Thursday, January 30, 2014

Both Formal and Informal Theological Training Have Value

As a person who holds two advanced degrees from two different seminaries, I place a high value on theological education. But I have learned that while a formal theological education is helpful, it is not necessary for a person to accomplish effective ministry. I have met numerous pastors who were self-taught and were extremely effective in their ministries. I have also met a significant number of lay people who could discuss deep theological issues even though they had no formal theological education.

I have invested quite a bit of effort in training lay people to help their pastors accomplish effective ministry in their churches. Over the course of the last two years I have taught over seventy laypeople from how to preach and make pastoral quality visits. Some church and/or denominational leaders may feel that teaching lay people to preach and giving them significant pastoral duties will weaken the church. My point of view is that if laymen are given adequate training, then there would be no reason to expect inadequate preaching and pastoral care from them.

While there may be some voices of concern regarding the quality of lay preachers, a rising chorus of voices is also calling for increased training for lay ministers so they can be as effective as possible. Steve Nerger writes in his book, Bivocational Church Planters: Uniquely Wired for Kingdom Growth, “God has a unique calling for pastors. We are not trying to diminish that. However, this calling is not just for seminary-trained men. That is a North American mistake created by the arrogance of humankind with the prestige of a human-made education.” Nerger recognizes the role of formal theological education in training ministry leaders; he just believes that people have gotten so focused on formal education that they may have missed the bigger implications of God’s calling on a person’s life to serve in ministry.

Formal education has great value. Men who want to minister should avail themselves of such education when possible. But people should not let their lack of formal theological training keep them from serving the Lord. The bottom line is that when God calls people to serve Him, God will help those people answer that calling regardless of the level of their formal theological education.

Dr. Terry Dorsett is church planter and author in New England. He has a passion for helping small churches be effective in ministry. He is the author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, which is being used by over 4,000 churches across North America.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Training Lay People for Ministry in the Local Church

In the New Testament, the local church was the primary training experience for ministry. In order to build effective leadership teams, the church must once again become the preeminent place for ministry training. That is not to say that formal theological training has no value and should not be pursued. It simply means that when such training occurs in isolation from the local church, it has significantly less value than church-based training.

2 Timothy 2:1-2 speaks about this issue. In that passage Paul writes, “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others (NLT).” This passage specifically instructs Timothy to educate leaders so they can train others. This is not just preaching to the congregation; this is training new leaders who will teach the congregation. This training occurred in the context of the local church.

Current thinking about leadership training in churches often follows this scenario; people express a call to vocational ministry, they are encouraged to go away to various seminaries to learn how to fulfill their calling, they graduate from seminary, then churches hire them to serve as pastoral leaders. Though there is nothing inherently wrong this system, it is very different from how people were trained in the New Testament. Most of the leaders of the New Testament church were trained on the job as they served alongside other leaders. The local church was the primary training experience for ministry.

Churches need to regain their understanding of Titus 1:5-9, “The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: someone who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God's manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it (HCSB).”

This passage indicates that Paul left Titus on Crete to finish what was left undone, which was the appointment and training of leaders for the churches. Notice that Titus was not instructed to accomplish this by gathering the leaders together and sending them off to some formal seminary in a distant place. The indication is that he was to train them in place.

These leaders were not just secondary helpers charged with menial tasks that Titus did not want to do. They were to be overseers of the church with significant responsibilities. These leaders were given the charge to teach the scriptures to the congregations they led. They were also given the charge to refute those who were teaching false doctrine. It is one thing to be able to give a proper lesson to those who agree with you. It is quite another to rebuke a person who is teaching a false theology. The fact that the overseers were expected to do this speaks to the highly developed level of their training and abilities, all of which was formed in the context of the local church.

Many people who sense God calling them to a deeper level of service will be unable to attend a formal seminary. Though many will be able to take advantage of on-line programs and distance learning, the reality is that the needs of small churches across America are so great that we need people to be training in place and in context so they can help lead while they train. Some schools have figured this out and have started adding this component to their formal education programs. But ultimately, it is not the schools’ jobs to solve this problem. It is the church’s job to train leaders. Though we may use some formal courses or partner with Bible colleges in the process, ultimately each church must accept responsibility for training their own leaders. When that begins to happen on a regular basis, churches will be healthier and more people will come to faith in Christ.

