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Karl Vaters

Karl Vaters

Pivot is a Christianity Today blog by pastor and author Karl Vaters. He writes about church health and innovative leadership from the perspective of small church.
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If a church isn't being effective, is it being faithful?You don’t have to be a big church, you need to be a faithful church.”I’ve said and written that, or some version of that, so many times I’ve lost count.On the other hand, I’ve read and heard other Christian leaders say “it’s not enough for a church to be faithful, you have to be effective.”And there’s a big part of me that wants to agree with them.Effectiveness MattersSo what’s the truth? Is faithfulness enough, or do we need to be effective?It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.Faithfulness will always include effectiveness. In fact, faithfulness demands it.Faithful … But ...So I stand by my statement that a church only needs to be faithful. But I’m adding a “but” to it.“You don’t have to be a big church, you need to be a faithful church – but are you?”Unfortunately, I’ve seen churches of all sizes use “faithfulness” as a cover for laziness, stubbornness, legalism, lack of passion and ineffectiveness. As if faithfulness was an adequate excuse for remaining static and stuck.The truth is, we need to be effective as a church. But it’s also true that faithfulness is enough, because a faithful church will always be an effective church.If a church isn’t being effective, it’s not being faithful.What Faithfulness Isn’tThe other essential part of this conversation is that it matters what we’re faithful to. Because what we’re faithful to will determine how we measure our effectiveness. We’re not called to be faithful to a building, a denomination, a mode of worship, or the latest trend. We’re not called to measure faithfulness or effectiveness by butts in the seats or bucks in the offering.Continue reading...
No one is a perfect communicator. Even if our facts are correct, the way we say them matters.Never underestimate the possibility that someone will misunderstand what you’re saying.That’s always been one of my guiding principles whenever I speak or write. And it’s becoming more important every day for anyone who wants to communicate accurately, clearly and effectively.This is nothing new, of course. Misunderstandings and misdirection are as old as language.But it is getting worse.The Untruth Is Out ThereThe overwhelming amount of information we receive is setting us up for a glut of misinformation.If, let’s say, one percent of what we pass along is an unintentional untruth, that wouldn’t have been a big deal when we were sharing a couple pieces of new information in an average day. A one out of 100 error rate meant telling an unintentional falsehood every two or three months, maybe.But now, when we’re reading or passing along dozens, even hundreds of items a day, a one percent error rate can mean an incorrect item every day or two.Because of this, we need to be ever more vigilant about our fact-checking. And, for professional communicators, this means we need to be extra certain that we’re cutting through the clutter in simple, clear, precise and accurate ways.Five Tips To More Precise CommunicationHere are five rules I use when communicating something I know to be true if it has even the slightest possibility of being misheard or misunderstood by those receiving it. (Note that all these tips only happen after having researched and confirmed the truth of what I’m passing along.)1. Read and re-read your own writingHitting “send” or “publish” too soon is the enemy of clarity and leads to a lot of misunderstanding.Even if what you’re writing ...Continue reading...
The universe didn't die for you. Jesus did. That makes all the difference.The universe is trying to tell us something.”Last night as I was watching TV, a character said that line so matter-of-factly that it almost rolled past me without notice. After all, I’ve heard people say that in person and in popular entertainment hundreds of times.But lately it’s been gnawing at me.The Universe Isn’t Speaking To UsI’ve been mulling over a harsh, but important truth, lately.The universe isn’t trying to tell you something. It doesn’t love you. It’s not looking out for your best interests.The universe can’t care about you, because the universe is not a conscious, self-aware being. It doesn’t have a moral code. It’s not beholden to you, me or anyone.It’s not listening, because it can’t.The universe doesn’t care about you or me any more than the odds-and-ends in my kitchen junk drawer care about us.The Universe Doesn’t CareWe have to stop anthropomorphizing the universe. Yeah, it’s a big word, but I’m not using it to show off. It’s the only word that fits here.Anthropomorphism is what happens when we attribute human characteristics to non-human things. When a movie like The Lion King shows animals talking to each other, that’s an intentional anthropomorphization. For a couple hours we suspend our disbelief that animals can’t actually talk or sing like humans, and we’re entertained by it.That’s what a lot of folks are doing with the universe. They’re attributing human characteristics to it. They’re treating this massive collection of stars, galaxies and a whole lot of empty space as if it was a being with a conscience, a heart, a mind, and a capacity to care about how ...Continue reading...
