By Sue Buttry
(For the next several months these letters will feature messages from folks who have received ministry through DHF. We hope their stories will inspire you to stand with and support DHF as we encourage and lead church leaders)
It has often been said that a friend in need is a friend indeed, and this is certainly the case in ministry. As much as we don’t like to admit it, from time to time we encounter circumstances that are beyond our own ability to bear. Since individuals in our care often rely on us to be strong for them and help them through their crisis, we mistakenly may believe that any admission of a need for help is somehow an indictment against us and our ability to lead. Sadly, this mindset can eliminate divine counsel from being received.
I am reminded of Moses’ visit from his father-in-law, Jethro. I am sure that we all can relate to Moses in terms of the constant hard work that ministry requires, yet the truth is that sometimes we can find ourselves in situations that can drain us of our energy and the needed ability to think clearly and effectively solve problems. What do we do in these times? How can we come up with viable solutions when we ourselves are far too close to situations to look at them with unbiased eyes?
These are times when we need solid and trustworthy kingdom relationships. For this very reason, I am thankful for our relationship with Disciple Heritage Fellowship. DHF is a network of life-giving churches that offers relationships and resources that are invaluable at such times.
Recently our church went through a very difficult time. I was surrounded with complicated and complex decisions that had to be made, and to be quite honest, I felt very vulnerable and alone. I found my ability to clearly sort out and prioritize the many entangled issues I was facing was compromised. I prayerfully did my very best to make effective and godly decisions, yet I longed for some confirmation and counsel. I reached out to my DHF family and they were there for me with prayer, counsel and encouragement. Many of us in ministry dislike ever being on the receiving end, but I must confess that it meant the world to me. I literally felt strength and life being breathed into me and the situation became more and more clear. That is not to say it was any easier, but I was more able to effectively lead. Sometimes situations won’t change, but we certainly can.
The more I reflected on my situation, the more I felt that I had, in fact, been a better model to those I was called to lead because I was demonstrating how the body of Christ is supposed to function in support of one another.
The DHF network is making a difference in lives and churches all across America. I strongly encourage you to support the DHF network with not only your financial contributions, but also by getting more connected. A relational network is something that is best built in calm times, but then it is in place for the storms that occasionally come.
Michael Ten Eyck
DHF Board President
LEADING to THRIVE
I’ve recently dealt with several churches struggling with the reality that they can no longer afford a full-time pastor. These churches have been full-time for a generation or more, but have slowly been dwindling, cutting a bit more here, a bit more there and staving off the big decision as long as possible. But the time has arrived for them, and they see part time ministry as their only hope for survival.
This may seem to be a topic more suited for pastors than elders, but I want to speak especially to elders about this. Here’s the bottom line message I want you to hear: In 2014, churches cannot just hold their own and keep turning the wheels and survive. Most churches today are either thriving or withering away. The difference between thriving and withering churches is not one of demographics or the local economy or the myriad of other explanations we often hear. The difference is in how the top level leaders of the church (that’s the elder/pastor team) view the church.
In withering churches, the top level leadership team is concerned with the survival of the congregation. Oh, they want the church to grow and add new people, but they want those new people to be well-adjusted families who already live like Christians, whether they are or not. They don’t really want people who mess up the stability of the church, who have serious addiction issues or who are in the country illegally. They want the kind of people who make good members of a religious institution, people who love to sit in committee meetings, people who offer to teach children, people who display classic upper-middle class values and lifestyles. The leaders of withering churches are pleased with the church when the bills are being paid, the pastor hasn’t upset anyone, attendance is stable and committee members are showing up for their meetings.
Thriving churches have a top level leader team that believes the church is on a mission for God. They don’t want to preserve the congregation, they want to reach messy people and change their communities for Christ. They love people who love hands-on ministry and hate sitting in meetings. They expect new people to be messy and to consume a lot of energy and attention as they struggle to put their lives in God’s hands. They expect to be stretched and challenged, because the church is on a mission that can only succeed if God Himself steps in. The leaders of thriving churches are pleased when they see lives being transformed, heartfelt worship being offered to God and people “not like us” receiving ministry.