These ideas are adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church,
which is being used by over 4,000 pastors to train leaders in their own churches.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lay People Want to Help Their Pastor

H. B. London expresses the feeling of many pastors in his book Your Pastor is an Endangered Species, when he writes, “pastors serve in a me-centered world where church members and attenders are becoming more and more apathetic.” Many pastors are frustrated because every year it seems that fewer and fewer lay people are willing to serve on committees or accept volunteer positions in the church. Some time ago I wrote a post about how pastors need to learn to delegate. One pastor posted a response that lamented that "it is difficult to get the church body to do the things that need done." Most pastors would agree with that statement.

But I wonder sometimes if we pastors have unintentionally taught the people in our congregation to be spectators instead of leaders. One pastor friend of mine insists on printing the bulletin himself. He says this is because no one in the congregation is willing to do it correctly. When I asked if he had ever showed anyone how to do it correctly, he said no. How can we expect a person to serve correctly if we have never trained them? Another pastor friend of mine teaches all the adult Bible studies himself. He says he is the only one who knows the Bible well enough to teach it. While that may have been true when he first went to the church, after more than a decade of service to that congregation, why has no one in his church learned enough yet to be able to teach a Bible study? Why has he trained no one how to teach in a decade?

Fred Lehr works with pastors who have experienced burn out. He writes in his book, Clergy Burnout: Recovering from the Seventy Hour Work Week and Other Self Defeating Practices that “the volume of responsibilities dumped on the clergy is inordinate, and because we clergy are so codependent, we accept that burden, rescue the laity from their responsibilities, and suffer the consequences.” Pastors must learn to let go of their own need to be in control. Pastors must help the laity accept more responsibility for the ministries of the church. Pastors may be surprised how much lay people are willing to do if only they are asked and then trained properly and then loosed to do the ministry.

Pastors should make sure their sermons include teaching on spiritual gifts and the importance of using those gifts for God. Pastors must find ways to highlight practical examples of what lay people can do to help lead the church. Pastors must resist the urge to micro-manage the people whom they select and train. Once lay people begin to understand that they are needed and gifted for ministry, they will be more willing to accept responsibility for ministry leadership.

Pastors should not wait for people to step forward and volunteer. They should be constantly looking for parishioners with leadership potential. Pastors should have an ongoing and intentional plan for discovering, enlisting, training, and releasing lay people for ministry.

Dennis Bickers writes in his book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, that pastors "should not expect to find lay leaders who are capable of serving on leadership teams without investing time and energy in training them.” Pastors must make time in their own schedules to develop leaders. Pastors must then be willing to release significant responsibilities to the individuals they train. When lay leaders have been trained, and then are allowed to do what they have been trained to do, it is amazing what they are able and willing to do.

This post is adapted from ideas in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational
Church. The book includes six practical lessons that pastors can use to teach lay people how to assist in the ministries of the church. Though written specifically for bivocational pastors, over 4000 churches of various sizes are using the concepts found in this book.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Multiple Leaders Create Stronger Churches

Many small churches have become accustomed to a single-pastor model of church leadership. Though this model can be effective, it does limit the size of the church because one leader can only accomplish so much, regardless of how great a leader that person may be. In larger churches this model may be modified some because there may be a staff of pastors who serve under a senior pastor, but the basic concept is still that the senior pastor has a great deal of authority over the church.

This single-pastor model is especially evident in the preaching and pastoral care ministries of the church. In a small church the pastor is often expected to do almost all of the preaching and pastoral care. Since most pastors enjoy those ministries, they do not mind doing them. But in situations when the pastor is bivocational and has to work a second job, having all of the preaching and pastoral care duties can be challenging.
Not only can preaching and pastoral care be overwhelming for bivocational pastors, but if that pastor does all of these ministries on his own, it creates the impression that the pastor has more authority than the New Testament grants. Once the congregation perceives that the pastor has all the authority, it follows that the pastor also bears all the responsibility for getting everything done. This tension between authority and responsibility can be significant. Yet this is exactly what many bivocational pastors face in their churches. The church expects them to provide most of the leadership in the church as well as accept most of the blame for any faults in the church. This is not how the church was led in the New Testament and it often puts bivocational pastors in unrealistic situations.
In the life of the New Testament church there was an equal sharing of leadership by a group of people. One example of this multiple leadership approach is found in Acts 13:1-3: "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." This passage demonstrates that five people were serving together as the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. There is no distinction made between the leaders, which indicates a joint sharing of duties and responsibilities between these five individuals.
This plurality shows that the church should not rise and fall on the leadership of just one person. When pastors find themselves in churches that do not have multiple leaders, developing leaders should be one of the first priorities. Paul's young protégé Timothy found himself in such a situation while he was serving as pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy instructing him in how to lead the church. Part of those instructions are found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2: "Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others."
In this passage Paul instructs Timothy to teach other individuals the truth of the gospel. But they were not just any individuals; they were individuals who must be able to share in the teaching ministry of the church. They were to be trustworthy people who would pass the truth of the gospel on to others. The emphasis was on Timothy training others who would join him in his teaching, preaching, and leading ministries in the church. This should be a goal of all pastors, especially those serving in bivocational roles.
Ministry is never easy. And training leaders to help lead is a lot of work. But in the end, it is worth it because more laborers in the field will produce greater results. Pastors should look for people they can develop into deacons, or elders, or pastoral staff members, or whatever other structure the church is comfortable with. The titles are not as important as the concept, which is that churches that use a multiple leader approach will be healthier than churches with only one leader.
Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, written by Dr.
Terry W. Dorsett and being used in nearly 3000 churches across North America.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Challenges of Bivocational Ministry

