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Settlers of Catan

Recently my kids have introduced me to the board game “Settlers of Catan”. I think it should be required for anyone in ministry. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, I would describe it as a combination Risk, Monopoly, and Tetris. the games begins with you determining a strategy for winning the game. All of your decisions at the beginning of the game are based on that strategy. As the game progresses and other people interfere with your strategy, you must adapt and adjust accordingly. Your strategy has to constantly change throughout the game based on your actions and the actions of other players.

In the course of over 30 years of ministry spanning 4 states and 4 very different types of ministries, I see numerous parallels to this game. When I began in ministry, I had a number of plans, visions, and goals as to what I wanted to accomplish with my life. Through different life events, I have had to adapt and change. The desires of my heart remain the same, but they have been “fleshed” out in ways that I never imagined.

I think it is important that as leaders, we realize that we have to be willing to adapt and change as God leads. In “Settlers”, you are constantly evaluating and adjusting to reach your goal of winning the game. In ministry, you must be willing to do the same. I am not suggesting that we compromise our core foundational beliefs. But I am suggesting that we have to be willing to change our approach to how we do ministry.

In my current ministry we are in the middle of this process. We are currently evaluating our original plans for growth. We now find ourselves looking into other options and directions. We are in the process of adjusting our paths and procedures while maintaining a clear focus on our end goal which has never changed.

THOT – Have you gotten to the point in ministry where you are so focused on the plan or the path, that you have lost sight of your real goal? Are you willing to consider other ways or paths to accomplish your goals? Could you be missing a new direction and opportunity because you are unwilling to change your original plans? I have never won the game “Settlers of Catan” without changing and adapting my strategy to the players around me. Could your current ministry strategy be holding your ministry back?

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“Attractors”

Last week we came back from our annual “out of the box” Texas trip. While there were a number of adventures, my favorite was our fly fishing trip. Our host had set up an afternoon of fly fishing on the Guadeloupe River. Apparently this river is one of the top fly fishing rivers in the United States. Fly Fishing happened to be one of my bucket list items, so I really enjoyed the day. Unfortunately, we learned why it is called “fishing” and not “catching”. We had a great time anyway and ate at a catfish place on the way home.

Before we got on the river, our outfitter spent some time on the shore teaching us the art of casting. I am a bass fisherman, so the whole idea of casting the line instead of the lure was more difficult than I anticipated. After about 45 minutes of lessons and practice, our guide started preparing the flies. He was explaining the process behind catching trout. He told us why he had selected the particular flies we were using. He talked about how the fish often wait for the fly to float downstream. Before he tied the final fly, he added a small hook with a colorful piece of rubber on a short leader. He then explained to us the purpose of the “attractor” as he called it.

It seems that we were near the end of the season for trout and that many of them were wiser and more sluggish. He explained that the “attractor” was used to get the attention of the fish. He said sometimes they will attack the “attractor”, so it has a small hook attached. Often, the “attractor” works to get the attention of the fish and then the fish notices the fly that is coming downstream.

This got me to thinking about the application to rural ministry. I realize that in rural ministry people are slow to trust and come to church. It is a long process for most people to make a commitment to a rural ministry and many are very hesitant. They remind me of that late season trout who is content to simply wait. I am starting to think about our ministry and how this principle relates to “fishing for men”. I am wondering what we are doing to “attract” people to the message of Christ? I am not talking about the old days of bigger and better Sunday gimmicks. I am thinking about the things that make people in our community curious to seek more information about who we are and what we are all about.

THOT – What are the “attractors” that you are developing and using to make people in your community curious about the gospel? Could a simple principle from fly fishing be something that would enhance our ministry to our community?

Madame_X_M

This week is one of the highlights of my year. A number of years ago a friend starting inviting my wife and I along with 2 other couples to southern Texas for a time of fellowship and encouragement. In the course of the last 5 years, this annual pilgrimage has had a tremendous impact on my ministry. I do not have any responsibilities for 5 days. My only job is to show up with a willing and teachable spirit to try new things. I have to be willing to step out of my comfortable box and routine. Each year we are exposed to unique opportunities that are outside of our comfort zones. We all participate together and no one is allowed to “opt out”. We even attend a Spanish / English-speaking church and sing familiar worship songs with words that are hard to pronounce. We eat different foods, and have plenty of unique and unusual experiences.