Withering church leaders want to preserve their particular local church. Thriving church leaders want to see their local church fulfill a mission from God or die trying.
What kind of leadership are you offering your congregation? The attitudes and expectations you project will have a major impact on the rest of the congregation.
The top leadership of any congregation set the tone and the momentum. How are you doing?
Meetings (Audio Version)
After 24 years as a local pastor, and 14 as a non-staff member at a local church, I’ve been able to get a fresh perspective on some things.
When I was a pastor, I really didn’t think twice before calling for a meeting when some issue arose that seemed to require input from several people. I worked nearly every evening anyway, so it didn’t seem like much to ask other people to give up an evening once in a while.
Now that I’m not a local pastor, I’ve come to understand the complaints I often heard, and even the lack of participation I often saw when we put another meeting on the calendar. When the church is not your job, another meeting often forces you to make tough priority decisions. It seems wrong to neglect the church when it needs your participation, but if my kids have an event I should attend or I just put in a ten-hour workday or I promised my wife I’d be home for dinner more often, another meeting isn’t a small thing. Plus, it usually takes me 20 minutes to drive to the church, and, of course, the same going home. So even a short meeting means 40-50 minutes added to my schedule.
Don’t misunderstand me. Churches need to have meetings. The alternative to having meetings is either dictatorship or chaos.
But, pastors, I’d encourage you to take a hard look at the number of meetings your church has, and try to eliminate some of the lower priority gatherings.
Specifically, ask how necessary the meeting is. Does the Education committee need to meet every month, or just as needed? In fact, do you even really need an Education committee? Would the church be just as strong if one person was responsible for maintaining the Sunday School program and recruiting teachers? Does it really require six people meeting for an hour in order to find a teacher for the Junior High class? Some groups need to meet monthly, but most churches have monthly meetings scheduled that could be easily replaced by asking one or two people to just take responsibility for an area of ministry.
Cancel meetings that don’t need to happen. If the Education committee doesn’t have any business that requires the group’s input and attention, cancel it. Even if a meeting is scheduled, don’t hold it unless there is business that justifies members’ time.
Keep meetings as short as possible. Once a group gets in the habit of meeting for an hour or for two hours, we tend to stretch subsequent meetings to that length even when the significant business only requires half an hour. Let’s be honest. If we only had fifteen minutes available, most hour-long meetings could complete the same business in that shortened time. While it’s not wise to cut short important discussions, press the participants to state their business and stop droning on. As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git ‘er done!”
Try setting meetings with specific start and finish times. Make it a rule that you can only go over the time limit by a vote of the participants.
Let people know ahead of time what the main business of the meeting will be. A simple agenda can be e-mailed a couple of days before. If things change, you don’t have to be tied to the agenda, but most of the time, this will keep meetings focused and shorter. If you are unable to write down a set of key agenda items, you probably don’t need to hold the meeting.
I sometimes hear pastors complain that their people are so uncommitted to the church that they won’t even turn up for scheduled meetings. Usually the problem is not lack of commitment by the people. The problem is a lack of respect for the time and energies of people who are seriously committed to Christ and the church, but not to meeting for the sake of meeting.
You have to have meetings. Be sure you only have meetings that are necessary and meetings that matter for the Kingdom of God.
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” You probably know the old song from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” It celebrates a slow, relaxed life in the heat of the season.
In summertime the livin’ isn’t so easy for ministries like DHF. June and July are months of diminished income for we who depend on donations that come through the mail. People are often busy, on vacation or paying high power bills to keep the house cool. Summer often reminds us that travel and recreation can eat up a lot more of our budget than we planned and we have to make cutbacks.
We’re all aware of the summer slump that can hit church attendance. I don’t think it is quite as dramatic as it used to be for most churches, but it’s a time when most folks try to get away more often than they do the rest of the year.