Pastors who work a job in addition to their church are often referred to as bivocational pastors because they have two vocations; the church and something else. Though few pastors would choose to be bivocational in a perfect world, the majority of pastors will spend at least a portion of their career in bivocational situations. Therefore, all pastors should learn how to handle the challenges of this type of ministry so they will be prepared for it.

Since writing the book, 
Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, I have had ample opportunity to discuss both the advantages and the challenges of bivocational ministry with pastors, denominational leaders and ministerial students. Based on those discussions, as well as my own experiences as a bivocational pastor, I have developed this list of challenges that bivocational ministers face and some ways in which those ministers dealt with those challenges.

Challenges bivocational pastors deal with regularly:

1. Bivocational pastors frequently discuss not having enough time to do as much ministry as they would like. They often feel like they are not available to the congregation because of their second job. This causes them to feel frustrated with and/or guilty about their perceived lack of accomplishment in ministry. Though I have not yet met a bivocational pastor who has successfully overcome these feelings of unavailability, a number of pastors have expressed that when they trained some of the church members (usually the deacons) to do some of the visitation, it helped relieve some of the stress they felt regarding this issue.

2. Bivocational pastors often find it difficult to spend as much time studying and preparing their sermons as they would like. This often makes them feel inadequate in the pulpit and robs them of the confidence they would like to have when they preach. Many bivocational pastors list this as their greatest challenge to ministry. The pastors who seem to have overcome this challenge the most effectively have told me that instead of trying to prepare the entire sermon at once, they work on it a little each day. Though they still need to find a large block of time near the end of the week to pull all the stray thoughts together, those that did a little study each day expressed that it was much easier than waiting until their day off and trying to do it all at once.

3. Bivocational pastors are often so busy they do not have adequate time to do the administrative duties incumbent on pastors. This often leaves them feeling overwhelmed. Some pastors have said that they were blessed by lay people willing to pick up this part of their ministry. Pastors who were able to release these things to lay people often felt freer from administrative stress.

4. Bivocational pastors seldom feel they have enough time for their own families. This results in them feeling an enormous sense of guilt, especially in regards to how much time they spent with their children. Though I have yet to meet a pastor who said they spent as much time as they wanted to with their family, the ones that blocked out time on their calendars for children’s sporting events and birthdays felt better about this issue than those that did not.

5. Bivocational pastors often feel they do not have time for their own personal growth. This is a particularly challenging issue. Only a small minority of bivocational pastors have developed systems for personal growth that they feel are adequate. That minority simply said they somehow learned to carve out time that they did not have, and that it was always worth it.

6. Bivocational pastors often feel they do not have the time to be involved in servant evangelism or to take part in volunteer work within the community. This is also a challenging issue. Only a small minority of pastors felt they had the time to do this. Most of those that were able to find time for this were the owners of small businesses who were able to set their own schedules. Many of them were in fields in which their secular skills could be used in servant evangelism projects, such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, or mechanics.

7. Bivocational pastors often feel the need for breaks from ministry because of the constant stress, but seldom have time to take such breaks. Though it might sound difficult to find the time for such breaks, the pastors who have addressed this issue have said that something as simple as an overnight getaway with their spouse was enough to recharge their energy levels for another few months.