I can never give up on the church because I can never give up on people. And because Jesus never gave up on us.When I hear about people leaving the church, my heart breaks.Certainly, the church is messy. It’s broken. It’s in constant need of repentance, forgiveness, revitalization, renewal and reappraisal.That’s how it is with families.And, because the church truly is a family, I’ll never give up on her.Yes, a family. An actual, real-life, in person, not-a-metaphor family.When our ideas about the church are theological or institutional, we make the church an easy thing to leave. But the church isn’t a building, a denomination, an organization, a theological construct, or a series of beliefs.It’s the people we meet within those institutions.The church is people. People create families.The Hope of FamilyCertainly, we’ll have the occasional falling out. We’ll argue.Sometimes we’ll walk away in anger, yelling “I’m done with you!”, only to find ourselves commiserating with other estranged family members with similar hurts and frustrations so we can talk together, share our pain together, pray together . . . you know, have church together.This is why, even though my heart breaks when I hear about people walking away from the church, there is always hope.Because even when we’re estranged from our family, we’re still mysteriously and inextricably a part of it.The Real Church Is Real PeopleIt’s impossible for me, as a follower of Christ, to stop working in, with and for the church, because I can never be out of relationship with those people. Even when we have a falling out, that falling out creates tension in me. And that tension pulls on me.Even when I may not feel like “going to church” (as in, an event at a building), I will never be ...Continue reading...
If you can't do the kind of ministry that's expected of you, try the unexpected.One of the first steps to figuring out what you do well is to find out what you don’t do well and cross it off your list.That’s how I ended up being the “go-to small church guy”.No matter how hard I tried, how much I learned, how often I prayed, or how much expert advice I sought, our church wouldn’t grow big.Everyone around me was saying “if the church is healthy it will grow.” “If you take these ten steps, your church will grow.” And “if your church isn’t growing, there must be something wrong.”But it just. Wouldn’t. Grow!Letting Go Of The ExpectedI knew I was called to be a pastor, and I was told that pastors are supposed to help their churches grow, but I couldn’t pull it off.So I stopped trying.Now what? What’s left after you give up trying to do what’s expected of you?You do what you’re called to do, even if it’s unexpected.For me, that meant I had to cross “pastor a big church” off my to-do list and figure out how to be the best small church pastor I could be.As it turns out, I can do that. I’m called to do that. And, as a wonderful side bonus, I also have some skill and a calling to help other pastors who are figuring out how do small church well.By letting go of what I’m not good at, I was able to discover what I’m called to do.Leading a small church is not what I expected. It even felt wrong to try to be good at it. In fact, I’m regularly told that trying to be good at pastoring a small church is settling for less. It may even be disobedient to the Great Commission.But I know better.Cross Stuff Off Your Ministry To-Do ListIf you’re a pastor who’s struggling ...Continue reading...
Committing to Jesus and committing to the church, while interlinked, are not the same thing.What’s happening with church attendance?In just the last few weeks I’ve heard some of my fellow pastors say “What is it with people lately? Does church just not matter anymore?” “Is it just me, or do people in your church use the summer months as a get out of church card, too?” “Anyone have ideas how to keep people committed to church attendance? It’s getting harder every year.” “Why don’t people make church attendance a priority like they used to?”As a pastor, I sympathize with these frustrations. Shrinking or inconsistent attendance can short-circuit our plans, frustrate our expectations, and reduce our ministry impact.But I also see a problem with the way we often look at this.Committed To Jesus FirstIt’s not our job to get people to commit to the church. It’s our calling to help them commit to Jesus.Yes, I know they go hand in hand. I’ve written regularly about the importance of church attendance and its relationship to spiritual well-being here and here for starters. But committing to Jesus and committing to the church, while interlinked, are not the same thing.As church leaders, our emphasis has to be on helping people worship and serve Jesus. Church attendance is only of value when it serves that cause.So yes, we should keep inviting people to church. Gathering with other believers is a central aspect of spiritual growth. But we should never leave anyone with the impression that church attendance is the point. Following Jesus is the point.The Right EmphasisWhile we should always pay attention to attendance patterns (and, even more importantly, to the actual people who we miss when they don’t show up), when church members skip ...Continue reading...
