5 Positives for the Church after the Coronavirus Crisis

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

I think there are some positives for the church that will come through this Coronavirus crisis. 

Yes, there are tremendous negatives. The costs are mounting. Almost everything we currently count, other than online engagement, will likely be a loss for weeks and perhaps months to come. Budgets, attendance, and even volunteer hours will likely all be somewhat lower, simply because our routines have been disrupted.

That’s disheartening in many ways, just to be honest. Many pastors have worked for years to build to the place they are today; especially heading into the Easter season. 

Likely, in many ways, things will never be the same.

I’m not one who says nothing will ever be the same. I think we have a Biblical mandate to gather together as a church. Size isn’t dictated, but corporate worship is a command. Things might be altered, especially temporarily, but I think we will see people in our church buildings again someday. 

But some things will change for the foreseeable future. And the good news is that some of those changes will be positive. 

5 Positives for the Church after the Coronavirus Crisis: 

Crisis will allow change to happen faster. Churches have had to move fast in these days to make decisions. Even as an interim pastor in church revitalization, I’ve had to make some calls quickly before I could “get everyone on board”. No one has complained. In fact, people have been very appreciative recognizing that decisions needed to be made.

Of course, people will be people and power struggles will remain, but I suspect we will come out of this with far less concern with structure and more concerned with seeing the mission of the church succeed. This may be the day revitalization and church mergers happen even faster. Our buildings may be seen as more of an asset to reach our community than facilities for our own comfort and convenience. 

For churches willing to embrace this new reality we may be better able adapt and reposition quickly to meet the changing needs of our communities. 

Online and digital engagement will remain strong. Churches would be foolish to completely leave this opportunity after it’s no longer a necessity. I would even contend that it is necessary. We have had to do some things during this crisis that we should have been doing all along – reaching people where they already are. 

People are already online. They were before the crisis. They will be after it’s over. We have a mandate to “Go”. If we want to reach people we will have to “go” where they are. 

What we measure will change. Already, to measure our effectiveness as a church, we’ve started to place more emphasis on digital engagement, for example. This was not a church that necessarily measured that sort of thing. When you begin to value online metrics there are so many areas to consider. Facebook Live, website involvement, Zoom participation, and online reach are just a few of them. 

I realize a number of churches were doing this, but the church I am in now never paid attention, for example, that there were people engaging with the church from Romania. Or that a sizable number regularly watch services from places like Atlanta (300 miles away). New opportunities may present themselves when we look at different variables of engagement. 

No doubt we will still count the offering and the Sunday attendance, but I think we won’t see those as exclusive measures. Digital giving will be important even to the smallest churches. And, while it may still not be the preferred or most effective option, online participation will be seen as a legitimate means of making disciples. 

Human relationships will be valued more. You can’t replace a hug or a handshake virtually. I’m an introvert and it was into week two when I realized how much I missed interactions with people – beyond virtual. 

This is reminding us as a society that we are built for community. I love all the stories from places like Italy or New York where people are finding ways to engage outside their windows, even while social distancing. I wonder if we might go back to more front porches on our houses rather than decks hidden behind fences in our back yards. 

The church has an opportunity to build genuine community better than any organization. It’s part of our original design. May we never again confuse the simplicity of this basic human need for relationships with structured programs or traditions. 

Additionally, churches are coming together for their communities. Perhaps this will continue and some of the walls between churches in our communities will be lowered and we will do more together to truly be the Body of Christ in our communities.

Talking about faith will be more culturally acceptable. People have needed hope more in the last few weeks than in recent memory. The Church has the corner on providing a sense of faith and hope. 

I’ve seen less shaming online for people expressing their faith. I’m sure it’s still there, but it seems less prevalent in the feeds and posts I’ve encountered. I think we have been given a unique opportunity as a Church to truly live what we believe even more boldly than we may have in recent years. This could be our finest hour to let our lights shine. 

Those are just a few initial thoughts I’m processing. I naturally try to look for the positives. I know God has guaranteed His Church a place in our society. May we come through this crisis with that place more defined, at least in our minds, than before the crisis began. 

