• Thanks, Virginia


    All first-call pastors should be fortunate enough to inherit a helpful member like Virginia Crawford.  I was called to a mission congregation where Virginia was the chair of the Education Committee and willing to competently help in any area she was needed.

    Now it has been over 40 years since I was a first call pastor, but I used something last week that Virginia taught me.  At our mission church, they had started a day camp instead of a Vacation Bible School.  The camp went from Wednesday to Wednesday with Saturday and Sunday off.  On that Saturday morning after the first three days of the day camp, our doorbell rang and I went to the door.  Virginia’s daughter, Kathy, was there with two long stem carnations–one for me and one for my wife–and a thank you note for helping the first three days.  I went out with Kathy to the car to thank Virginia and I remember her laughing and saying, “I am trying to encourage all our teachers to come back next week.”

    Last Friday when we finished the day camp at the congregation where I am interim, I stopped by the grocery store on the way to the church to pick up flowers.  The store had a special on long stem red roses so I purchased enough for the staff.  When I gave them out as I thanked everyone, I thought of Virginia.

    The staff  kept telling me how thoughtful I was so I shared the story of Virginia and how she encouraged the day camp teachers to return on Monday.  I told them the flower was their encouragement to come back next year.

    Thanks, Virginia, for teaching me a great lesson about gratitude.  Almost 43 years later, it’s still a wonderful way to express thanks.

  • 7 Simple Tips for Strengthening Stewardship in Congregations


    Have fun picking one of two of these simple tips to implement in the coming year, then have fun adding one of these practices in the following year.  Don’t try to put all seven in place tomorrow.  Don’t start with the one you think you should do.  Pick the one or two that you would have fun doing and start there.

    1. Send at least five giving statements per year – April/May, June/July, September, December and January.
    2. Say “Thank You!”  Put a thank you note in each giving statement.  Use pictures.  Tell a Story.  Connect financial gifts to ministry being accomplished, but keep it simple.
    3. Use the word “steward” or “stewardship”  in the Prayers of the People  each week in worship.  Use a simple phrase like “make us good stewards of the gifts you have given us”.
    4. Give up using the word “Budget” for Lent and forget to take it back.  Consistently using a phrase like “Spending Plan for Ministry” or “Investment in Ministry Plan” helps congregations make the connection between their financial gifts and the ministry being accomplished.
    5. Feel free to never ask anyone to “Pledge to the Budget” ever again.  Have fun asking people to support the ministry God is accomplishing in your congregation.  Ask people to “prayerfully estimate their giving to the ministry of the congregation for the coming year”.
    6. Preach on stewardship when the texts present themselves in the lectionary.  Don’t ask for money.  Don’t try to guilt people into giving.  Simply talk about our calling to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us.
    7. Say “Thank You!”  for all the ways that people share their gifts, not just for financial stewardship.  Each week, make five phone calls or write five handwritten thank you notes or send five personal emails saying “Thank you” to individuals in the congregation or community who have used their gifts to make ministry happen.  
  • How Do Pastors Become Accepted Into a Congregation


    I have been doing an informal survey over the past three weeks. There is absolutely nothing scientific about it, but I have gleaned some wonderful insights into the ways that pastors become accepted in the life of a congregation.

    My search began when I was talking with a longtime Lutheran. Their congregation has a new pastor and she noted that the new pastor was not “one of them.”  I asked her why her new pastor didn’t seem to fit in.  After discussing it for a while, she finally concluded that she did not know why the new pastor wasn’t “one of them,” but she absolutely knew that it was true.

    Since then, each time I have had the opportunity, I asked members of other congregations, “How did your pastor become ‘one of you?’” Several factors were mentioned by the people to whom I talked.

    • Our pastor really listened and seemed to want to get to know who we were.
    • Our pastor said that we needed to make some changes but she wanted to wait until she got to know us better.
    • Our pastor always said “we” when talking about the congregation rather than “you.”
    • Our pastor went to all the Sunday School classes, visited with the choir, attended the men’s and women’s meetings, and was there where we were.