You may feel alone, but you're not. You're seen, loved and appreciated.Today's article was written by Bernie Harding, the community pastor of Peel Elim Community Church, where her husband is the pastor. Peel is a town of 6,000 people on the Isle of Man. Bernie is responsible for running the community centre, kids church, some evangelism projects, bible studies … “a bit of everything, as you will know is the way in small churches.”The Faithful MemberI see you, small church people.I see you when you serve in a small, unnoticed church.I see you encouraging your pastor with a smile when yet another one bites the dust.I see you who turn up to serve week-in week-out because there isn’t a kids’ church team, you are the kids’ church team. I see you investing in kids’ lives and discipling them in their walks with God.I see you mums and dads who bring your babies along when there’s no crèche (nursery) so you spend the whole meeting in a room on your own with the baby, thinking “should I have just stayed home?” I see you getting up and out of the house to be at God’s house.The Pastor’s FamilyI see you pastors who put as much time into preparing a message for 20 people as someone who is preaching to 2,000 people. I see you putting the chairs out.I see you pastors’ kids who are sometimes the only kids at church. I see you carrying a weight that you didn’t choose but doing it so willingly.I see you pastors’ spouses who carry as much of the load as the pastor, and there is nobody else around who you feel understands. I see you, and I understand.There For Each OtherI see you faithful people who always have your pastor’s back. I see you trying to hide confusion with a nod when the pastor announces his ...Continue reading...
When you spend your ministry time with people you know and love, it has to be personal.Don’t take it personally.”That may be the worst piece of advice I’ve ever received about ministry. It fails on so many levels.Here are six of them.1. Jesus Took Ministry Very PersonallyCan you imagine Jesus giving anyone that advice? “Take up your cross and follow me – but don’t take it personally.”Or the apostle Paul? “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ – but don’t take it personally.”Of course not. They took ministry very personally.Because ministry is relational. It’s passionate. It’s sacrificial. It’s overwhelmingly personal.2. We Don’t Need More Impersonal MinistryWhat’s the alternative to taking ministry personally? Taking it impersonally?We’ve had enough of that. We don’t need more churches, ministries or ministers who care more about hyping the crowd than easing the burdens of real people.3. Taking It Personally Having No BoundariesI think I get what people mean when they say “don’t take it personally.” They mean “don’t take on an emotional burden that’s not yours to bear.” And to that I say a hearty “amen!”So let’s say that. Don’t take on someone else’s problems. Don’t insist on helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Maintain healthy emotional boundaries.Even Jesus urged his disciples to wipe the dust off their sandals and go to another town when people refused the message.But not taking ministry personally? Never mourning as you see people’s faces fade away through the haze of sandal dust?That’s not the kind of ministry Jesus calls us to participate in.Continue reading...
Don't just teach us what you know, teach us what you're learning.We’re all trying to understand the most essential elements of our existence.Life, love, faith, family, church... and toilet paper rolls (under or over?)No one has it all figured out.This is why teachers need to start from an attitude of humility. Especially if we’re not just teaching facts and figures, but the more complex issues of life and faith.Even (particularly) as followers of Jesus, while we know the one who has all the answers, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we’re not him.The most effective teachers, preachers and storytellers don’t just tell people what they already know. They share what they’re learning.The attitude of a great teacher is less “learn from me” and more “learn with me.”Why “Learn With Me” Is BetterTelling people what we know (“learn from me”) puts a distance between the teller and the hearer. It’s an uneven, imbalanced situation between haves and have-nots.But if you build on what you know by inviting people into what you’re learning, the gap gets drastically reduced. When we’re all learning, we can relate to the struggle and joy of mutual discovery.Learn from me is static.Learn with me is dynamic.Learn from me is a command.Learn with me is an invitation.Learn from me is about information.Learn with me is about relationship.Learn from me closes down conversation.Learn with me welcomes questions.Learn from me is limited and limiting.Learn with me is unlimited and freeing.Learn from me is based on the past.Learn with me is focused on the future.The Best TeachersThe most compelling teachers, leaders, pastors and mentors don’t take the superior stance that “learn from me” implies. ...Continue reading...