7 Tips to Navigate Emotions as a Pastor During COVID-19

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | One Comment

I’ve spoken with a number of pastors this week – and scheduled to talk to more this afternoon. While all my pastor friends are mostly remaining positive online and helping people remember to demonstrate faith over fear, some pastors are struggling too. When I left Leadership Network late last year I didn’t see entering into another pastorate this quickly or if ever. But here I am again. 

The personal problem

There’s a definite sense of loss for pastors. All the plans you worked so hard for Easter have suddenly been diminished. Buildings are mostly empty. We are preaching to near empty rooms. (Thankful for the worship and tech teams sticking around for us so far.) Our teams and volunteers are scattered. 

The church problem

All the while there is an incredible need to minister to people. Pastors know we have to continue to “be the church”. From my current perspective, the needs and burden to help people seem somewhat larger (and certainly harder) today than even a month ago. While people are stuck at home or stuck in care facilities, they still need care and concern expressed to them. Most of us had that figured out when we could gather people on Sundays and throughout the week. 

The future hope

I’m an optimist. In these days, I’ve been more of a cautious optimist, simply because none of us know what is going to happen. But there are tremendous opportunities being created and desperation is leading to innovation. I fully expect we will develop ministries and Gospel offerings to people that will advance the Gospel for years to come. That excites me. 

The cautious reality

Even those opportunities bring a certain amount of pressure on pastors. I only share this from my perspective, but frankly many of the voices saying how things will “never be the same” and how the church must completely change don’t seem to be currently pastoring at a local church. Of course, we should listen to and learn from them, but pastors have budgets and buildings we need to fill. Those are realities that aren’t ending immediately after this crisis. And context is king. We shouldn’t try to be another church.

So, bottom line, it’s tough. And because of that, some pastors are struggling. I said to our church recently, “it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.” That’s true for you too. My intent of this post is not to vent (although I need that too sometimes). I only hope to help a group of people I’ve grown to love and respect – pastors. 

If I were advising you as I would a member of our church going through crisis, my advice might be about the same. 

Here are 7 suggestions for navigating your emotions during this crisis: 

Recognize the sense of loss. Don’t ignore it. This hurts. Something is missing from your life right now, just as it is for the people God called you to shepherd. Don’t overlook your own feelings and emotions even as you minister to others. 

(On a completely personal note, I’m pastoring at my home church. They were in need of revitalization. I came into this so motivated and excited about helping the church. All those plans changed suddenly after only a few weeks on the job. That’s a loss.) 

Grieve.  We don’t grieve like the rest of the world, but we should grieve. Every loss deserves a grief period. Grieving has stages. And they are different for everyone. Some mornings you may wake up confused. Other days you may be angry. Still others you may have an incredible burst of energy and enthusiasm – and you’re not even sure why. All those can be natural. 

Exercise. I encourage maintaining health all the time for leaders. The busier and more stressed you are the more important it becomes. If you’re past few weeks are like mine then you’re in one of those seasons – and you need to be exercising. Regularly. Take time to get outside and walk. Find ways to do a workout indoors too. There are plenty of apps and resources online to keep you fit during this time.

Stay close to other pastors. I have found this especially helpful for me. This is not because misery deserves company, but another thing I say in leadership is “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. That’s so true in this scenario. That first day everyone was looking to me as to whether to take services online was one of the most stressful I’ve had in a while. Huge decision. Talking to other pastors through it helped. 

Protect your Sabbath. The Sabbath isn’t just a command for the church where you serve. It’s vital for you as well. Plus, if you have children at home you need to spend time with your children. And if you’re married with your spouse. They are likely struggling with isolation too. Pastor, you don’t have to work all the time. Your family needs you too. Protect what will definitely be there after this crisis. 

Find ways to laugh. I’ve had a few good belly laughs lately and thy have been so life-giving. Most of them were at my own expense making “bloopers” while trying to do a video. (I’m sure there’s a blooper video in the works by our creative team.) If needed, Google some clean comedy and take a mental break. A good Seinfeld episode often works for me too. 

Dream about the new future. Yes, it will look different. Again, it will have to be contextualized for your church. But God has made promises for His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This includes the coronavirus. We will get back to doing church again. 