8. Bivocational pastors frequently are unable to attend seminars, conferences, and denominational meetings because those meetings conflict with their other jobs. This made pastors feel disconnected from their peers. The pastors who were best able to overcome this sense of disconnection picked one significant event a year which many of their fellow pastors attend and made it a priority to participate in that event every year.

9. Bivocational pastors often express a sense of being out of balance when trying to reconcile work, family, and ministry. They frequently mention the need for quiet moments in which they can think clearly about what they need to do next. The pastors who found an afternoon to devote to quiet reflection were most likely to re-establish a sense of balance in their lives. However, most said that in a few months they would be out of balance again. Therefore, afternoons for quiet reflection had to be found 3-4 times a year in order to continually rebalance their lives.

10. Bivocational pastors often find it difficult to keep up with simple chores around the house, such as making minor repairs or cutting the grass because of the time demands of their two jobs. Though there is no easy answer to this issue, some pastors shared that deacons from their churches had been willing to help with some of these chores and that this was a great blessing to them.

11. Bivocational pastors sometimes feel that their social lives have to revolve around church members and church activities. The pastors who feel this way express that this gives them a smaller social network than they would like. These same pastors feel that they are not able to be as transparent as they would like in such relationships because of the danger of becoming too close to church members. I found it intriguing that not all bivocational pastors feel this way about their social lives. Some pastors actually felt this was an advantage instead of a disadvantage. It really comes down to the pastor’s personality and leadership style.

Bivocational ministry has many challenges, but it can be done effectively. Pastors in bivocational settings need to be aware of the challenges and intentionally develop thinking processes and patterns of behavior that will help them continually address these challenges. Lay leaders also need to look for ways to help bivocational pastors with these types of challenges so that their pastors can be healthier and so their churches can be more effective. Church leaders that express care and concern to their pastors tend to keep their pastors longer and see more fruitful ministry from them. Churches that can develop a team mentality in regards to church leadership were usually able to help their pastor be healthier. When the pastor was healthier, then the churches tended to be healthier too.

Dr. Terry Dorsett is a bivocational pastor and church planting missionary in New England. He is the
author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church and Bible Brain Teasers: Fun Adventures through the Bible.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Growing Reality of Bivocational Ministry

When a pastor is referred to as “bivocational,” it means that he works a second job in addition to his service to the church. This does not mean he is a part-time pastor, as all pastors are in full-time service to the Lord. Only a few pastors are bivocational by choice. Most have been pushed into to it due to the low wages that small churches pay are able to pay pastors. In many situations, both the pastor and the church wish the pastor did not have to work the second job, but both realize it is just the reality of the situation.

Regardless of the preferences of both pastors and churches, bivocational ministry is a growing practice across North America. There are a number of reasons that bivocational ministry is growing, but the three that are the most obvious are: the lack of stewardship training, the rise of the cost of living in North America, and the current economic situation.

A number of studies have demonstrated that older generations were more generous in their giving to churches than young generations. Part of this is that older generations generally carried as little debt as possible, while younger generations tend to want everything now and are willing to take on debt to get it. Once they have all the payments that come with debt, they have less money to donate to the church than their parents or grandparents might have had. Churches must also take part of the blame because many churches are less comfortable teaching about stewardship issues than in the past. Since churches have failed to teach on this subject, even church members who are committed to their church may not be as generous as they would be if they had been taught better. As older generations have either exhausted their resources in retirement, or passed away, the younger generations that have replaced them give less money to the church. Therefore, churches that may be relatively the same size as they have always been may have fewer resources than in the past. This often results in the pastor’s salary and/or benefits being reduced. This frequently leads to the pastor having to seek additional from a second job.

Another factor impacting churches is that the cost of living for a pastor has simply become more expensive. In the past, small churches often had a parsonage for the pastor to live in. Many people in the church were farmers and they kept the pastor supplied with vegetables from their gardens and meat from their livestock. The pastor only needed a small amount of cash to live. Therefore, small churches could often afford a pastor even though they could not pay a lot. Fewer churches now have parsonages, so pastors must either rent or purchase a home of their own. This adds a significant amount to what the pastor requires financially. Even in rural areas, fewer people in America are farmers, and therefore fewer bags of garden vegetables show up on the pastor’s doorstep from church members. All of these factors add up to the pastor needing a much higher salary than what ministers  needed in the past. Many churches are simply unable to pay a pastor enough to support his family.

