I’m talking about the current thoughts in a leader’s mind of where the organization needs to go next week, next month or next year.

There’s more to leading a team than casting vision.

Completing the vision is another, equally important part.

And that’s the danger part of casting vision sometimes. The danger is when the team doesn’t understand the vision, there are no plans created of how to complete it or competing visions are still on the table from the last time I went out of town.

That spells danger for a healthy team!

It won’t matter how well the vision was cast. In fact, in this scenario, it can even do more harm than good if the leader is a really good vision-caster.

Here’s the thing, visions can often appear bigger than life. They can be lofty and stretching for the organization. They can be exciting and inspiring. That’s all good.

But people left without the “how” to complete it may feel discouraged. When people never seem to be able to keep up or complete their assigned tasks they can feel defeated. And if this is repeated over time, they may even feel like failures in their work.

They may even give up and the the vision dies.

Vision-casters, by nature, thrive on casting, so they are continually throwing out the next big idea. It’s fun, exciting, motivating – visionary.

But good leaders continually work to ensure people not only catch the vision, but also understand the how and have the resources to accomplish the vision.

It takes both.

As I’ve self-admitted, I can struggle here as a leader. Part of recognizing this is building discipline into my leadership.

Good leaders:

  • Ask questions to make sure everyone understands the vision
  • Ensure there are plans, strategies, and systems in place
  • Break the vision down into measurable steps or goals
  • Stay with the process during implementation phase
  • Allow the team to push back when there are too many competing visions on the table
  • Set the pace of the team so that there are seasons of pushing hard for what’s new and seasons of implementing
  • Make sure there are built-in seasons of rest for the leader and the team

Have you been on the bad side of vision casting?

5 Qualities in Joseph’s Heart Every Leader Should Seek

By | Church, Encouragement, Leadership | 6 Comments

In this post I’d love to consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for the heart. I want a heart which honors Christ more than self, one which desires to grow and learn, and one which is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others.

The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ – not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

I submit his heart we see in Joseph is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination

Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity

When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment in Others

Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality

Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation

Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

The ultimate hope of this post is you (and I) would reflect on your own leadership – consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?

You Feel Led to Plant a Church. What Do You Do Now?

By | Church, Church Planting, Leadership | 11 Comments

About once a week, or sometimes more frequently, I get an email from someone who says they feel led to plant a church. They almost always have the same questions.

What do I do now? What’s my first step?

After answering dozens of times, I decided to put my thoughts in a post.

Step one: Run as fast as you can!

Just kidding. Although that does give you a testimony like Jonah. And just kidding again.

Here are 5 immediate steps I would recommend:

Check your heart

Are you sure planting is what you are being called to do or is it a desire because everyone else is doing it? We need lots of church planters, but we also need people willing to help established churches thrive.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into is actually what God’s drawing you into.

Check your spouse’s heart

Church planting is not a sole venture. No ministry is for that matter. If you are married, you will need to be on the same page with your spouse.

Trying to do this without complete buy in from both parties will destroy one or the other – the church plant or the marriage.

Determine where you feel called to plant

Much of your future steps will depend on this one. I think God gives tremendous latitude in this. We need churches in lots of places – small towns and big towns. But this will be one of the most difficult decisions you make if you don’t know.

I once thought I wanted to plant in New York City. But when I spent time talking to God about this, I sensed Him pointing me in another direction.

Find others interested

If you tell me you can’t find anyone – and I hear it often – I’d question how successful you are going to be. As in 1 Kings 19, in my experience, God is always “reserving” (1 Kings 19:18) people who He plans to use in the vision He is shaping in you.

To build a body you need those who are part of the body to start.

Find experienced help

It can be a denomination, another church, or an experienced pastor or mentor, but don’t do church planting alone. Let me say that a little clearer. DON’T DO IT ALONE.

Too much has been learned about church planting to miss out on someone else’s experience.

3 Things I Would and 3 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in Planting a Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Encouragement | 7 Comments

In 16 years as a pastor, I was a part of planting two successful churches. My most recent experience was in church revitalization, and we did experience some success there, but I still hear get questions about church planting.

The two questions I get asked most:

If you were planting another church…

What would you do differently?
What would you do the same?

Those are great questions, because the first few times I had to answer them it made me think through some of our best practices and some of the mistakes we made along the way (and we made plenty).

So, here are my answers.

Would I would do the same:

Utilize the power of “caged momentum”

If I were planting a church again, I would be afraid to make people wait. I would make the core team wait to launch until we were ready. Additionally, I would make people wait for programs until we were ready to launch them. For example, we made people wait to join a small group until we had our process and leaders in place. If necessary, I would make the students wait for a student service until leaders were in place.

Whatever the ministry, I would not rush to have it in place until we had things as planned as possible. You want everything to launch with excellence and that takes time to build. Of course, there is also the principle of missing an opportunity, so there is a balancing act to be played here, but the power of caged momentum cannot be dismissed. I would use it again. I wrote more about that principle HERE.

Look for holy discontent

We did and I would still look for people to help launch the church who have a strong desire for something more in their spiritual life, but who haven’t been able to find it. I wrote about that HERE.

Give my vision away

I would not be the only person with vision in the church. Instead, I would give others ownership in the plant. I would let others help decide how we do children’s ministry or what we do to serve our community, for example. The more people feel ownership in their work the more they’ll be motivated to do. I wrote about that HERE

What I would do differently:

I wouldn’t shy away from churched people

To stay true to our mission of reaching the unchurched, and so as not to offend other churches, we tended to “run” from those who already attended another church. In the process, we injured some people who were also sensing God doing something in their life. We also made ourselves very leadership poor and could have used more experienced help. I wrote about that HERE.

Build structure in early

In an effort not to be bound by traditions and organizational bureaucracy, we had little formal structure when we began. As we grew adding structure became unavoidable to prevent chaos. In the process, we learned it is much more difficult to add structure once an organization is established.

Instead, I would intentionally lead us to add needed structure early. Of course, you can do this in a way that still allows for continual growth. You can read more about that HERE.

Not be afraid to challenge people

I would not shy away from challenging people to higher standards in their personal life, even while trying to reach people who may be new to their faith. We learned that people want and need to be challenged, along with feeling loved, accepted, and valued. You can read more about that HERE.

Have you ever helped plant a church? What are some things you would or wouldn’t do again?