Over the years I have flown a plane, hunted wild hogs, run a quarter mile drag strip, sang Karaoke, judged a local car show, had a cooking lesson, fished in the gulf, and even gone to get a manicure and pedicure. While we each turned in our “man card” for the morning, everyone would sign up for the pedicure thing again in a heartbeat. Our host explained to us that we needed to experience the relaxation of a pedicure so that we would better be able to surprise our wives by giving them a certificate for a manicure or pedicure. We have made a number of new friends over the years and love the fellowship and excitement of being together. We spend hours in discussions and we have no special agenda. Our goal is to have some “real” conversation and I always come away refreshed, exhausted and challenged.

As I look back over the years, I see the benefit has been to get “uncomfortable”. I like my routine and I feel “safe” in my comfort zone. Often in ministry, we get too comfortable and start to get real nervous when we head into seasons of uncertainty. This annual event allows me to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I now see it as a necessary part of life. In order to really experience the joys, thrills, and fulfillment of life, you have to go through a process of being uncomfortable. I now embrace those times in ministry and realize they will produce a ministry that is full of unique and incredible experiences.

THOT – If you find yourself in a season of uncertainty, be careful of trying to escape that time as soon as possible. In the uncertainty, there are lessons to be learned and opportunities to stretch yourself. Are you “embracing” your season of uncertainty? Have you learned the art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable? I am reminded that our Lord set a great example of coming in flesh which Paul describes in Philippians 2 as the ultimate example of being uncomfortable.

Flight

Earn your chips

In the 1980 Winter edition of Leadership Journal there was an article comparing ministry to a poker game.   HOW TO WIN AT PARISH POKER (Pastoral credibility can be parlayed into great gains–or squandered.)  by Leith Anderson  You can try the link above (may or may not work)

The article basically talks about “earning your chips”.  This article helped me over the years by knowing when to make an “All in” call.  Too many Pastors believe their title gives them the opportunity to call “all in”  or a “my way or the Highway” decision.  In my current ministry, I have had to make a few of those calls.  I did not take them lightly and everyone knew that I did not make unnecessary threats.  The key to surviving those situations is twofold.  First you must know how many “chips” you have earned. Second, you must know which hills you are willing to die on. 

I think too many Pastors make major mistakes in these two areas.  “Earn” your chips.  Often you are considered a “hireling”   If you are in a ministry or a denomination that has a frequent turnover (3-4 years), then these people will outlast you.  They were in the ministry before you and will be there after you.  So any bad decision you make means that they will have to live with the consequences, because you will be long gone.  I have “earned my chips” in my current ministry.  The board knows that any idea I want to implement means I will also be around to deal with the success or failure of that idea.  I have incredible freedom as long as I do not think that I have incredible freedom. 

Secondly, know what hill you will die on.  Anderson refers to this as your focus  for ministry.  I have found that in the course of ministry battles arrive on a constant basis.  As a leader, I have to fight the battles, but I don’t have to win every battle.  There are times it is wiser to allow someone else to fight the battle for  me or simply decide to let that battle go.  Which battle you choose often determines your destiny in a ministry.  When I have to take a strong stand as a leader, I am willing to die on that hill.  I have never made an ultimatum that I was willing to act on.  Those battles and issues are very few, but I know what they are and after 20 years, my board knows them as well.  I have watched too many Pastors leave ministries over issues that they should have simply not fought.

THOT – Are you earning your chips?  Have you foolishly squandered some of your chips in your response to issues that really don’t matter? If you are in a smaller church ministry, realize your chips will be earned over time and by developing relationships. 

Diversify

Last week my financial guy called for a meeting.  He wanted to go over my retirement stuff.  The church leadership wanted to help me get a retirement plan started a few years ago, so we did.  I am not a money guy and would live off the barter system if it was possible, but money seems to be a necessary part of life.  As my financial guy went over my stuff, he keep talking about the various markets and the percentages that he was shooting for in my portfolio.  He wanted to make sure my portfolio was diverse and not focused too heavily in one area.  It got me to thinking about how that lesson has applied to my ministry over the years.  I think one of the things that has helped me stay healthy was personal diversification.