    This week, I opened my Alban Weekly and found an article, “Why Lone Rangers Always Fail” by David Brubaker. He provided the last key to belonging in his initial paragraph.

    Leading a successful change process in a congregation, even a very traditional one, is possible. But to do so a leader must earn the right to make that change and partner with others to make it happen. Lone ranger leaders who ride into Dodge and transform an entire community exist only in the movies.  In the reality of congregational life, we need a patient posse.

    After finishing Brubaker’s article, I realized that the pastor who did not fit in may well be a ‘Lone Ranger’ because instead of investing the time to earn respect and build trust, she appears to be trying to ride in and change the community alone.   In time, even the Lone Ranger learned that he needed a companion in his journey and I hope that pastors will hear Brubaker’s advice and seek to build ‘patient posses’ so that together they can accomplish the ministry  God is calling them to do.

  • Skills Training vs. Education


    It appears to me that we are living in a time when the majority Christians (particularly new Christians) are more interested in “skills training” than “education”.   I think we are more interested in learning “how to be Christian” rather than “understanding what it means to be Christian” and developing a broad and deep understanding of God’s relationship to God’s people.

    If it is true that we live in a short-term, highly intensive sprinter culture, then it makes sense that we would be focused on immediate results.  Often, we only ask “Why?” when we have trouble with the “How to” or when we engage in something enough times that we want to understand it more completely or to improve.

    If this is true and if we accept the fact that our culture won’t return to a focus on education without a massive cultural shift, then this has major implications for how we teach confirmation, how we do faith formation in congregations and what entry points will be the most effective in connecting people to the mission of Jesus Christ.

    (*Thank you to Pastor Bill King at Luther Memorial, Blacksburg, VA for suggesting the skill training vs. education framework)

  • No “one size fits all approach” any more


    I became aware of the change in ways to visit members around 1980 when I visited Gordon at his place of employment rather than his home. I came by his office, he introduced me around and then we went the office cafeteria to east. Afterwards, I realized that meeting people at their place of employment had happened three times in less than a month. “That is different,” I remember thinking.

    At my last parish, I visited with small groups in the congregation when I arrived and after 45 days, I had visited with over 375 members of my new parish. That was some of the best and most helpful visitation I ever had in almost 40 years of parish ministry.

    Today, pastoral visitation continues to evolve, especially with the advent of social media. Last week, a wonderful older member of a Lutheran congregation was sharing with me the visitation methods of their new pastor. “She says that she visits almost exclusively on facebook but I don’t have a computer and I don’t want one. I feel completely left out.”

    That started me thinking. How does an effective pastor visit, today? I believe that shepherding visitation is more important than ever. An effective pastor needs to meet people where they are and not where her or she is. I learned years ago that great communication begins with thinking about the person receiving the communication and not the person sending it. That is still true today.

    Son John, better known as Pastor John on this blog, put it this way when I asked him about his pastoral visitation:

    We live in a time of transition, where people are shifting the way that they live in relationship. In a previous time, all visits would have been in home, but these days I try to ‘visit’ with people in the way that they chose to relate to me. I visit some people in their homes, but I have some people who have absolutely no interest in me coming to their home, so they will come to my office or we might meet at Panera. I also regularly ‘visit’ with some by email, text and Facebook and I have a new worshiper who communicates with me mostly on Twitter. For me, the key is meeting the person where they are and using the right approach to nurture, maintain and strengthen the relationship. There is no “one size fits all’ approach any more.

  • Two or More Notes Per Week


    I started doing it more than 25 years ago and continue to do it as an interim pastor. I make sure that I write at least two personal, handwritten notes each week to thank people within my congregation for doing excellent ministry. I want people to know how much I appreciate their wonderful ministry and encourage them to keep up their wonderful initiative. I started this before email, but I am sure that you could use that very effectively.

    The principle is simple—we need to thank people and then thank them again and again. We do not thank people enough, especially those who give so much of themselves every week. There are many other ways to thank people but this is a simple tool for the pastor or a member of the congregation who is willing to take the time to send notes.

    When I started doing the notes, I discovered that I needed to set aside a specific time to write them. My time was and still is Thursday morning. Soon it became automatic. I have been amazed at how much these notes have been appreciated and the positive impact they make on the life and spirit of the congregation.