Size is no longer considered a sign of health by the average church member or spiritual seeker.There are very few pastors who would say that bigger churches are inherently better than smaller churches. But most pastors believe it would be better if their church got bigger.Not only do most pastors want their churches to get bigger, they believe it’s worth an extraordinary expenditure of time, effort and money to make numerical increase happen.Most of our congregation members don’t agree.This disparity between pastoral desires and congregational expectations is a relatively new phenomenon. There are a lot of pastors who haven’t caught up with this reality.Most of their church members don’t agree that getting more people in the room is necessarily better for their church. And it’s not because they’re not concerned about evangelism. Something else is going on here.A Generational Shift Regarding Church GrowthLess than a generation ago, if a pastor promoted a building campaign, almost everyone in the church would step up. They’d get excited by it, give extra offerings for it, and see it as a positive sign of health for the church.It was unquestioned – if your church was healthy, it would grow, and if it grew it would need bigger buildings.It’s being questioned now.Certainly there will always be people who love a crowd and who will follow the next big thing. And there will always be churches that appeal to them. There are also churches that attract large crowds for healthy, life-giving reasons.But size is no longer considered the obvious sign of health that it used to be. At least not by the average church member. And certainly not by the spiritual seeker.Bigger is no longer considered better, and things that get better are no longer expected to get bigger as a result. ...Continue reading...
Saying “no” to some good things so you can say "yes" to other good things is an essential step in being effective.So you’ve found something you care about.You’re involved. You feel like you’re making a difference.Then you post about it on social media. Not to brag, just because that’s what you do with causes you care about.Most of the responses are positive and uplifting, but there are one or two who snap back at you with “Really? You’re doing that? Well what about …?” and they name another cause similar to the one you’re involved in. “Don’t you know if you’re involved in your thing you’re supposed to be involved in my thing? If not, you’re a hypocrite!”You Can’t Do EverythingIt can be about anything, and from any political or theological viewpoint. Concerned about racial injustice? Then you’d better get in line about women’s rights, too. Raising money for an abused women’s shelter? How can you not be helping out at the equal pay rally? Does your church support overseas missions? Then you’d better support the local soup kitchen.(Or vice versa on any of those.)One of two things typically happens when we experience pushback like this. First, we try to make everyone happy, only to burn ourselves out doing too much. Second, we shy away from doing anything because it’s easier to stay under the radar and not be criticized.But that’s no way to live or do ministry.Instead, we need to have the courage of our convictions and stay in the lane where we can have the most impact.In fact, saying “no” to good things that aren’t your thing is an essential step in being effective.But Do SomethingIt’s okay to care about one thing without stepping up for everything.For instance, our church supports a ...Continue reading...
We should seek truth wherever it may be found, because we serve the author of all truth.Christianity has always been a faith in pursuit of the truth. Because of that, we’re not afraid of solid scientific research. In fact, we support it.After all, our faith rests, not on a set of ideas or behaviors, but on a verifiable historical fact, the bodily resurrection of Jesus.Plus, the library of books we rely on (also known as the Bible) is filled with names, dates, places and events that correspond to other historical and geographical sources.Remain EducatedHere's a case in point, from a very recent CNN article entitled, Scientists hope to digitally unravel scrolls charred by Vesuvius with light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.The article describes how a team of scientists from the University of Kentucky are using extremely cutting-edge technology to read a scroll (as seen in the above photo) that was buried and preserved by Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The scroll is too fragile to unroll, but this technology will hopefully allow them to read it anyway.W. Brent Seales is the head of the University of Kentucky's Digital Restoration Initiative and is also a Christian. According to CNN, Seales “hopes they might end up reading an early Christian text, which could have been written in the same time period as the eruption of Vesuvius. Regardless, he says the overall academic effort to ‘remain educated’ motivates the quest.”This should be an encouragement to everyone who gets discouraged, as I sometimes do, with the anti-education bent that is too often displayed by some fellow believers.Remaining educated about the truth has always been a primary characteristic of serious Christian thought. And it must remain so.The Truth Will Set You FreeAs believers, we should never be afraid ...Continue reading...