What might that look like? This is where there are tremendous Kingdom-building ministries who serve the church and are thinking “for us” right now. I’m grateful for them. (I may do a separate post with some of these resources I’m following.) I’m thankful that we can concentrate on ministering to our churches while they help us think “what’s next”, but we should spend some time doing this too. We know our context like no one else does. 

Pastor, I say this humbly to you, but none of the future talk matters if you don’t protect your soul. We will need you to be strong after this crisis as much as we need you through it. I’m praying for you. Please let me know if I can help. Lastly, get professional help if needed. There’s no shame in that.

7 Ideas To Feel Productive During Quarantine and Social Distancing

By | Christians, Family | No Comments

Many people are stuck at home during this Coronavirus pandemic. For the first week or so it might be fun. After a week or more, some will become stir crazy. It may require discipline not to lose patience with the situation. 

When much of life is out of our control, it is often therapeutic to focus on some things you can control. 

I previously posted some ideas to help with children – especially elementary aged

Here are 7 ideas of things you may be able to do at home.

Write letters to your family. I’ve written before about one of the best gifts I ever received was a Bible from my grandmother when I was about 20 years old. The Bible was my first study Bible. I loved the Bible, but the best part was the handwritten letter she placed inside of it. I still have it today. 

Journal your thoughts during this period. You’ll look back some day and this will just be another memory. It will be interesting then to see how you are feeling and what you are experiencing now. (Some of these may even turn into a blog or social media post and be encouraging to others.) 

Make a checklist of activities around your home. Complete them one by one. Organize the closet you’ve been meaning to do for years. Rearrange the furniture. Clean the windows. Organize pictures. You don’t have to do all of them immediately, but making progress on something will make you feel productive. Just do something. 

Make a list of things you are thankful for. We used to do this every year at Thanksgiving as a family. We would each list our “top 10” things. It’s good to remind ourselves there are blessings in our life. 

Call friends you haven’t seen in years. Try calling someone you haven’t talked with in a while. Perhaps a childhood friend. (You may have to stalk them first on Facebook and message them for their number.)

Learn something new. There are apps where you can learn a new language. (What if you only learned a few words?) Explore your genealogy online. If you’re computer savvy at all you could even learn a new skill that could become an income stream – such as coding or graphic design. 

Record all the questions of Jesus from the Gospels. Go through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and look for question marks for the words written in red. I’ve done this twice and it’s powerful. Jesus asked the best questions. 

Share some other ideas in the comments. I may add some of them to this post – and give you credit.

5 Practical Steps to Managing a Stressful Period

By | Christians, Church, Faith, Fear, Prayer | No Comments

I realize anxiety is high for all of us. I have a “system” I have used over the years when I’m in an especially stressful season. It is a sort of therapeutic exercise that seems to work for me.

As I type this the current stressor in all our life stems from the COVID-19 Coronavirus. That virus has caused strains on our economies, relationships, calendars and even personal care products. Who knows how long this will last?

God is in control, but you may need some practical ways to navigate these days. Again, this has worked for me.

Here are 5 practical steps to managing a stressful period:

Get a set of index cards. Write what you are most concerned about in life right now on the cards. Put only one concern per card but use as many cards as necessary. Everything you’re concerned or worried about goes on a card.

There is something cleansing about writing out your concerns. Again, it is a therapeutic exercise. (Insider information—you’ll find some of the things don’t merit a card once you must write them.)

Place cards in front of you. After you’ve completed your cards, lay them face up on a table in front of you. This is a bare-your-soul moment. You may feel a bit overwhelmed at this point.

Analyze. How real is this concern? Can you fix it? Are there practical things you can do to address the concern. In this current scene, you may need to limit your exposure to people. You may need to review your budget. Do the best you know how to do. 

After you know what you can and can’t fix, share them with God. He knows them already—better than you—but do it anyway. It is freeing to give your burdens to your Creator.