  • Leadership Styles and Leadership Balance


    The following is adapted from a presentation by Dr. Kennon Callahan at the Mission Leaders Network Seminar for Key Leaders, Feb. 25, 2014.

    Dr. Callahan identifies six types of leaders who may be present in a congregation or a community.

    • Shepherding leaders – People who create community, family, roots, place and belong
    • Informal Grouping Leaders – In today’s world, people live in significant, relational groupings, not simply in geographical or formal groupings.  Often the informal leaders have more influence than formal leaders.
    • Worship leaders – We are happy to have grassroots leaders/volunteer leading worship.  Not all worship leaders need to be ordained.  In fact, the only people who preach are the people who have that gift.   Just because you are ordained, doesn’t mean you get to preach.  Worship is too important for people’s lives to allow someone to preach who does not have the gift of preaching.
    • Program leaders – People who focus on a particular program,
    • Administrative leaders – People who create organizations, policies, procedures, rules and regulations
    • Community mission leaders – People who focus on sharing God’s ministry with the world around them.

    If you can only put your money on one of the six types of leaders, go with shepherd leaders.  Shepherding leaders live grace and peace.  Shepherding leaders share grace and peace.

    A helpful Congregational Council has 1 or 2 of each type of leader.  The chair is a shepherd leader.

  • Thoughts on Hiring Volunteer or Paid Leaders


    The following is adapted from a presentation by Dr. Kennon Callahan at the Mission Leaders Network Seminar for Key Leaders, Feb. 25, 2014.

    We tend to look for vocational competencies in leaders.  A more helpful way forward is to look for life competencies first and then vocational competencies.

    When adding someone to your ministry team, think about:

    1. Do we like the person?
    2. Would we have fun together?
    3. What are the motivations of this person?
    4. What are the gifts and strengths of this person?
    5. Are they grassroots or top-down?

    It is better not hire someone, than miss hire.  It is better to wait for the grace-filled, hope-filled person that God leads us to, then to take the best available person.  Don’t have a time-line for adding staff.  If you find yourself saying, “This is the best person we can find”, then shut it down and start over.  You can’t afford the miss hire.  The damage and harm in terms of lost persons helped, lost ministry support and potential dysfunctional relationships is too great to simply hire the best person we can find.

  • What to Count?


    The following is adapted from a presentation by Dr. Kennon Callahan at the Mission Leaders Network Seminar for Key Leaders, Feb. 28, 2014.

    No one says, “I want to join this group to help it survive.”  People join groups to be a part of a family – to discover grace, peace and hope.

    If you want to keep track of numbers, you are welcome to keep track of the persons you have helped discover peace.  You are welcome to keep track of the persons you have served in mission and ministry during the last year.  If someone asks you about your ministry, give them the first names of the people who have discovered peace, hope and the grace of God this year.  Feel free to give up on the notion of tracking members.  We did that in a church culture time.  In our time, people are desperately searching for community, help and hope, not membership.  Have fun helping people discover the grace of God, the peace of Christ and the hope of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

  • Easter Planning Using a Project Leadership Team


    Instead of trying to build a standing Worship Committee to plan all the services during a year, gather a project team to build a wonderful, grace-filled worship experience for each major Sunday or season.

    For example, to plan for  Easter, gather five to seven people who are formal and informal leaders in the worship life of the congregation and have them discuss the following questions.

    1. What will make this Easter unique?
    2. How do we share the joy of Easter through worship? – (1)Ideas for special elements to the service and (2) Hospitality and shepherding at worship
    3. How do we share the joy of Easter through space/decorations/art? – (a)What special decorations would share God’s grace?  and (b)How do we create a warm/welcoming experience?
    4. Who will be particularly welcomed this Easter?  What steps will make that happen?
    5. What will make this worship service transformative?  (The service doesn’t need to be transformative for a lifetime, but for this day/this week.)

    Inspired by a presentation by Dr. Kennon Callahan at the Mission Leaders Network Seminar for Key Leaders, Feb. 27, 2014.