Finally, the current economic situation has put a lot of people out of work and caused many retired people to lose income due to investment losses. Therefore, even people who are faithful and committed to the church and who love their pastor dearly, simply make less money, and therefore must donate less. Many churches have seen a significant drop in giving, especially in areas of the country most affected by the ongoing economic situation. This has caused many churches that were already struggling to maintain a full salary and benefit package for their pastor to be unable to keep it up. Many pastors have been forced to seek a second job. Though many churches anticipate that when the economic situation begins to turn around, they may be able to fully fund their pastor again, there is no way to know how long that may be. And with the other two factors mentioned above putting additional pressure on small churches, many small churches will never be able to go back to a fully funded pastoral position.

For these reasons, bivocationalism is a growing reality in America. Pastors who find themselves serving such small churches are going to have to think differently about how they do their ministry so they do not burn out trying to serve the church as well as work a second job. One of the best things pastors can do is develop a leadership team in the church so that they do not have to do the entire ministry alone. Pastors who are unwilling to invest the time in developing a leadership team will find themselves under increasing levels of stress, which they may be unable to endure. Therefore, the development of a leadership team in a small church is essential for the long term health of both the pastor and the church.

Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, written by Dr.
Terry W. Dorsett and being used in nearly 3000 churches across North America.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Does the New Testament Teach Bivocational Ministry?

The New Testament demonstrates that bivocational ministry was normal for the church during the New Testament era. Though many twenty-first century church attendees in North America do not understand that New Testament churches were often led by bivocational pastors, this does not change the reality of history. The most well-known New Testament example of bivocational ministry is the Apostle Paul. Luke records one of Paul's bivocational experiences in Acts 18:1-4: "After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks." This passage indicates that Paul was a tentmaker. This was not just something that Paul did before he went into the ministry, but a vocation he was involved in while he was also in the process of ministry. The word for "tentmaker" (skenopoios) used here actually refers to leather working. When Paul came to minister in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, who practiced the same trade. They apparently entered into some kind of business arrangement and worked together in their trade. Paul worked his trade during the week and then on the Sabbath he would go to the synagogue to persuade people to become followers of Jesus.

Paul's efforts to persuade people to become followers of Jesus in the synagogue were not just casual conversations he was having with individuals after the synagogue gathering. Darrell Bock, an expert on the book of Acts, points out that the word reasoned comes from the Greek word dialegomia, which refers to “ giving a discourse or to debating, depending on the context. Its combination with the next verb suggests debate in the synagogue." Each Sabbath, Paul was having intense debates which were designed to convince people of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. This would have required much thought and preparation. Paul found time for this preparation, in addition to working in his trade as a tentmaker.

Bivocational ministry was also normal in North America until fairly recently. The term was not used because almost every pastor was bivocational. This was simply how ministers survived in the early days of American life. The transition away from bivocational ministry came as a result of the desire of churches to have a more educated clergy. Denominations across the nation established a number of colleges and seminaries. As the clergy became more educated, they also began to see themselves as “professionals” who could not be expected to work a second job. Many churches now falsely believe that a professionally trained and fully-funded clergy has always been a significant part of church life from the New Testament era until now. History simply proves that idea to be incorrect.

This does not mean that it is “wrong” to be a fully-funded pastor. It simply means that a fully-funded clergy is actually the exception instead of the norm. We must help church members learn a correct New Testament theology of church leadership and a correct history of church leadership in North American church life. As churches rediscover these truths, they will be able to return to a normal way of functioning. Once churches are functioning normally again, there will be a lot less stress on the church than what often exists in small churches that are trying to be something God never intended them to be.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. Published by CrossBooks, the material is full of practical advice to both pastors and the small churches they serve. Many fully-funded pastors are using the ideas to empower the laity as well.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rethinking Bivocational Ministry

One of the challenges that bivocational pastors must overcome is a perceived second-class status in ministry. Though this concept comes from many sources, one of the main groups that perpetrate this feeling is our fully-funded pastoral colleagues.

Over time, this perception of bivocational ministry being second-class has resulted in a negative social stigma being attached to the concept of bivocational ministry. Some bivocational pastors may not even want to think of themselves as bivocational because of the perceived stigma attached to the term. I have heard many pastors declare that they are not bivocational, they just work a second job. They deny the reality of what they are because somewhere along the way someone told them that being bivocational was something less than being fully-funded. I want to challenge that notion and proclaim to everyone that being bivocational is not a bad thing.

