Tuesday, Tuesday – October 2014

Keep Your Head (audio)

In II Timothy 4:5, Paul exhorts Timothy to “keep your head at all times.”

This advice to a younger pastor is still important. If you want to be the spiritual leader of a church, you’ve got to be able to keep your head.

If you are easily drawn into confrontation and argument, even if you win the battle, you will lose the war to become the pastor of your people’s hearts. If you get upset and despair when setbacks come, you will get a depressed, immature congregation. If you unthinkingly rush into every new idea or program that comes down the pike, you will quickly exhaust the patience of the church. If you allow every issue in the church to become a life-and-death struggle, you will find your whole life defined by conflict, not the Gospel.

“Keep your head” emphasizes the importance of staying in control of ourselves in the stresses of ministry. The more that others are emoting, falling apart, raging and so on, the more imperative it becomes that we stay calm and act as the adult in the room. Every church has some folks who thrive on emotional excess. If they can use that to draw you into actions you later regret, they own you.

I’ve noticed that in meetings where someone starts to get too loud and belligerent the only response that has a chance of bringing things back to sanity is a calm, positive, confident reply. It doesn’t have to directly challenge them. The contrast exaggerates their loss of control and gives them a chance to respond in kind. It’s not a guarantee of a good reaction, but joining the escalation of emotion guarantees that it will keep building.

What I say next can be misunderstood, but it’s important. It is important for pastors to keep their composure in times of grief and loss. The deeper the chaos of mourning, the more we need to stay in control of ourselves. I don’t mean a pastor shouldn’t weep with those who weep, but I mean a pastor shouldn’t join in the uncontrolled expressions of emotion that sometimes emerge when there’s a major loss. In that situation, a pastor represents both the love of God who mourns with His children, but also the peace of God who, seeing the big picture, doesn’t join in the despair or hopelessness that easily follows unexpected loss.

Keeping our heads also means keeping criticism in perspective. A friend of mine recently preached a sermon that will mark a positive watershed moment in the congregation’s history. He left the sanctuary in the joyful confidence that follows when you know you’ve made a difference by a single message. After the crowd thinned, he headed to his office to put his Bible and sermon notes away. A man from the church was impatiently pacing at the office door. He proceeded to lay into the pastor for an innocuous, offhanded comment he had made setting up an illustration. The offended man mercilessly pressed his point and demanded a public apology. When he didn’t get satisfaction, he went home and got on the phone to stir up some other folks.

When some of us met with him a couple of days later, he was still reeling from the attack. Anyone with a pastoral heart is devastated by this kind of frontal assault, especially when you can’t apologize because you haven’t actually done anything wrong. I’ve spent days and weeks trying to recover from this kind of incident.

Keeping our heads can mean getting the perspective to get up and keep moving after a paralyzing blow.

Pastors, keep your heads. You need it, your people need it.

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October 2014 Elder Update

Protect Your Pastor  (audio link)

 

Protecting Your Pastor

The Secret Service is tasked with keeping the President of the US safe from harm. If you ever saw the video from the attempted assassination of President Reagan, you saw them in action, giving their full attention to getting Reagan into the car and out of harm’s way. Their first reaction was not self-preservation, but the president’s safety. The common saying is that they would “take a bullet” for him.

Elders, I want to encourage you to be the spiritual Secret Service for your pastor. I don’t think you can imagine how vulnerable pastors are, not to assassins, but to people who would like to see the pastor fired, humiliated or forced to bend to some particular agenda. Most of the time your pastor never mentions the anonymous letters, the attempts at intimidation or the veiled threats to his job, but you can rest assured he deals with them with more frequency than you’d imagine.

The most important thing you can do to protect your pastor, of course, is to pray for him.

But after that, the most important thing you can do is to be ready to come around him and protect him from the “biting sheep” in the congregation.

Now, before you protest, let me be clear: I don’t mean you should protect your pastor from legitimate criticism. I don’t mean you should protect your pastor from accountability. These things are appropriate and necessary when they come in the right way from the right people.