Pray. Pray something like this: “God, this is what I have before me, which I can’t handle. I’m asking You as my Father, who loves me more than I can imagine, to give me direction, success, wisdom, patience, and understanding in every area of my life. Lead me along the path You would have for me. I’m trusting completely in You. If this season is a success in my life, it will depend on You. I love You Lord. In Jesus name, Amen”.

Rest in God’s hands. Once I’ve left my concerns in God’s hands I must trust Him with them. This may need to be a daily practice. It could even need to be hourly for a while.

This is not a formula. And it won’t necessarily take care of deep or dark emotional issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. But if you have the normal stress of life, I’ve tried this for years and have always found it helpful.

By the way, I didn’t invent this system. I got this practice years ago by reading the story of Hezekiah in 1 Kings 19.

12 Ideas to Help Young Families Endure the Lockdown of COVID-19

By | Children, Christians, Church, Encouragement, Family, Parenting | One Comment

Our boys are grown. Cheryl and I enjoy empty-nesting. I remember a few times when the boys were little that we were stuck at the house and couldn’t go anywhere for a period of days. 

There was an ice storm. Times when we had no electricity in our town. And there were a number of times one of the boys was too sick to get out of the house. 

We had to improvise to find fun things to entertain the boys – and us. 

I have a suspicion there are many families in this scenario with the COVID-19 crisis. Who knows how long many will be stuck in their home? 

I see my role as a pastor to help families. I spent some time brainstorming things families could do together – especially families with younger children who have a harder time entertaining themselves. 

Here are 12  ideas you can do at home to hopefully pass the time and enjoy each other. 

Get out all your old picture albums. Discuss when the pictures were taken and tell stories you remember about those times. 

Build a life map for every member of the family. Include critical moments, spiritual markers, funny stories and hard times. This may especially be good for elementary students, but I think high school students could even enjoy it.  This could be a great way for parents to share their legacy with children. 

Play a FaceTime game with grandparents or elderly people in the church. You may have to coach them through it on the phone, but this would be a way to spend quality time with people you miss and love. 

Write and make an original movie with your phone camera as a family. Dress in costumes. Share it online. Who knows? It might become a hit and go viral. It could also be entertainment for the rest of us waiting out this crisis. 

 Make a collage of things you want to do when this is over. Find pictures in old magazines or just draw them. Do you want to go to your favorite restaurant, to the beach, or even on a cruise? 

Spend time dreaming about the future. Where Do you hope to travel someday? What would be a dream vacation? Let children share what they would want to do vocationally someday? Where would they want to live? What will their family be like? 

Discuss your family’s genealogy. Talk about relatives they may have never met. What are unique stories about your family? How is the father’s family different than the mother’s family? 

Parents, tell stories from your childhood. Share some funny things you did. When is a time you got into trouble? Who was your favorite teacher? What was your favorite class and why? Share what you liked to play and talk about some of your best friends. 

Trace the story of the Bible. Google if you need to, but cover the major highlights from the Creation to the coming of Christ. (This one may require some research on your part, but it would be a learning experience for the whole family.) 

Decorate the house for Christmas. Why not? You might be inside a while. You could watch Christmas movies and sing carols. Let it remind you of fun times to come. 

Do an Easter Egg Hunt. It’s almost Easter. If you don’t have eggs – improvise. You could even just do a scavenger hunt. Hide items in the house and have fun looking for them. Be sure to share the real story of Easter.

Build a tent. You can build inside or, if weather allows outside. Pretend you are campaign out. Maybe even pack a picnic. Let everyone plan their own meal. 

Bonus: Plant something outside and watch it grow over the next few weeks. Take pictures or a video every few days to compare the progress.

Feel free to share some of your own ideas in the comments. I may add some of them to this post. 

Let’s get through this together! God bless you. 

5 Actions that May Combat Worry and Anxiety

By | Christians, Church, Culture, Encouragement | No Comments

Worry is like a plague to our body. It attacks our mind, then our heart, and over time, it can consume our overall health. Continuous worry leads to a state of anxiety, where you rarely have periods of the day when you aren’t worried.

Wouldn’t it be great to never worry again?

I’m not sure this is humanly possible – although Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” How good are you at obeying that verse?