People will occasionally refer to bivocational pastors as part-time pastors. This is a misnomer because all pastors are on call twenty-four hours a day. Therefore, there are no actual part-time pastors. What we really have in bivocational ministry are full-time pastors who are only being partially compensated for their work and therefore have to seek additional employment in order to support their families. Do not insult a bivocational pastor by referring to him as part-time. He deserves more respect than that from the people he serves and from his fully-funded peers.

Being bivocational is not something to be looked down on. The Apostle Paul was bivocational. Down through the centuries there have always been bivocational ministers. Sometimes the percentage of bivocational pastors has been higher, and sometimes lower. This has resulted in many waves of bivocational ministry ebbing and flowing as the situation dictated. The wave of bivocationalism that is currently sweeping North America is a combination of a weak economy, a lack of commitment to stewardship within the church, and a new understanding of the importance of bivocational ministry. Bivocationalism is here to stay, so let's stop thinking poorly about it and start rethinking how we can use it to grow the church of Jesus Christ.

This is an excerpt from the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. I wrote

this material not just for pastors, but for all leaders in the small church. As pastors and lay-leaders read it together, they will be able to rethink bivocational ministry.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Value of a Topical Sermon Series

I currently serve as the co-pastor of Faith Fellowship Church, which meets on the campus of the University of Hartford. Though we normally use expository preaching, we are just finishing up a topical sermon series on the Power of Prayer. Though a sermon series does not have to be topical, it often is. There are many good reasons to use a topical sermon series, even if expository preaching is one's favorite method. A topical sermon series allows you to delve deeper into a particular subject than a stand-alone sermon or an expository. A sermon series is useful when the material is simply too much to be covered in a single sermon or from a single passage of scripture.

A series can be as short as three sermons or as long as eight. Less than three is just not enough to make a real series. More than eight is probably too long for people to connect all the parts to the whole.

A series should have an overall theme. Each sermon in the series will address some aspect of that theme. For maximum effectiveness, some sort of review will be necessary during each sermon to connect the individual sermons to the whole series. Handouts tend to help the series be more effective because it provides a written summary of the entire series after it is completed. If is also helpful to post the notes from each sermon on a blog or Facebook page, so that people who miss one of the sermons can stay up to date. If the series would interest the community, it can be used as an outreach tool.

Creating a strong series of sermons is a lot of work. It is easy to question the validity of all that work once the series is over, especially if there were no immediate results from the series. However, a sermon series can continue to be useful long after all the sermons have been preached.

Ways to use a sermon series after it is complete:

1. Use CDs/DVDs of the series to give to church visitors as a welcome gift. This is especially helpful if it is a series that explains what the church believes.

2. Use CDs/DVDs of the series as an outreach tool to the community. This is especially helpful if it covers some topic that might be of interest to the greater community, such as how to be an effective parent, or how to have a happy marriage or how to manage personal finances.

3. Use CDs/DVDs to build a “library” of the church’s teaching on a particular subject. This is especially helpful if the church has a lending library so that people can check the series out.

4. Distribute CDs/DVDs to those who have become home bound temporarily or are residents at a nursing home. This allows them to keep up with what is being taught at church.

5. Use the series to provide theological training to others. This is especially helpful if others in the church want to become pastors or lay ministers.

6. Convert the sermon series into a weekend seminar or week long revival so it can be used again.

7. Publish the series on YouTube so that the general public can have access to the information as well.

8. Convert the notes from the sermon series into a booklet that can be mass produced and distributed widely.

Though creating a strong series of sermons can be a lot of work, by using the series in other ways besides the original intent, it can be well worth the effort.

This is an excerpt from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational
Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use training sessions that helps lay people assist their pastor in ministry.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eight Qualities of Effective Prayer

We all want to have a more effective prayer life. In order to do so, our prayers must have certain qualities.

1. Prayer should be specific.
               Psalm 27:4
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
               David asked God for one very specific thing, which was that he would dwell with the Lord.
               Acts 12:5
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
               The church was praying specifically for Peter to be released from prison, and he was.
               Often our prayers are ineffective because they are so general that we would not know they were answered anyway.

2. Prayer should be simple.
               Matthew 6:7
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
               Just because our prayers should be specific, does not mean they have to be complicated. On the contrary, a specific prayer can be quite simply, perhaps even only two or three sentences.

3. Prayer should be persistent.
               Luke 18:7-8
Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
Though we want to use prayers that are simple and specific, that does not mean that we only pray them one time. We must be persistent in our prayers. Luke tells the story of an unjust judge who eventually did the right thing for a widow simple because she kept pestering him. Jesus makes the parallel that if an unjust judge would finally do what was right, how much more will a God who loves us and cares for us do what is right for us.