Early in ministry my entire life and being was focused on ministry.  I had very few outside interests.  Anything I did was ministry related, even my hobbies.  While this was helpful when things were going good, it was devastating when the church was struggling.  I found my value and worth attached to the success or failure of the ministry at the time.  Over the years, I have learned to diversify my life.  I have worked hard to be a husband and distance that role from ministry.  I enjoy time with my 2 boys and my daughter in law.  I have gotten involved in community theater, judging high school speech, restoring old things, and even learning glass fusing.  I try to keep them balanced so those things do not take away from ministry, but rather enhance my personal well being.

When the church is struggling, those things allow me to be “successful” in other areas.  I find satisfaction in doing some of those things well.  My life and value is not “consumed” with ministry alone.   The ministry can go through its normal ebb and flow and I can maintain a more even focus.  I can be emotionally and spiritually healthy to help the ministry better weather that storm.

I guess my challenge is for you to make sure your are diversified or well balanced in your life.  If everything is centered around the ministry, you will find yourself more prone to discouragement when difficult times come.  I no longer have the approach that ministry is my life.  Ministry is what I do, it is not who I am.  I am so much more than the specific church that I am called to Pastor.  I love my church and the people God has called me to Pastor, but I have a life outside of ministry.  In fact, you should see some of the glass stuff my son and I create.

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THOT – How diversified is your life?    Have you allowed the “ministry” to become who you are instead of what you do?  You are so much more than the job you are called to perform. My prayer is that you become the balanced person God has called you to be.

“Re Upping”

Both of my sons serve in the Air National Guard.  One is a full time DOD employee and other serves as a traditional Guard member.  When you enter the military, you sign a commitment for a specified length of time.  The initial commitment for both of my sons was 6 years.  At the end of that time you decided whether you want to “reup” or to discontinue your service.  Next year my youngest will have to decide what he will do, so we are having discussions about what his long term military plans are.

Without realizing it, I have always had a similar approach to the ministry.  My initial commitment to my current ministry was only on a part time basis as a bi-vocational pastor.  Later, I committed to stay for 5 years and then allow God to move me at that time.  If other opportunities came along and they did, I just told them I would have to wait.  When things here got tough (and they did), I reminded myself of my commitment and tried to get things as healthy as I could until that 5 year period had come.  By the time it got here, I found myself ready to” re-up”.  I think this approach would be helpful for many pastors.

Over the 6 years I have listened to both my sons talk about good and bad leaders they have had.  If it was easy to get out, neither one of them would have stayed the entire 6 years.  There are certain situations in which they can leave, but it is difficult and not without great costs to them.  The military has spent too much time, money, and effort on their training.  If they leave before their commitment, it will cost them.

The same is true of ministry.  I think too many pastors do not really weigh the long term costs.  They allow the situation or the circumstances to become a major factor.  They allow key people to become the focus and lose sight of the  commitment.  One way that I protected myself was through my personal commitment to a predetermined set time.  I never signed anything or had any kid of formal agreement, but I had a personal commitment.  It protected me in so many ways.  I did not start looking a other ministry opportunities when things got tough.  I had a set time I would do that, but not in the middle of a crisis.  I counsel people to never make a major decision when you are in the middle of a difficult time, and that advice applies to pastors as well.

THOT – Have you set a “re-up” time for your current place of ministry?

Last Man Standing

I am not a writer.  I never have been and it takes great effort for me to write.  I love to research, study and learn.  I am comfortable speaking in public and public speaking is my primary means of communicating what I have learned.  A Blog is a tremendous commitment on my part because I am out of my comfort zone.  Over the years, this Blog has taken a backseat, but I am hoping to change that this year.  I am going to make a commitment to try to post at least twice a month on what I am learning and observing in ministry.  My personal goal is every week, but I am also a realist because my pastoral ministry must come first.

I came to my current ministry in 1992, so that means I have preached and ministered in the same place for 21 1/2 years.  I have seen the good and the bad in ministry.  I have experienced joy and sorrow.  I have been loved and hated.  I am not seeking another ministry and am hoping God allows me another 25 years here.

I am often asked what keeps you in a place for a long period of time.  So for the next few weeks, I think I will try to figure that out.  One of the things that helped me was focus.  I have been at many pastor meetings where they ask pastors to stand who have been at the same place for 5 years, then, 10 years, then, 15 years, etc.  I was at one meeting where they got to 50 years and one man was standing.  I noticed many sat down before 10 years.  It has always been my dream or focus to be last man standing.  One of my idols in ministry was a man who was the pastor at the same church for almost 40 years.

