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Second Day of the conference – Wednesday will be posted later in the week since tomorrow will be a long travel day. Some of the things that hit home in my heart and ministry.

RHMA – Tuesday am – Page Patterson – Deuteronomy  6

You can’ teach what you don’t know.

Application – It is important culturally that we get back to the scriptural teaching of fathers teaching their children and grandchildren, the Laws, Statutes, and Judgements of God.  The law works as a schoolmaster to lead to Christ.  The statutes teach us that you must approach God on His terms, not your own.  The Judgements teach us that God is a judge and will deal with us when we do things our way.

 

RHMA – Tuesday am – Shawn McMullen – Things that matter most – reflections on 40 years of ministry

  • You are called to faithfulness, God is responsible for fruitfulness
  • Your primary focus of discipleship is your family.
  • You can’t offend a corpse (when you are dead to self, you don’t respond)
  • When you are praised – treat it like bubblegum. Chew it up, spit it out and don’t swallow it.
  • Take care of yourself physically – Robert Murray McCheyene started the ministry at 23. Health was bad by 25 and on his deathbed at 29 he said – “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride.  Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.”
  • On comparing yourself to others – In heaven, you won’t have the capacity to be proud, or the temptation to be jealous.

RHMA – Tuesday afternoon  – Karl Vaters – How to discover what your church does well

  • Small churches have to make hard choices
  • Front load the value of your ministry – know what you do well
  • The absence of conflict is not the same as the presence of God and presence of conflict does not mean the absence of God
  • Churches can handle change, they just don’t like surprises – give them time to process change.

 

RHMA – Tuesday pm – Les Lofquist – 2nd Corinthians 4

Not about us – we are slaves to Christ

In ministry,  you will always have a hard time.  You will always spend your time bearing stuff.  You have an enemy that hates you and what you do.  He has an army at his disposal and will do everything to hinder the work of Christ.  But God wants to use your trouble so that people can see Christ in the way you respond and handle the difficulties of life and ministry.  This is the way that Christ will be manifest in your life and ministry. 

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Well, I am going to give this another shot.  I know I have been away for over a year.  The past year has been one of the most exhausting, challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling years in 26 years of ministry in our church.  Needless to say – this website had to take a back seat to the numerous activities of the past year.  I hope to take some time and explain later, but I wanted to try and post for the next 3 days.

I am attending the RHMA Small Church Conference in Morton, Illinois.  This is the 25th year for the conference and I have attended about 3 or 4 in the past 10 years.  It is encouraging to see more conferences that are addressing the needs of the small church.  On the west coast, BigLittleChurch.com  has one in Camas, Washington on May 21st-23rd, 2018.  I encourage Pastors to attend whenever possible for the fellowship and encouragement.

I thought I would submit a post from each day of the conference with some thoughts God impressed upon me. I hope these might be an encouragement or a challenge to you as well.

RHMA – Monday Night – Takeaway

We need churches of all sizes.  Big churches will reach people that only big churches can reach.  Small churches reach people only small churches can reach.

I was reminded of this on Sunday.  We have a new family that started coming within the past year.  That family has now been influential in bringing 2 other families and is working on a third.  None of these people have been involved in any ministry a year ago and some did not even know Christ.  I realize these people would never be comfortable in a large church ministry.  In fact, they would never set foot in the door.  It is not who they are or how they are wired.  It is only a small church ministry that could impact them.  I am thankful that our church has been able to acknowledge who we are as a church and not try to be something we are not.

Links – RHMA Conferences – http://www.rhma.org/conferences/

Big Little Church Conference – http://www.biglittlechurch.com/

I’m Baaaack, It has been almost a year since my last post.  I could give you lots of reasons, but you really would not care.  It has been a season of building for our ministry both literally and figuratively.  And writing has never been my forte.  I am going to try to make a priority once a month for people who actually care to read this.  My hope is that it will encourage you to think differently about small church ministry.

I have been fortunate in my life to be associated with some very successful business people.  Many are successful entrepreneurs or people in the top leadership of their companies.  I am like a sponge when I am around them and I ask plenty of questions to see if I can adapt any of those principles to ministry.  Over the years, through those conversations and plenty of reading, I have assembled a series of principles that I have found helpful to ministry.  So I will try and focus on one of those each month for the next year.

FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE, NOT THE JOB.