We need to change our methods for the same reason I type using single spacing – because bad methods get in the way of the message.The church won’t change the world by adopting new methods. We won’t even save the church that way.What will change the world is a praying church. A loving church. A worshiping church. An outward-reaching church. A Jesus-centric church.The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are all that matter. They haven’t changed in 2,000 years because they don’t need to.But.I’m going to use new methods anyway.To understand why, here’s an example of necessary change from the history of typing. Yes, typing.Double-Spacing (A Real-Life Parable)If you’re my age (born in 1959) or older, you were probably taught to double-space between sentences when typing. Why? Because our teachers had been raised in an era when most typewriters used monospace font, with every letter taking up the same amount of width on the page.Those old typewriters left huge gaps of white space on either side of thin letters (like i), while wide letters (like m) were squeezed together. Double-spacing was needed after each period to made sentence breaks clear, aiding in readability.That all changed in the 1950s and ’60s, when typewriters with proportional spacing became popular. Thin letters took up less page space, while wide letters used more, with uniform gaps between them. Those new typewriters also provided just the right width between sentences with just one touch of the space bar. Suddenly, double-spacing was not only unnecessary, but the big out-of-proportion gap they created made documents harder to read, not easier.But old habits die hard.Since most people were never taught why double-spacing was needed on the old typewriters, they didn’t understand the need to switch to single-spacing. Double-spacing ...Continue reading...
Never let the excitement of higher attendance or the discouragement of lower attendance divert you from your church's primary goal.On any given Sunday, even the smallest, simplest church service juggles an amazing array of complex issues. Set-up to tear-down Relationships to administration Spiritual to emotional Planned events to unplanned interruptions and more.But too often we reduce the value of this beautiful, multi-layered gathering of believers, seekers, skeptics and hypocrites to one overly-simplistic metric. Namely, how many people showed up?More Than NumbersCertainly, almost every pastor and church is grateful when church attendance is on the rise – myself included. And appropriately so.It’s not that attendance figures don’t matter, it’s that too many of us have made those numbers the primary, sometimes exclusive focus of our attention.This is misguided at best, idolatrous at worst.We’re Not Selling WidgetsIt reminds me of a complaint I often hear from fellow authors and artists about their publisher or promoter. Sometimes they feel like no one who works with them is concerned about the quality of their work, just how many units they’re selling.Certainly authors, musicians and other artists care about reaching a bigger audience, too. But the size of the audience doesn’t matter if the work is shabby.Unfortunately, a lot of church leaders are guilty of falling into the same trap – expressing more concern about the numbers than about the quality of the experience.10 Better QuestionsSo how can we gauge the value of a church service? If we pay less attention to attendance, what should we pay more attention to?My answer to that is “almost everything.” Yes, almost everything else happening in a worship service is more important than how many people are in the room.For now, here’s a quick ...Continue reading...
Leaders will attend and volunteer at churches where they are honored as people and where their hard work and leadership skills are recognized and valued.Volunteer leaders are the backbone of the church.This is true in churches of all sizes, but especially in small churches which may be led exclusively by volunteers.After all, volunteers can quit at any time. And when they do, it actually frees up more of their spare time. So we need to give them good reasons to stick around.Here are 10 of them:1. Tell Them WhyThe days when church leaders did what they were supposed to do merely from a sense of obligation are gone. Good riddance.People – especially leaders – want to know why something needs to be done. And they should know. Leaders can’t lead without knowing why.Oh sure, you can get away without explanations for a while, or on small projects. But for the big things – the things that matter – good leaders want and need to know why.When leaders know why they’re doing something and buy into that reason, not only will they give more of themselves to it, they can lead others in it. It also allows them create great ideas that can make a good idea even better. Now that’s good leadership!2. Listen More than You TalkPastors and preachers are taught how to speak. But we’re seldom taught how to listen.As a pastor, I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. (I know, it’s not much of a stretch). I want people around me who know more about their area of expertise than I do. Pastors who do all the talking don’t get smart volunteers, they get mindless followers. They might attract crowds, but they don’t make disciples.When church leaders know that their ideas, concerns and feelings are being heard, they make stronger commitments to God, to the church and to other leaders. And they become better disciples, leaders ...Continue reading...
I don't know what's coming, but I know who does. And his vision is always 20/20.How many of my fellow pastors are prepping their 20/20 vision statements right now, I wonder?It reminds me of what happened in 2010. Back then, there were a whole lot of churches, ministries and individuals promoting their 10-year plans for their 2020 vision.The idea of having a ten-year plan is nothing new. But doing so at the start of a new decade has extra appeal. And this year it feels almost poetic to have a 20/20 Vision, just like it did in 2010 looking a decade ahead.Well, 2020 is upon us.If you had a decade-long 2020 vision statement, how did it turn out for you? I’m guessing that if you can even remember it, your life, ministry and church look nothing like you expected.I’ll get to “why” soon, but first let me tell you a bit about my decade.Why I Didn’t Create A 2020 Vision StatementI didn’t write up a decade-long 2020 Vision Plan in 2010.Not because I‘m better, worse, or even different from anyone who did, but because, as 2010 was approaching, I was barely starting to come out of a long, deep tunnel of ministry failure and despair.I had spent much of the previous decade striving for goals I had set for myself and the church I pastor, only to see them crash and burn with no hope of being reached by 2010. And I had no desire to write out a new set of goals for 2020, only to set myself up for failure again. At least, that was my emotional and mental state at the time.If I hadn’t been in such a funk and I had decided to write a 2020 Vision statement, I have a pretty good idea where I’d be right now. In the same place I was in 2010. Wondering what had gone wrong with all my well-laid plans.How do I know that? Am I the world’s biggest pessimist? No.Continue reading...