One of the things I have observed in life is that focus determines direction.  I think it is essential for long term ministry.

THOT – What is the focus  for your ministry?
An important focus for me in long term ministry has been the goal to be “Last Man Standing”.

I’m Back

I know it has been awhile since I last posted.  I was doing pretty well keeping up with the website, but my Father went home to be with the Lord in April of this year.  The last  4 months I have been focused on helping my mother make the adjustment.  My plan is start back again with the updates in September.  Until then, keep plugging away – God is doing some great things in rural ministry and I think the future is bright.

Tonight was the final night of the conference.  Once again it was a day full of great sessions, good preaching and enjoyable fellowship.  As with any seminar, there is much to process and assimilate into my life and ministry.  I am asking God for the wisdom to know what too use and what to ignore.

As I look back on today’s events one seminar really comes to mind.  Marty Giese is finalizing a research project on “rurbanization”.  This is a term which applies to the blending or rural and urban mindsets into a faith community.  The concepts were very helpful to help the pastor navigate this minefield of differing relationships and thought processes.  I plan on doing some further reading and research and will share some of my thoughts with you further down the line.

The main thing I take away for these last few days is the great needs and opportunities in rural America.  I am guessing there were about 400 people at this conference from New Mexico to the East Coast and from Canada to Arkansas.  Each of these people had a burden and passion for reaching their communities for Christ.  It was encouraging to know that we are not alone.  It is easy in ministry to develop the “Elijah” complex that I am alone, but opportunities like this remind us we are not alone.  God has many out there fighting the same battles.

It is my prayer that you would call a fellow pastor this week.  Encourage one another and watch what God does in both of your lives.  A Canadian TV show which is popular on public TV in our area is The Red Green Show.  He ends each show by challenging men to “Hang in there, we are all in this together”.  My fellow pastor – “Hang in there, we are all in this together.”  This week was a great reminder of that simple truth.

I just finished Day 2 of the RHMA Small Town Pastor’s Conference. It was another day of great speakers and sessions.   The conference is geared to allow you to choose a series of workshop topics depending on your particular ministry needs.  The 2 I attended today were very helpful, but I thought one had the potential to help many of you out there.  If you go on the RHMA website and look at the brochure for the conference, you can see the speakers and topics.  I am sure that if you contact their office, they can send you CD’s of the sessions for a nominal fee.  They are also having a conference in Waxahachie, Texas featuring H.B. London on October 10-12, 2011.  Next year’s conference in Illinois will feature D.A. Carson and is scheduled for April 23-25, 2012.

Back to the seminar topic that I believe will help many of you.  Dennis Schlappi is executive pastor at New Castle Bible Church in Mackinaw, Illinois.  He has served in that church for 23 years on staff and his Master’s Degree focused on church constitutions.  He has led his church through 2 revisions of their church constitution and he presented a workshop on the process he used to work the congregation and leadership through that process.  After the seminar I asked him for permission to obtain his material and post it on here to help many Pastor’s who struggle with this issue.  He is going to graciously work with me to allow that to be published here.  After I get back home, I will be emailing him and placing some of the material and resources on this website.  He is a tremendous resource and is someone who has been in the trenches applying this material.

I came to this conference excited about the speakers and topics.  Make no mistake about it, the speakers and topics have been extremely helpful, well delivered and pertinent to small church and rural ministry.  They are everything I expected and more.  But that has not been the greatest part of the conference for me.  The greatest part has been the fellowship with like minded Pastors from all backgrounds, denominations, and walks of life.  Each night the conversations at the table seem to go longer and the laughter louder.  Tonight the topic turned to unusual experiences and problems regarding animals in the church.  One Pastor was talking about how he had to deal with a woman with a Seeing Eye dog and she would share communion with her dog.  He talked about how the leadership had to decide the best method of dealing with the problem.  Just when I thought I had heard it all, he comes up with this great story of rural pastoral ministry.

The fellowship with other pastors is reminding me how many of us are out there plugging away in obscure places with unique problems.  It is encouraging to see the passion and love for the people in rural areas.  It is great to hear the stories of how God is working.  It is wonderful to laugh at the unique problems we face and the creative ways we go about to solve them.  In short one of the greatest things I have experienced this week is the fellowship with like minded people.  Somehow, that never gets conveyed in a brochure.