Thursday, November 10, 2011

What works is working!

I admit I am tired. I feel stressed out more often. While stress should be expected in any job (or life for that matter) and I do think some stress is actually good to keep me focused ...  but it bothers me a bit that now when there is a lull in activities and pressing deadlines, I still feel stressed out.

But what is good is to have a bit more time to think and pray about such matters. Some of the stress is from my personal life (no surprise there) but more seems to be related to things like ... identity, job, calling etc.

Last month I rambled a bit on the question of church growth and leadership and what it means (or should mean) to be a pastor. The link is HERE.

I think one problem is clearly that I am unconsciously trying to wrongly emulate the apostle Paul! :-)
i.e..  2 Corinthians 11:28  ... Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

It is wonderful to begin reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoirs sent to me by my good friend Dr. Alex Tang. Will blog on the book one day when I finish it

Anyway, it would seem that as the church grows and more opportunities for ministry grows, there's this natural struggle to want to be involved (test the ground?). I have turned down a lot of "possibilities" (being realistic) but then there is this strange nagging voice in the back of  my head telling me that I need to work harder (nagging voice?! ... can't be from God! hah!).

But as my blog title states ... "What works is working!" Yes, spiritual things such as prayer is important and I do pray a lot more now  (have to or die!!:-)) BUT hard work is a key foundation to ministry "success". Makes me think of the sign that was placed around the local boys high school by their former headmaster )(recently retired) ... DHW - which stands for "Damned heard work!" :-) His way of reminding his students that there is not short cut to academic success. 

It's been almost five years now since I arrived in NZ, to my church and my local community and like the fruit trees and plants I first  bought a few years ago, I am seeing flowers and fruits! Not only am I now an invited trustee of the local Community Trust but I have to fit into my new role of "VIP guest"  at some local school functions. Still feel awkward but I am realizing too that ministry means turning up for functions, sitting in the VIP section and even at times being part of the "procession". It is of course and honour to be a VIP at school prize givings, graduations, performances etc and I do believe attending these functions is important to build relationships with community leaders.

And I have notes that some people have been consistently coming out to our community based annual functions, and more and people now do recognize that we exists as a church etc ...

It has been DHW by many committed people in my church for us to get this far (myself included :-)) and I thank God for everyone allowing the Holy Spirit to convict and lead them.

Why am I rambling away again so soon and not making sense? The catalyst for this blog was this email I got this morning ... made me so glad that another pastor who is having ministry success thinks and acts the way she does ...

From Will Willimon's email list. Helpful and encouraging as usual!

After serving well as a member of the Bishop’s Cabinet, Lori Carden was appointed to our beloved but troubled congregation in Columbiana. Lori is leading a dramatic rebirth there. I asked her to share some of her leadership insights with the rest of us. One thing that makes this narrative remarkable is that I ordained Lori! Only a couple of years ago!

Will Willimon


Dear Bishop,

Upon reading your request I thought to myself, “He wants to know what is working? Well heck, working is what is working.” I humbly submit that I don’t have grand initiatives to carry us forward for years to come. My ministry has been more fundamental than that. I am simply working!

I set personal goals for myself. I make a minimum of nine contacts each week. I send three personal emails or cards, I make three phone calls and I make a minimum of three personal visits each week. In the book “Making a Good Move” by Michael J. Coyner this is part of what is known as “paying the rent”. If I stay focused in accomplishing this each week, then by the end of the year, allowing for two weeks vacation, I will have made a minimum of 450 contacts with my flock per year.

I spend time in prayer for my people. Don’t just blow this off as some pious statement. Seriously, I spend an hour each week with the directory in hand, looking at the photos, thinking of the people, asking God to bless them and to give pastoral discernment as to how to love them and lead them.

I took time to listen to as many people as possible. This was difficult because much of what I heard was repetitive. The opinions were strong and divided. It was very very hard for me not to offer rebuttals, take a side, and offer promises or to jump into a fix-it mode. Pastors need to use their ears not just their mouths. We have to check our defensiveness at the door. I possess a strong personality, so this took much prayer. After I had listened to them, I found most of them to be happy to listen to me.