4. Prayer should be humble.
               Psalm 10:17
You hear, 0 Lord, the desire of the humble, you encourage them and you listen to their cry.
               Luke 18:13-14
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breasts and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Though God invites us to be persistent in our specific and simple prayers, that does not mean that we should become demanding of God. We must always approach God humbly. God owes us nothing; therefore we can demand nothing from Him. We approach God as a humble sinner in need of a touch from the Devine.

5. Prayer should be confident.
               Ephesians 3:12
. . . through faith in Christ we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
               Hebrews 10: 19
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is his body.
Though we approach God humbly with our specific, simple but persistent prayers, the Bible also says that we should pray in confidence that God will hear our prayers. Though it may sound like confident praying somehow contradicts humble praying, that is not the case. We pray humbly because God owes us nothing. We pray confidently because we know that come before the Father in the name of the Son. The Father loves the Son and since Christians are clothed in His righteousness, then the Father will listen to us. Our confidence comes from our position in Christ, not our own spiritual position.

6. Prayer should be done in faith.
               Matthew 21:21-22
Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go throw yourself into the sea and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
Because our confidence is in Christ, we can pray our simple, specific, persistent, humble prayers in faith believing God will answer those prayers. Though sometimes our faith wavers, it is also okay to pray for God to increase our faith.

7. Prayer should be truthful.
               Psalm 145:18-19
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
As we seek to increase our faith, it is important that we be truthful in our prayer relationship with God. We often pray the right things for the wrong motives. We must examine our hearts and be truthful with God.

8. Prayer should be in agreement
with God's will.
               1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of Him.
Even when we pray truthful prayers in faith that demonstrate all the right characteristics of prayers, we must also accept the reality that sometimes God has a bigger plan in mind than our can presently see or understand. Because of that bigger plan, we must accept the reality that sometimes God’s will is different than our will. In those moments, we must allow our prayers to yield to the sovereign will of God.

We all want to have a more effective prayer life. In order for that to happen, we must put into practice these eight qualities of effective prayer
1. Prayer should be specific.
2. Prayer should be simple.
3. Prayer should be persistent.
4. Prayer should be humble.
5. Prayer should be confident.
6. Prayer should be done in faith.
7. Prayer should be truthful.
8. Prayer should be in agreement with God's will.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I believe in Earth. The rest is easy. - Guest Post by Joe McKeever