But as an elder team, you need to protect the pastor from inappropriate criticism and attempts to hold him to an accountability that is not legitimate.

Every church has a few people who seem to get some kind of gratification from criticizing pastors. Often, they have made a hobby of criticizing pastors for decades. To avoid setting off a congregational fight, church leaders often protect the critic rather than the pastor.

When the pastor comes under fire, look at two key issues:

First, was the concern handled according to Matthew 18? That is, did the critic first go to the pastor with the concern? Then along with a church leader? And only then did he or she deal with it beyond that small circle? If someone is just intent on stirring up conflict, the New Testament is clear that the job of leaders is to lovingly put the person out of the fellowship, not to give in to them.

Secondly, was the concern legitimate and was it significant enough to justify the negativity and chaos that follows open criticism? When someone threatens to quit attending or giving because of some issue of personal preference, refuse the bait and stand with your pastor. Don’t give in, or you will get a generation of similar blackmail over every issue that comes down the pike.

If it needs attention, take care of it at the appropriate level. If the pastor has violated the ethics of his office, it needs to be dealt with by you, the elders. Don’t allow it to go to a congregational vote if at all possible. If it’s just a disagreement over the direction the pastor is leading the church, you elders need to seriously consider whether that direction is of God or not, and work with the pastor to either confirm the direction or make appropriate adjustments. Again, if you allow this to go to a free-for-all congregational meeting, the Kingdom of God will be undermined. Accept the responsibility of your office, and stand for what’s right.

Unaccountable pastors are a danger to the church and to themselves. But pastors who are accountable to the entire congregation are put in an impossible spot. Step up to the plate and see that accountability is practiced at the right level and for the right reasons. Give your people the leadership they deserve in Christ. The elder’s calling includes protecting the flock. Protect your flock by protecting your pastor from “biting sheep.”

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October 2014 Newsletter

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

Over time, all things change. DHF is no exception. We began as Disciple Renewal, a grassroots movement for biblical truth in the Disciples of Christ denomination. Then we added a fellowship of churches so those who left the DoC did not just drift into isolation. Then we dropped the effort to move the DoC to acknowledge the concerns of evangelicals and focused nearly all our energies into the fellowship.

During that time we moved from an all-volunteer staff to a part-time, then a full-time office administrator, then a full-time executive director, then two full-time ministry staffers, then one, then two, then back to one.

In recent months I have realized it’s time for another change. A few weeks ago I announced to the DHF Board that I would resign as head of DHF as of the end of 2014. It’s another change, but one we need to keep in perspective. I want to encourage you to keep several things in mind as the DHF Board plans for the future.

My first concern is that everyone understand that my departure is just a transition for DHF, not the end of anything. The ministry will go forward.

I also want to be clear that my decision was in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, not any dissension or pressure within DHF’s leadership. We have a board that is united and healthy. They have consistently supported and encouraged me. Their choices for future staffing and direction will emerge from unity and love for Christ and DHF. Please pray wisdom and discernment over our Board as they seek God’s leading.

I am leaving this phase of my ministry with a good feeling. I have been able to spend years developing relationships with pastors and churches across this continent. I’ve been allowed to speak new ideas and strategies into many of those churches. I’ve been trusted to step into some very tough situations and try to bring unity out of division. I’ve been free to write on practical topics and advise churches in implementing the steps suggested. I’ve been blessed to serve God in this role. I am eager to see what God will do next through DHF.

DHF’s future will be envisioned through our next leader, but even before he is called, I am excited about the doors God is opening up for regional affiliates of DHF. A group in North Carolina is creating an area DHF group which will be a model for other areas. With some better administrative gifts in play, I believe this will be a key to a fresh move forward in strength.