I held a “state of the church dinner” and spoke to all of them at once. I called for complete transparency in all activities and works of the church. I spoke plainly and deliberately. I told them I was not there to worry about “hurting feelings” or who “might get mad and leave” but to lead us in Christ’s mission. I named the elephants. This takes a tedious balance of courage and humility. I spoke and watched as eyebrows raised and heads nodded in affirmation. They then knew that I was not afraid of much and was there to care for the good of God’s church first and foremost. The people here welcomed such candor and it seemed to bring us closer. I will hold these dinners twice per year.

I expect much and we do much. We must never underestimate God’s people. Let’s face it; our churches are filled with brilliant people and specialists of every kind. Pastors don’t know it all. It is our job to offer direction for people to engage their gifts. However, pastors have a large role to play in helping churches own and shape their identity.For example, I was told that this church pretty well shuts down for the summer, giving people “a break” and that it always has. I asked what I thought was a good question, “What are we breaking from?” I was told that the leaders were tired. My response was that we need fresh leaders and servants. I met with people and declared that we were not doing any less for the summer than any other time of the year. We kept our Wed. night children’s program going. All teams and councils met as usual.

I raised the bar. Now, worship attendance did drop again for summer this year as I had been warned, but people now know that the church doesn’t stop. I have great expectations and hopes for next summer’s attendance and involvement to be even better. It takes time to change the norms of a church but it can be done. Dare to declare and direct people! Pastoring is not for wimps!! At the end of the day this church enjoyed doing more for Christ and community. The people must never be underestimated. Just challenge them to be the great gifted people that they are

I began to teach an “Adult confirmation” class that teaches people what it means to be a Christian who is part of the UMC. Long time members and new members of all ages, our oldest is 87 our youngest 24, meet together for several sessions learning about our heritage, our theology, and our mission.

Staffing adjustments and changes were necessary. Not easy work but vital work. Just do it! Though we now have a great team for which I am most grateful, I know that it is never concrete. People come and go. Life happens. It is so sad when churches fail to recognize this fact of life and fearfully fail to address staffing matters.

As I prepared to answer your request I met with four of our key leaders and asked, “What is working with my leadership and what is not?” All noted the following;

My leadership is gutsy, honest and speaks truth. The State of the Church dinner was a hit!
I am present with presence. I teach, I visit, I preach, I counsel, I have office hours. I play with kids in VBS. (I had six people thank me for coming to VBS. Can you believe that?)
I equip by modeling. Then I trust people to do it better than I did it.
I lead. As one guy put it, “We know who the leader is without a doubt.” I also praise people when they earn praise.

I speak the name of Jesus and of the power of the Holy Spirit. I do a great deal of sermon preparation and preach directly from the text. Not topics with textual passages thrown in, but text with relevant correlations thrown in. There is a difference! So many people have thanked me for “preaching from the Bible”.
As far as any constructive criticism that was offered, each one said, “Just please, don’t give up and don’t stop and take care of yourself.” I asked them to hold me to account on taking my day or two off each week. I need that accountability.

I am serving a church that has been taught that as long as the district apportionments and pastor’s compensations were paid that they were doing enough. I will not take a raise in pay until annual conference apportionments are paid in full. (Even though I need the money to pay off my seminary debts) I am working to educate the people on the good that connectional giving affords. They don’t need a heavy hand on this matter but a healed and fresh perspective.

Pastors have been given the task of holding up and onto our identity before God’s people. As I tell my children, “Remember who you are whose you are”.
This is one of our basic yet most essential tasks as pastors.

Loving the Challenge,


  1. It has a lot to do with focus. Do what the Lord as you to do. Do not do what he did not ask you to do.

  2. Alex, I think this is where it sometimes gets complicated. ... discerning God's voice in areas that are not moral issues.:-(

    But I think by God's grace I am doing decently well :-)