I can’t imagine either why Jesus would give a command He wouldn’t fully allow us to obey. But He commanded a lot of other things I’m not perfect at either.

So, I’m still much a work in progress when it comes to eliminated worry and anxiety from my life.

I know this, however, part of maturing as believers should mean we begin to worry less.

Let me share a few things I’ve learned, which may help.

Here are 5 actions to combat worry and anxiety:

Pray more.

It’s a trade-off. You can pray or you can worry, but you can never really do both at the same time. Which would you rather do?

Seems to be a reasonable trade. How amazing is it the Creator of sunsets wants to have a conversation with me? Worry seems to be a cheap substitute in this regard.

Do wise things.

As a believer, sin is always going to cause my inner conscience to feel guilty – which usually translates quickly into other emotions, such as doubt, worry and eventually anxiety. When I know I’m doing the best I can to be obedient to God’s commands the relationship with Him is stronger and my heart is freed of needless worry.

But this also involves taking care of ourselves physically, socially and emotionally. It means we need to eat right, exercise, and limit exposure to negative influences – which might include people who are constantly negative. Our environment helps determine our attitude. If the actions we are taking are leading to more anxiety then it makes sense that we need to change our actions. Sometimes the best thing I can do when I start to worry is go for a walk, pray, and clear my mind.

By the way, one wise thing may be asking for help when you need it.

Fill our minds carefully.

Of course, I’d recommend reading the Bible. I think followers of Christ should read it everyday. It’s where we find the hope, faith and trust spelled out for us by God Himself. But there are others things, which bring encouragement. It could be a good novel or something humorous.

For some people this may mean turning off the news and shutting down social media. It’s not that television or social media is necessarily bad, but I just don’t seem to find much which really encourages me these days.

The point is when we fill our minds with good things it crowds out some of the bad things.

Choose our thoughts strategically.

The Apostle Paul said to think about these things – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8) It isn’t even enough what we fill our minds with if we don’t carefully place our thoughts in the right directions.

I always ask myself: Why worry about what I can’t control? And why worry about what might happen when I can choose to think about good things which are happening? Lots of good things occur everyday – when I choose to think about them.

Trust more.

This is the key to worrying less and ultimately having less anxiety. The more I trust the less I worry. This is true in so many scenarios. It could be flying in a car, riding in a car with someone, or taking a doctor’s advice. The more I trust the less I worry.

As a believer, I can step up my faith, because I know God is on His throne. He has a plan and He will do what is best. Every time! And the key to trusting Him more is simple. I have to spend more time with Him And get to know Him better. Like any healthy relationship it grows stronger with time and effort. The more you know God the more you will love and trust Him. 

This is not a script or a recipe to rid your life of worry or anxiety. I think it will help. But there are times we all need professional help. Don’t be afraid to seek it when you do. In my experience, these five things help me combat much of my worries if I will practice them daily.

5 Quick Words of Encouragement to Pastors During the COVID-19 Crisis

By | Church, Leadership | No Comments

I love pastors. For the last couple years I didn’t serve as a pastor while I was leading At Leadership Network, but I landed back into an intentional interim role on February 1st. I am pastoring my home church for a season. While I thought I was here to redirect a few things and prepare them for their next great season, God had other plans. As you are doing, pastor, I’m now helping to guide us through a crisis.

I certainly didn’t see this one coming. You likely didn’t either.

My heart is for you and your ministry though. I’ve talked to a number of pastors over the last week and want to share a few thoughts on my mind.

Here are a few quick words of encouragement during the COVID-19 Crisis:

Pace yourself and the team. There is obviously a sense of urgency, but don’t overreact too soon. This is apparently going to be around for a while. You can’t solve all the problems the first week. Seminary never trained us for this. This may be something where we add layers of things we do and tweak every week of the crisis. And that may be needed as people are stuck at home and need variety to keep them engaged virtually. 

I sense (and carry) the pressure to have all the answers immediately. This is one of those “build the plane as you fly it” situations. It’s okay to learn from other churches, test ideas, and try new things. We may actually learn some things that will help us long-term in the process. 

The way we lead through a crisis often determines the quality of our ministry after the crisis. I gave some suggestions in THIS ARTICLE.