Originally posted at on 

“When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers….what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
The greatest proof of Heaven is Earth.
From all our scientists are learning every day, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the vast distances of space, the intricate and specific requirements necessary to produce and sustain life on any planet, and the mind-blowing odds that such a place as Earth could exist anywhere in the universe.
And yet, here we are, calmly discussing football playoffs, whose turn it is to buy the next King cake, and repeating the amazing things our grandchildren have said.
Friend, if Earth can exist, Heaven is a cinch. A lay-up. A gimme.  A no-brainer.
Think of what is required in order to have life on this small planet.  A scientist would smile at my small list and no doubt could add a dozen more elements to it, but some of the requirements for life to exist on Earth (or any other planet) must include:
–Light from the sun.
–Just the right distance from the sun, so there is not too much nor too little light.
–Rotation of the earth, in order to expose all sides to the warmth and light.  Just the right speed, and the ideal tilt on the axis.
–A breathable atmosphere.
–Gravity, to keep the atmosphere from floating off into space (as may well have occurred with our moon).
–Climate to sustain life.
–Water.  This is every bit as vital to life on earth as is light of the sun and oxygen.
–Balance of nature.  Everything has to be “just so.” In this case, plants give off oxygen which we require and animal life gives off carbon dioxide, necessary for plant life.
–The earth’s orbit around the sun.
–Earth is warm at its core.  It contains elements useful to mankind, such as oil, coal, copper, and gold, and those elements are attainable.
–Weather must be variable. Volcanoes and earthquakes allow the planet a pressure relief value from internal stress, and tornadoes and hurricanes relief from surface stress.
–Topsoil.  Earth is not paved, like a rock, but tillable and varied, and lifegiving.
–Honeybees.  (In googling this subject, I came across numerous articles touting the pollinating effect of these little creatures.  If they die out, we’re told, life on earth is in trouble.)
That’s 13 requirements in order to have life on this earth.  And here they all are, in place, working just fine.  And, may we add, at no point has the Almighty put you and me in charge and informed us that unless we go out every morning with our tool kit and maintain the gravitational forces or the rotation of the earth, life would fail.
God sustains it.
Put another way, the forces of “Nature” (big word, huh?) put these elements into place and keep them operating.  We humans are simply the benefactors, the inheritors of such incredible life-giving blessings.
The writer of Hebrews said, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).  Pretty good analysis, if you ask me, particularly for one living 2,000 years ago who had never heard of atoms, molecules, and quarks.
Earth is the wonder of the universe, far more amazing than anything we have ever seen through the Hubble Telescope.
So far, there is nothing remotely like it out there.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Earth is so amazing, the wonder is that humanity does not wander around in a daze muttering over and over, “I can’t believe it. I can’t get over it.  Look at this plant. Look at this rock.  Look at this child.  Look at me.”
The wonder is that we have not produced a skeptical society of humanists (I’m trying not to smile here) who refuse to believe in something so far-fetched as earth. Those of us who insisted to them that “there has to be an Earth because here we are” would be answered with laughter and derision.
To believe in Heaven may be the simplest decision you and I will ever make.
The first and biggest step is to believe in Earth; the rest is simple.
So, why don’t people believe?
1) Most don’t stop to think about this.  Living in the most amazing spot in the entire universe, they take it all for granted, assume this is just the way it is, and never pause to look up and consider that Heaven is no more unlikely than Earth is.  And yet, here it is and here we are.
If He can do this, doing “that” seems the most logical thing in the world.
People ask our twin granddaughters, “What’s it like being a twin?” Abby or Erin will answer, “I don’t know. I’ve never not been one.” In the same way, mankind exists on this planet as though it is all there is, the most logical place to be in the universe to be, and somehow is our right to do. We don’t know any other life, and so we do not ask the most basic questions about life on this small planet, questions like “How did this happen?  Why this planet, of all the places in the universe? Why me, Lord?”
Earth is the biggest miracle in the universe. At least, so far.
Repeat: Heaven is no more unlikely than is Earth.
2) They have never been told of the living God of love and glory and Jesus and the cross, but have been told only of gods of cruelty and ugliness, littleness and spite. The Bible asks, “How shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14)
They don’t know.
Let’s go tell them.
Jesus said, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man” (His name for Himself) (John 3:13).  He is a native of Heaven!
Jesus Christ is the only One who knows. He is uniquely qualified to reveal Heaven to us and introduce us to God the Father. He said so Himself in Matthew 11:27.
3) Many choose not to believe even though their heart cries out that Jesus Christ alone is indeed “The Way, the Truth, the Life” (John 14:6).
To believe in God–in Jesus Christ, in Heaven, in the revelation of Holy Scripture–has all kinds of ramifications and implications which the carnal, stubborn, independent and willful mind rebels at accepting.
–Jesus:  To accept Him as the incarnate Son of the living God, the only One who knows the Father and the only way to the Father, the only One who has come from Heaven and thus able to reveal it to us, to accept that means to yield to Him as the Authority on everything else.
Jesus is Lord.
–Gospel: To accept that this message of salvation in Jesus Christ is the truth of the ages is to agree it deserves priority in everything.
People need the Lord.
–Church:  To agree that the redeemed people of God make up the earthly “body of Christ,” and to them has been given this “Word of reconciliation” to take to the ends of the earth would automatically make the church the most important collection of people on earth which deserves my full devotion and commitment and participation.
Christ-followers need the Church.
Choosing to disbelieve in spite of the overwhelming proof all around us that God is alive and Heaven is a certainty, the disbelievers ramp up their protests.  
They increase the volume of their criticism, double down to finding flaws and inconsistencies in the lives and preachings of God’s people (and calling attention to them as publically as possible!), and turn up the tempo of their stridency in the hope that doing so will sufficiently camouflage their fears and draw attention away from their knocking knees.
It will not.
Nothing will satisfy the human heart that wants so much to believe in a living God except faith in Jesus Christ through whom we know God.
If we can believe in Earth, then believing in Heaven is a short step.
It’s the turning loose of idolatry-of-oneself that we do not want to give up.
Doing that takes an act of the will in which we say, “Help me, Father. I want to believe, but my rebellious heart refuses to go quietly.”
He’s not offended. He’s heard it all before, a few zillion times in fact.  So go ahead and say it.
Say it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
See you in Heaven, friend.
It’s going to be great.