One of my business mentors explains it this way, When he hears a highly competent and successful person has left a company, he meets with them.  He tries to hire them and create a job for them within his company.  He explained that good people are hard to get and that if you give them the right tools, they will make you money.  He did this with an expensive IT guy and he created a position for him within his company.  The guy brought so many improvements to the company, my mentor more than recouped the guys salary within the first year.

I think this is an area we often miss in ministry.  We establish our programs and then seek people to fill them.  We often fight to fill spots and beg people to serve.  A number of years ago, we joined our youth and adult Sunday School into the same class until we had leaders willing to teach the teens.  I am currently in the process of applying this principle in our ministry to seniors.  God brought a seasoned couple into our church who had served elderly people in a previous ministry.  We created a ministry for them to take communion and regularly visit our shut ins.  We are currently in the process of helping establish an offsite counseling ministry based on this concept.  God brought a person with a passion and background in counseling into our fellowship

It is a different mindset for me in ministry, but a valuable one.  The direction is not driven by my passion, things that I read, trends in ministry, or seminars that I attend.  I believe God will bring us the people if He wants us to have a specific ministry.  In our application of this principle, it is the people and their gifts that drive what ministries we have at any given time.  In other words, we are trying to focus on the people, not the job (or ministry).  Yes at times it is frustrating because we do not offer the ministries that others may offer.  The board and I ask God to simply provide the people.  When someone asks me why we do not have a certain ministry, I explain that we do not have the people (and then I ask if they would pray about helping lead it).  It is an unusual approach, but one that seems to be serving us well.

THOT: What ministries would you add or subtract if you based ministry on the people instead of the program?

According to the Urban Dictionary, this was a phrase that developed in the 90’s and was made famous by Larry the Cable Guy.  While it has many applications, the gist is the idea that we need to stop talking about it and do something.  The focus becomes accomplishing something.  The process is often secondary to the completion of a task.

I was raised in a world where professionalism was the focus.  I was taught that God requires nothing less than our best.  I spent hours focusing on a process and project to make sure that it was the best.  This was true of the worship service as well.  We wanted people to practice and be prepared.  We focused on the best singers singing for all the special Sundays (Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc).  We often had visitors on those days and  we wanted our best to be on display.

I remember my first few months in rural ministry.  I sat on the platform focused on all the things that I would start to change.  Believe me,  this church could use a good dose of structure and organization.  It needed someone to show them how worship should be done.  Fortunately, I promised myself and God that I would not make any changes for the first year.  I would seek to learn why they did things the way they did.  What I learned was that the “Git Er Done” mentality was often sourced in a tender, humble heart for God.  I watched as people were moved not by the performance, but by the attempt at performance.  I watched as God honored in a very unique way the “Get Er Done” world of rural ministry.

Next month starts my 25th year as Pastor of this church.  In 24 years, I am the one who has changed.  I still practice my message each week, but I don’t force my world view on the congregation.  I have come to realize that a 9 year old boy playing the piano for special music on Mother’s Day probably touched more hearts than any professional song.  I am not dismissing God using talented people and I am glad He does.  I think rural ministry allows us the opportunity to involve people who would not get a chance in larger ministries.  The focus seems to be less on the process and more on the outcome.  And when I can have a church where people feel safe to “try” and serve God, I watch as they develop the confidence to serve God in the real world as well.

THOT – What would happen if we really opened our services up to people who were willing to just try and be a part of the service?  Jesus took 12 guys with no ministry background.  He taught them, allowed them to fail, and used them to reach an entire world.  What would happen if we focused more on “Gittin Er Done” and less on the process?

git-er-done1

I have just finished teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes.  In 30 years of preaching, I have never preached through the book and I am amazed at the practical lessons for our culture.  One of the lessons that had the greatest impact on me was the need to focus on what we have right now.  Life is short and the focus needs to be on appreciating what God has given me at this moment in time.  I must see it as an incredible gift from Him.  I see a tremendous application for small church ministry.  So for the next few months, I am going to focus on the great things about being in a small church ministry in no particular order.

Inter Generational Ministry.

I was raised in large churches where teaching and worship were often segregated and we learned the value of surrounding ourselves with like minded peers.  It helped me to learn how to choose good friends, but I did not gain a lot of wisdom from someone who was my age. I needed wisdom from someone who had experienced all that life has to throw at them.