DHF had a pretty significant slump in giving this summer, and as we move into August and most of us head toward a more routine life, I’d ask you to consider a special gift to DHF if you’re able. I’m very pleased that DHF was able to eliminate all our debt except the building mortgage a while back, but we still need strong support to keep doing all the ministry we’re asked to do.
Some special giving at the first of 2014 enabled me to spend significant time visiting DHF churches during the first half of the year. I’m very encouraged to see the way God is using DHF to build stronger congregations and leaders. That special travel funding is nearly gone, and we need to build it back up quickly to enable further travel this fall. We also need to catch up our payroll after a couple of lean months.
I try hard not to send out whiny letters to our donors. I want to keep the focus positive and on the good things God is doing in our midst. But many of you have asked me to be open about the needs we face as well. So let me put it on the line: to catch up our payroll and to replenish the travel fund, we need to make up about $12,000 over the next few weeks.
If you are only able to support us as you usually do, we are grateful for your involvement with DHF and bless you for enabling us to help many churches. If you are in a position to help with some special giving in this season, we will be particularly thankful that you helped us get back on track and back to focusing
on ministry to churches and church leaders.
DHF lives by the regular support of individuals and churches. Thanks for being part of that network of support.
ISRAEL TRIP POSTPONED
The pilgrimage to Israel that we planned for November had to be postponed. We came to a key deadline with too few signed up. The outbreak of a major conflict between Israel and Gaza ensured that there wouldn’t likely be many others signing up for the time being so we felt it best to call off the November date.
We hope to soon announce a new plan for a trip in the Spring of 2015.
Abundance (audio version)
FAITHFUL IN THE GOOD TIMES
The way you know you live in a small town is that the only time you lock your car is in the church parking lot in the summer. You aren’t afraid of theft, you just don’t want eager gardeners leaving mounds of zucchini, tomatoes and squash on your front seat while you aren’t there to protect yourself. Abundance can be wonderful, but also can be problematic.
One of the acid tests of a church is our attitude during times of abundance. Near the end of Deuteronomy Moses’ strongest warnings to the Israelites was about the temptation to walk away from God when they got settled into the promised land and started thriving in the abundance the land would produce. God spoke through Moses, saying, “When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking their covenant…”
We tend to believe that the hard times, the lean times, are when the temptation to neglect God is strongest. That’s not really the case. More often the hard times force us to rely on God. It’s usually in the good times that we become complacent and start thinking we deserve our blessings and don’t desperately need The Lord.
As you read or listen to this Elder Update, your church may be in tough times, and it may be in the best of times. Either way, it is your job as the church’s spiritual leaders to keep God at the center. Eldership is not really about keeping up with the financial statements and the new roof and the need for a Sunday School teacher for the Junior High class. These things matter, but the core of eldership is seeing that the church stays focused on Jesus and the good news. Anything else, no matter how positive or inspiring, fades into insignificance if the church becomes focused on itself.
As your leadership team meets, spend some time reflecting on the deep questions. Are people are growing closer to God in this season of your congregation? Are your worship services God-centered in ways that lead worshippers to experience and be touched by the living presence of the King? Is your church’s youth ministry creating teens who love The Lord? Are the activities of the church throughout the week bringing people closer to Christ or just keeping things moving efficiently?
Elders and pastors, your key task is not managing the church, it is leading the church toward the love of God and toward Christlike character. In the rough times, keep that focus. And when the church is thriving, work even harder to keep the main thing the main thing. As God blesses you, keep the living God at the center of everything you do as a church.
The Holy Land visit Doug was planning for November has been postponed until Spring, 2015. We simply had too little lead time. When the deadline for holding airline tickets passed, there were only four who had definitely committed to the trip. The recent outbreak of rocket attacks from Gaza and the Israeli response have further discouraged people from signing up right now. We hope to announce Spring dates very soon.