At the same time, I strongly sense that DHF needs someone with a different set of gifts at the helm. After 14 years, any ministry begins to be strong at the leader’s strong points and weak at his weak ones. I sense the two places where DHF needs more strength are administration and fund raising. To a degree I can delegate administration, but a national ministry like DHF must have a top leader with skills at encouraging people to give generously. I’ve done well at this in the local church, but the kind of skills that work on the local level to not work as well in a para-church setting.

Bev and I are praying and seeking God’s next call on our lives. My core ministry calling is the local pastorate, and I’m sure God’s next call will be there, but we don’t know what church that might involve. We would appreciate your prayers for guidance as we search.

This letter goes primarily to those who have supported DHF financially. I am grateful for the sacrificial giving of churches and individuals. You have kept DHF strong through the years. I ask you to remain strong in your financial support so our next leader will not have to give undue attention to the money side of ministry.

Doug

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Tuesday, Tuesday – September 2014

Even the Best   (audio)

Even the Best……

I wasn’t particularly interested in the latest Apple announcement about their new technology releases, but apparently “techie” folks spent three months awaiting the big moment. The internet was full of speculation and predictions about the next generation of Apple products. The big moment arrived and a 90 minute presentation began, showcasing the i-Watch, the next generation of i-Phones and such.

Then it happened. The greatest tech company in the world lost its streaming capabilities and the presentation ceased on millions of computers. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land. It didn’t take too long for Apple to fix whatever happened, and the great show soon continued.

I was a bit amused by the technical glitch by the greatest technical minds in the business. If they can’t get it right, I don’t feel so bad about my own electronic klutziness. I don’t expect myself to get technical stuff right the first time. But Apple? Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise.

Even the best of us don’t get everything right every time. We know that in our heads, but sometimes our hearts still expect perfection, and when they do, we are regularly crushed by our disappointments.

For me, it’s particularly important in preaching. I want every sermon I preach to speak to people’s minds and hearts, hold their interest and motivate them toward Christ. It’s a great ideal, but a terrible expectation if I think I will succeed every time. I like to think I preach well most of the time, but there are those occasions when it just doesn’t seem to “click.”

I take heart from some past experiences. I remember a convention where one of the most noted preachers of the day spoke. It was apparently an off day for him. The sermon just didn’t work. As we left the auditorium, I heard one preacher say to another, “I’m so glad I heard that sermon. If he can preach a clunker once in a while, maybe I’m not so bad, either” At another meeting I eagerly went to hear a preacher who had written books on preaching and was known as one of the best. He bombed. He preached a mediocre sermon, then spent ten or fifteen minutes trying to land it. Just as I thought it was finally going to end, he’d sense that it still hadn’t delivered, and he started his conclusion again. And again. And again. He just needed to stop and accept the situation, but he couldn’t quit trying.

Pastors, I encourage you to strive for excellence in preaching and whatever else you do. But when you preach a clunker or say something clumsy in a meeting or schedule special music that ruins the service, accept it and keep moving.

Even the best have off days. Strive to have as few as possible, of course, but don’t allow yourself to be broken by the failure to be perfect every time.

We pastors are particularly vulnerable to discouragement. We let ourselves down, and we let our people down. And when we let our people down, some of them are more than eager to make sure we know it.

Don’t let a bad sermon or meeting take you down. You and I both know it will happen sometimes. Learn from the failure, but then get up and keep marching. You’re doing far more right than wrong. People need you at your best, not broken by discouragement. Accept that you’re imperfect, but also accept that you’re called and empowered by the Living God and keep giving Him room to work.

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Arise, Shine – September 2014

Hallowing The Name of God

By Sue Buttry

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September 2014 Newsletter

CONNECTED

(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.

Get connected!

Michael Ten Eyck
DHF Board President

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DHF Elder Update- September 2014

Thrive  (audio)                 

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?

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Tuesday, Tuesday – August 2014

Meetings (Audio Version)

                     “Meetings” 

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.

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August 2014 Newsletter

SUMMERTIME

“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.

-Doug        

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.

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DHF August 2014 Elder Update – Abundance

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.

 

 

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