As my sons moved out and got married, I encouraged them to find a good church and get involved.  After searching, I found them back at the same church where their “dad” was also their pastor.  When I asked them about this, they mentioned that this is where they had genuine friends and relationship.  I later realized the relationships they were talking about were with people from 30 – 60 years old.  As they explained to me, this is a place where they have helped actually build the building.  They worked side by side with the men and woman in our church.  These were their trusted friends.  These are the people that showed them how to do “life”

I have watched as many of these people have invested in my boys and their families.  We have a number of families who invite them over to have supper and spend time with them and their wife.  While they were teens, I was concerned because they did not get a chance to be involved in a large “peer” ministry like I got to experience.  I have come to realize that I was the one who missed out.

While many of us complain that we cannot have the programs of the large church, we must not miss the opportunity to develop something the larger churches are not offering.  We have the opportunity to link generations together every Sunday.

Here are some things we are trying.  We recently combined our youth with our adults during Sunday School.  I now watch kids talking with adults and adults asking the kids about their week. I have a family who has a teenager and they invite couples of all ages to their home once every 2 or 3 weeks for supper.  The teen gets a say in who they invite.  I have older couples who invites teens over after church for lunch.  We encourage our adults to sit with the teens and kids at potluck fellowship once a month. We encourage everyone to focus on one kid that they build a relationship with them by speaking to them each week.  In our culture, these are the kinds of things that cannot happen in a large ministry, but because of the smaller church where everything is open and people are in close contact, we have the opportunity to do some of these things.

The scripture speaks of the “older” folks teaching the “younger” folks.  I think it is a very accurate picture of “community” that so many people seem to be seeking.  It is something that the smaller church does almost organically because of its size.  And I have found it to be one the great Hidden Gems in rural ministry.

THOT: What are you doing to encourage  the inter generational aspect of your ministry?

hidden-gems1

I am reminded of the value of taking a deep breath when things get overwhelming. This past week, the small church world has blown up due to a short clip on YouTube from Andy Stanley’s weekly message. In this clip, he argues passionately for the value of large church ministries and makes some very strong statements regarding small church ministries. He later apologizes saying ” The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

So I think it is a good time for all small church people to just take a deep breath. We have all said things on Sunday, we wish we could say differently. The difference is that our messages are not broadcast across the globe each week. Yes, greater impact means greater responsibility, but God has not called us to that ministry, He has called us to small church ministry and remember we are the majority in terms of numbers. God has used North Point and Andy Stanley to do some great things in the Kingdom of God. Let’s not shoot our own.

I understand what He was trying to say. I am a product of the “mega” church. While a teenager, I was in one of the 10 largest churches in America at the time. I was part of a JH/SH Youth Group of 500 and understand the value that it brings. I also have been in rural ministry for the last 24 years. Both have value and one is not better than the other. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

I think the irony is that both seem to idolize the other. The large church seeks to be like the small church by focusing on small groups. The small church seeks to be like the large church by trying to program more activities than they are equipped to handle. Both types of ministries do some things better than others H.B. London used to encourage Pastors to bloom where they are planted. I think that is the best advice for all of us.

THOT: If this issue has gotten under your skin, I would suggest you take a deep breath, accept the apology, and move forward. Let’s focus on the ministry God has called us to do.  Are you blooming where God has planted you?

Don’t Cry for Me

I am currently teaching a series of messages though the book of Ecclesiastes. I try to teach on a rotation basis each year dealing with a series from the Old Testament, the New Testaments, and the Life of Christ. Since I preach expository messages, one of the ways that I prepare is by reading commentaries, other messages, and going through my old sermon notes.

While studying Ecclesiastes 7, one Pastor mentioned that he had a document on his computer named “Don’t Cry for Me”. Anytime a significant moment or event happens in his life or soul, he adds a one sentence comment. As an example he writes – Don’t cry for me, I’ve been called Daddy. The last line is always the same, it reads Don’t cry for me, I’m home.

I stopped my sermon preparation and started my own “Don’t Cry for Me” document. After about an hour, I had 1 1/2 pages summarizing moments and experiences that God has allowed me to experience in my short 54 years in this world. I was amazed at the impact that hour had on my outlook and attitude. It allowed me to see the many experiences and opportunities God has given me. It gave me a renewed appreciation for a God that has been incredibly good to me. Yes, like every Pastor, I have faced my share of dark days, overwhelming circumstances, and difficult people. But, none of those things made my list. My list was filled with the little and big joys that God has brought into my life.

THOT: If you could leave a statement behind after God calls you home, what would your “Don’t Cry for Me” document say? I think we become so focused on the difficulties and issues that we fail to focus and appreciate the many joys that come with ministry.