Communicate more than usual. People don’t want constant emails when they are sitting at work with plenty of other things to do. But in times like this people are often looking for information. They want to know what you are doing, thinking, and planning. You will need to add to your normal weekly communication. If possible, consider other means of sharing with them, including texting, video and Facebook Live.

And don’t forget to address the needs of the whole family. I share some thoughts HERE on helping children deal with this crisis.

Empower people. People have more time on their hands and want to help. Get people involved in doing ministry.

It’s always been interesting to me how people, especially in the church, seem to need permission to do what we’ve been called to do. They don’t wait to be told they can engage in political discussions online, but when it comes to hosting an online Bible study – “Pastor, would that be okay?” “Pastor, can I call a few friends and check on them?” 

Let people know its okay to be the church. Remove any lids they have perceived of who can “minister” to people. Matt Dennings, a pastor in Missouri, shared with me a document he created to make reaching out to neighbors easier. He gave me permission to share it HERE

Bless your community. Now is our time to actually show the community we really do love our neighbors.

This will look different in every community. Our local school system is providing food for children who depend on the school to feed them. That doesn’t appear to be a need for our church to do. But we are seeking ways we can invest in our community during these days.

Sometimes it might be as simple as leading our people to follow guidelines set by community leaders or encouraging those community leaders. Having been an elected official I can tell you it is a blessing to know there are at least some supporters. There are plenty of people who will complain. 

Keep yourself strong. This includes protecting your own faith, heart and soul. You may need to look for some blessings in the chaos. We had total attendance of 21 Sunday. (That’s the crew who pulled off our online service.) That’s for a normally very large church. But our online engagement was up 899%. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Silver-lining. 

Stay in touch with fellow pastors in your area or in your network. And don’t be afraid to do something light-hearted. Laugh with some friends. I was making a video yesterday and kept making the same mistake. The team and I laughed so hard. I laughed the hardest. It was good for my soul. Also, make sure you exercise and attempt to stay healthy. And wash your hands, pastor. Wash your hands. 

Pastor, you’re needed during these days. In many ways, in times like this, we become the community’s pastor. I wrote about that with some thoughts yesterday. Of course, we need medical personnel and emergency workers as always. We should never get in their way. But people need hope during these days. They need answers. What we hopefully offer every week behind our pulpits is needed more than ever in times like these. Shepherd well.

If I can help, please let me know. I’m considering doing a closed group online discussion sometime this week for pastors. If that’s something you’re interested in, please let me know. 

5 Suggestions When You Have the Community’s Attention as a Pastor

By | Church, Leadership | 2 Comments

There are times when a pastor is launched into the role of being a community pastor. At this point, it doesn’t matter the size of the church or the notoriety of the pastor. The community is looking for the pastor to lead.

Many pastors are experiencing this phenomenon now with the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Because many weren’t able to have in-person services, the online services exploded. (According to pastors I’ve talked to.) I suspect people were watching, perhaps looking for answers, who do not normally attend church.

Here are a few other examples when you may be the community’s pastor:

  • An influential person in the community — or a popular youth dies — and you are asked to do what a very large funeral.
  • Tragedy occurs — the kind which attracts national media attention — and you are sought to provide spiritual insight.
  • Natural disaster devastates the community and the church is heavily recruited in the recovery.
  • You are asked to speak at a public event.
  • Major cultural shifts occur that are newsworthy or impact the church and your opinion is solicited or expected.

For brief moments in time — an hour — a day — a week — all eyes are on the pastor for spiritual insight, guidance, comfort or a sense of direction.

What do you do in those times?

I’ve found myself in this position several times. It can be a humbling and even overwhelming place to be. I’ve learned how I respond in those situations impacts more than this specific incident.

These settings can come regardless of the church or community’s size. When they do the way you respond is of Kingdom importance.

Here are 5 reminders when you are the community’s pastor:

Speak truth in love – Don’t water down truth in these occasions, but don’t beat people up with truth either. Be like Jesus, full of grace and truth. Share God’s Word, but don’t use it as a weapon against the community. You will never be taken serious if they see you as judgmental and uncaring.