Whenever you're attempting a big change, it is essential to build intentional time and space for rest.Doing new things is scary. For some.Doing new things is exciting. For others.But even if you fall more into the second category than the first (as I do) doing something new is always exhausting.And it’s more exhausting when you’re attempting to change something you’ve been doing for a long time. Which is why change gets harder as you get older.Changing your clothing style from last year’s trends to this year’s trends? Easy (I assume).But changing your church’s worship style, facility or organizational structure after it’s been in place for decades, possibly generations? Not so easy.Even if you know change needs to happen and everyone is on board with it, never underestimate how exhausting change is going to be – and how much that exhaustion will slow people down, make them second-guess themselves, or even want to abandon the entire process mid-stream. Including you.This is why, whenever you’re attempting a big change, it is essential to build intentional time and space for rest.The best way I know to do that is to decide in advance what long-term aspects you will never change, then utilize those permanent markers as your support system to help you tackle what needs to be changed.Find places you can rest, like relationships, core theology, foundational traditions and so on.Even Desired Change Is ExhaustingI’ve discovered this recently in my own life and ministry.I just turned 60. My decades happen to match the calendar decades with only a six-week difference. In the 2010s (my 50s) I experienced a complete upheaval in the way I worship, minister and work. More than in any previous decade – including the decade I started in ministry, got married and had our kids. ...Continue reading...
Can you take this short survey to help us understand more about small churches and their leaders?Most churches in the world are small. As many as 90 percent are under 200, 80 percent under 100.Is this because the pastors of those churches haven’t mastered church growth? Or could there be other factors at play here?These are valid questions, but they have surprisingly few solid answers because very little research has been done about them.Sure, you can find a lot of good material about how to break through numerical barriers, but what about the vast majority of churches that not only stay small, but it seems like that’s how they and their leaders serve at their best?(If you want to jump right to the survey, click this link.)More Small Church Metrics Are NeededSeveral times over the last few years I’ve written about the limits of using metrics to understand the health and strength of small churches and the people who lead them. Here are links to a couple of those articles: Measuring What Matters: The Challenge of Church Metrics Effective Small Church Metrics: Why Average Results Aren’t Typical ResultsIn addition to those I also sent up a flag asking for help, with Wanted: An Effective System for Small Church Metrics.Now someone is stepping up to answer that call.Are There Small Church Pastor Personality Traits?A small church pastor named Jean Morgan is writing a Master’s thesis based on researching this idea: Are there certain personality types that are more effective for pastors in a small church environment than in a big church setting? And, if so, what are they and how can we understand them better so we can serve the church in the best possible way?In other words, is it possible that church size has less to do with the pastors’ skill set than it has to do with how God built us? And ...Continue reading...
Here's an excerpt from my latest book, a practical, principled plan for your church to get one step healthier.Today is the day! You can now buy a copy of my newest book, 100 Days To A Healthier Church!Here’s an excerpt.Chapter 2: What Can Be Done in 100 Days?Turning a church from unhealthy to healthy is a daunting task.It starts by working smarter, not harder.Here’s an example.The Paint Can: A ParableIn the 1990s, I led a small group of church members on a missions trip to Bucharest, Romania. The country was just a few years removed from one of the most oppressive, violent and evil regimes in modern history.One afternoon we were taking a short break in our hotel. While we were talking, a hotel employee was painting a wardrobe in the hallway—one of those portable closets they use in Europe, like the one in C.S. Lewis’s classic book. But there was something about the way he was doing it that was strange.The employee would brush on a few strokes of paint, disappear into the hotel room for thirty seconds or so, reappear to brush on a few more strokes, then disappear again. This kept repeating. Why?Then it hit me.Although the wardrobe was in the hallway, the can of paint was in the middle of the hotel room, so the painter was walking into and across the room for every single dip of paint! But why would he do that? Probably because that’s where everything was placed when he arrived. This painter was nearing retirement age, and he had been raised under an extraordinarily repressive regime in which you kept your head down and did the job you were given, no questions asked. Conformity was rewarded, and innovation was frowned upon.This painter was taking three or four times longer to paint the wardrobe because he had been socially, mentally, and emotionally programmed by a corrupt system not to think for himself. ...Continue reading...