Win people over with genuine love and helpful truth. These situations may give you a greater opportunity for influence for Christ in the days to come.

Don’t recruit for a church recruit for Jesus – There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than a pastor in a community setting who spends more time trying to recruit for his individual church than he does sharing the love of Christ.

In settings where everyone sees you as the pastor, but not everyone is from your “flock”, use it as an opportunity to lift a Christ banner high, not your church banner. If they are impressed with the Jesus you proclaim, they’ll be more likely to find your church. 

Be mindful of doctrinal divisions that have divided people for years. In public settings, let the main thing be the main thing. Keep your focus upon doctrines which all of mainline Christianity can agree.

Build trust – You do that best by letting Jesus should shine through in all you do. You don’t want people to be impressed with you. You want them impressed with Jesus. People can tell when you are trying to build your own platform or soapbox. 

This may mean you simply build relationships like Jesus did with the tax collectors. Don’t assume you have to “preach” to take advantage of the opportunity. Your best use may be to build trust for future conversations.

Provide people hope – More than anything in these settings — share the hope of the Gospel. That’s likely why you are invited to this opportunity. This is probably not the time to bring forth condemnation.

Don’t back away from truth, but make sure whatever you share is clearly seen in the context of a God who IS LOVE. Make it your intent to be helpful to people who are hurting. 

Be likable and natural – Let people see you as real and approachable. Take time to shake hands, embrace, cry with people who are grieving if necessary.

The more they see you as a regular person (just like Elijah — James 5:17) and not like someone above them positionally or superior to them in moral value, the more likely they’ll be to trust the comfort you bring and cling to the God you serve.

It doesn’t happen often, but on the occasions where you have a larger, community audience, allow God to use you for a greater and longer term benefit to the Kingdom.

Have you ever been the community’s pastor? What would you add to my list?

5 Ways a Leader Responds as a Crisis Begins

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

Leader, how should we respond when crisis comes?

I love the leadership displayed during a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George Bailey is about to leave for his honeymoon and panic struck the Building and Loan. As the president, he was forced to avert his plan, go back and save the company. He kept the Building and Loan open with a couple of dollars to spare. It was a tense moment. Everything they had worked for was at risk, but the crisis was solved — at least until the next crisis came.

This is the kind of time I’m referring to as a leader.

How do you respond?

There have been several times where it appeared everything was a loss on the team I was leading. I’ve experienced it in planning a single project, as well as with the entire company felt in jeopardy when I was a small business owner. We experienced it when I was a Mayor Pro-Tem and our city was devastated by a tornado, or when I was pastoring a large church and our community experienced catastrophic flooding.

At the outset of a crisis, how should the leader respond?

The way the leader responds in crisis always dictates the way the team responds.

I must admit, I haven’t always handled these times as well as George Bailey, but experience has taught me a few things.

Here are 5 ways to respond at the beginning of a crisis:

Slow down

The general tendency is to speed up, but “haste makes waste”. You need to move quickly, and sometimes you have to put out some initial flames, but as much as you can, slow down long enough to think before you react.

Don’t panic

You may indeed be in a panic on the inside, but your outer composure as a leader will set the thermostat of your team. The team’s emotions will almost always be an exaggerated version of the leader’s emotions. If you appear hopeless, the teams emotions will appear even more hopeless.

Get a plan

After you’ve addressed the most pressing needs — brought more of a sense of calm to the team — back away long enough to create a plan of recovery. This includes gathering information from as many sources as possible and seeking input from wise advisors. It could be the best exit plan you can develop, but either way you need a plan.

In crisis mode, this sometimes seems like a waste of time. The thought is often if the ship is sinking you just need everyone to help bail water. In my experience, however, getting a plan in place makes the difference in the quality of your leadership through the crisis. This probably requires pulling a team together to quickly brainstorm and strategize.

Navigate carefully

Once a plan is in place, you need to become an implementer of the plan or at least the lead delegator of implementation. You’re the coach, cheerleader, and captain of the ship at this point. You keep the team on task towards the end goal.

Help the team recover

After the dust settles from the crisis, the leader’s job isn’t complete until you help the team recover. This involves learning from what happened, making readjustments as needed, and helping the team begin again. In the best scenarios, this thought process begins to happen even during the crisis mode, giving the team some hope of better days to come.

We all hope to avoid those days of crisis on the team, but it helps to have a paradigm of how we should respond if or when they ever come.

Any thoughts you would add from your experience?

7 Often Overlooked Needs in Church Revitalization

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

I have written and spoken at conferences extensively about church revitalization. I have served as pastor in two church plants and two church revitalizations. I’m currently helping in a church revitalization at my home church. I love church planting and still hope to be a part of it in the future, but I also believe God would want us to restore health to churches whenever possible. And I know that established churches can grow.

The work is hard. I know first hand that it’s harder to rebuild something than it is to start something from scratch, but it is rewarding work.

One reason some in revitalization haven’t been as successful is that there were things they didn’t know or didn’t do. What can be surprising is that there are often areas you weren’t expecting to have to address. It took some hard lessons for me to learn some of these.

Here are 7 often overlooked needs in church revitalization: 

Laypeople willing to stand up to other laypeople. This is huge. Established churches can become very passive aggressive in addressing conflict. Many times the pastor is the last to know there is a controversy stirring. People may be upset about change, and they talk to everyone else, but the pastor doesn’t find out until the problem has brewed out of proportion.

There needs to be people willing to do as Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud.” They are willing to ask, “Have you said this to the pastor? If not, I’m not sure we should be talking about it.” And people willing to steer conversations in a positive direction and publicly and privately support needed changes.

A pastor willing to stay through the process. I wrote about this previously, but this may be the most important decision a pastor leading revitalization has to make.

In my experience, the longer the church has been in decline the longer it takes to be healthy again. It always takes longer than we hope it will. But until a pastor decides they are in it until the turn comes (or God makes it clear they are released) they will fail to put their best energies into the work. 

Willingness to address the sacred cows. These may be programs, the placement of a table donated by a previous church member (who isn’t alive or doesn’t even attend the church anymore) or paint colors. Sacred cows often have stories behind them and they are seldom “Biblical” issues.

They aren’t easy to change, and not all of them need to be, but if you can’t redirect or remove some them it will be difficult to see the church healthy again. And that should be done carefully and strategically. 

Finding an energizing path forward. You must find something that will build momentum and get people excited again. People need to feel an enthusiasm for church again; enough that they will want to bring people with them.

This can often be in an area the church has excelled in before. If, in their best days for example, the church had a strong missions program, this could be a place where the church can be motivated again.

Discovering and celebrating the “good” past of the church. Let’s be honest. Not all the past of the church is good or there wouldn’t be a need for revitalization. If there’s nothing to find, it might be best to take your energy somewhere else. Life is short and the Kingdom need is too great to waste time on a toxic church that has no interest in recovery – or isn’t wiling to make the changes necessary.

But there will likely be things from the past that, while you don’t have to repeat them, you can celebrate them. (The principle I use here is to repeat principles not practices.) You want do things the same way, but the idea or motive behind them are often “historically significant” moments that the church will rally behind. 

Repentance. It could be there has been a series of bad leadership decisions, which injured innocent people. It could be conflicts or broken relationships that were left unresolved. God may not be able to honor the church with growth again until repentance has occurred.

This doesn’t have to be church-wide unless the offenses were. I like to speak a lot on forgiveness during these times, but reconciliation needs to occur. Unity in the body is paramount to a healthy church.

Disciplined and balanced use of time. You can only do so much. The people in the church can only do so much. The Scripture encourages us to make wise use of our time because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16) This means you may not be able to do everything previous pastor did. You may need to delegate hospital visits, for example. It might mean that some programs have to go so you can do other programs better.

For another example, as pastor, the time you put into Sunday messages is incredibly important. This is your best time in front of the church. You may need more time in front of key leaders, staff or volunteers. Again, you can only do so much. You must do the things which will most effectively move things forward. 

I love helping churches think through the process of revitalization. I have limited time for consulting in this area. If I can help your church, please contact me and let’s discuss some options.