The church is always at our best, not when things are going well, but when we respond in a Christ-like manner to a difficult circumstance.Did you just find out that your home church won’t be holding public services this weekend?If so, you’re not alone.Your church leaders aren’t panicking. At this point, especially if your church is large, this is a responsible decision.The current global health crisis is causing congregations all around the world to make the difficult decision to close their buildings this weekend – including the church I serve. And they may be closed for several weekends to come. (If your church is meeting, that does not make them irresponsible – especially if it’s a smaller congregation. That’s a choice each location needs to make for themselves.)But if we don’t have a church to go to this weekend, what should we do?Whether you’re on your own, or with your family, here are several ways you can participate in a faith-building worship experience this Sunday from the comfort of your own home.1. Watch An Online ServiceIf your church offers this alternative, take advantage of it. In fact, there are a lot of churches that don’t normally offer an online experience who are doing it now.If your church doesn’t have an online alternative, that’s okay. Find an online church experience that you can be blessed by until your church opens its doors again.2. Listen To Worship MusicWhatever your preferred music style is, there’s an app for that.From YouTube, to Spotify, to Pandora, to your phone playlist or even hauling out the old CDs, it’s great to spend time listening and singing along to your favorite worship music.3. PrayerAs the church, we should always be praying for each other and for the world around us. Especially now.Pray especially for the following: The elderly and illContinue reading...
We should all look forward to the day when churches of all sizes are able to gather again.As of today, the CDC has recommended that all gatherings of 50 or more people should be canceled for the next 8 weeks.Small church win, right?Wrong.No one wins in this.No “I told you so’s”As a long-time proponent of the value of small churches, you might think I’m tempted to issue an “I told you so” about small churches being better than big churches.I’m not going to do that.Because it’s not true.We Need Churches Of Every SizeI’ve never told anyone that small churches are better than big churches. I’ve never even hinted at it.In fact I’ve repeatedly stated that small churches are not better than big churches, and big churches are not better than small churches.As I’ve always said, the body of Christ needs churches of every size. That is especially true now. We need the resources of big churches and the relational pastoral voice of small churches.One ChurchIt’s a difficult time for everyone.That is why, now more than ever, we must show the world a united front.Even while we can’t gather together for church, we must band together as the church. Big churches, small churches and the people we all serve.Loving Our NeighborsThe CDC is giving us wise counsel in these recommendations about group size.Even if you’re able-bodied and unlikely to be in danger, following these rules is the best way to minimize the likelihood of passing this illness to those who are more vulnerable than you.It’s simply “love your neighbor” in a different form than we’re used to seeing it.Be The ChurchI look forward to the day when large churches are able to gather again.I will celebrate that with them.Until then, I will pray that my fellow ...Continue reading...
This is a serious and difficult time. Quarantines are hard. But we can do more than endure, we can step up and be strong.Over the next few weeks there will be a lot of people quarantined in their homes in an all-out attempt to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).This is cause for concern, but it need not be a cause for fear. Especially if we prepare well for it.But what exactly can we do while isolated – either alone or with family – for days or weeks at a time?A lot of people are already adding to their TV-watching queues. That’s not wrong – I plan to watch some TV and movies myself. But if that’s all we do, we will have added to the problem by squandering our time.Fighting Fear By Fighting BoredomStaving off boredom may seem like a trivial issue. And it is certainly not as severe as the medical and financial challenges many are facing. But it is not trivial.Fear is a very real issue right now. And fears tend to grow when we’re passive, but diminish when we’re active.So let’s keep busy. But not just for the sake of busyness. Let’s use this as an opportunity to do activities that add value to our lives and the lives of others.Here are a few ideas:1. ReadStart with the Bible. Depending how long this goes, you might cover a lot of territory, or go really deep into a book that touches your heart.Also, you can catch up on books that can teach you something new.Enjoy a novel or biography.Join an online book club with friends, or join an existing site like Goodreads.2. WriteProcess your thoughts, feelings and ideas in a journal or diary.Blog.Write a book that someone else might want to read. I can tell you from personal experience, there are more people who want to read what you have to say than you might think.Send cards or letters to friends.3. CreateThis would be a great time to ...Continue reading...
If you're not sure, don't post it. You'll never regret the joke you don't tell.(Photo: Justin humorously explains social distancing, but laughs so hard that he and Manuel forget not to touch their faces.)Humor is gift from God.Truly.The ability to laugh, even (especially?) during a crisis is an important way to find relief and share community.But knowing the line between what’s funny and what’s distasteful can be hard.So, are there any guidelines we can follow to help us share humor in a responsible way during the current season of difficulty?Here are a few pointers:1. Run it by someone else, firstBefore posting or re-posting something on social media, ask a trusted friend if you should.If they cringe, quarantine the joke between the two of you.2. Laugh with, not atThere’s enough dividing us. Use laughter to unite.Social distancing is for geography, not humor.3. Keep it light-hearted, not edgyWhile insult comedy is a valid form of communication, it’s hard to do well. It should be left to the professionals. Especially when people are ill or at risk.Default to the light-hearted, not the edgy.4. Use it to instructHumor has a way of cutting through people’s defenses so they can hear something they might otherwise be closed off to.For a great example of using humor to instruct during this crisis, check out the Don’t Be A Spreader video from Max and Mel Brooks.5. If you're not sure, don't post itYou’ll never regret the joke you don’t tell.Continue reading...
If you want to make a real difference, don't get bogged down in the details of video streaming.Just about every church is live-streaming their services now.Necessity being the mother of invention (and adaptation), we’re all doing what we have to do.Churches with pre-existing live-stream technology are learning how to conduct their service from an empty room, while those who haven’t live-streamed before are learning the basics – fast.But let’s face two facts about churches that are new to the live-stream world:1. Most first-time streamers are my friends in small churches.2. Most of us aren’t doing live-stream very well.But that’s okay.Here’s why.You Can’t Live-Stream Your Most-Needed MinistriesWhile it’s important to make a Sunday experience available to your church members, a high-quality live-stream Sunday service is not the most significant way you can serve your church or your community over the coming weeks.Top-notch video production is not what the typical small congregation expects or needs from their church leaders.Especially now.They just need to hear from their pastor, their Sunday School teacher and their friends.And not just on Sunday morning.Do What You Do BestIf your service is being live-streamed, keep it simple and do it as best you can, then move on to doing the kinds of ministry you do well.Go old-school.Regular text messages or phone calls to check in on people will mean more than seeing you on a computer screen once a week.Recruit some younger, healthier volunteers to find and bring needed supplies to those who can’t get out.Those kinds of small, simple, low-tech ministries will be of far greater value than how you frame a video shot.What We’ll RememberAt some time in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to gather ...Continue reading...
This is not a call to trust our leaders. It's a call for leaders to be more trustworthy.The most important aspect of leadership is not competence, communication or innovation.It’s integrity.When we can’t trust our leaders, life can turn really bad, really fast. Even deadly.We’re seeing it in real time right now. The current COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis will be made better by our ability to trust those in leadership or made worse by our lack of ability to trust them.Let’s pray that the weight of it will lean heavily toward trust and trustworthiness.A Call To TrustworthinessThis is not about any specific political or church leader. Right now, there’s plenty of distrust – and good reasons for it – on all sides.This is also not a call to trust our leaders. It’s a call for leaders to be more trustworthy.When they’re not (when we’re not) people die.In other times, when life is moving along relatively normally, untrustworthy leadership is a cause for debate, ridicule, even mockery. But when things go bad, lack of trust in leadership gets people killed.Earned DistrustIn the current crisis, for instance, there were many people, early on, who doubted the necessity of self-quarantine – and some who still do. Why? Often because they doubted the truthfulness of the people giving them this information.From politicians, to medical, religious and educational leaders, everyone has earned some degree of distrust from us.And I do mean earned. Distrust is not primarily the fault of the followers, but of the leaders who have given us plenty of reasons not to trust them.How To Regain TrustIf you are in a position of leadership, now more than ever we need to be able to trust you. And there’s only one way to do that.Be trustworthy.Do the right thing.Every time.Continue reading...

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