What are you hearing in the churches?

What are you hearing in the churches?

My colleague Bob Dale often asks me a simple question: “Bill, what are we hearing out there in the churches?” He knows that every week members of our team are fanning out across the country to work in dozens of churches of every size, shape, denomination, setting and orientation. We hear and see first-hand what many others only know second-hand. The news is usually a mix. Some churches and clergy are fully awake and leaning into the challenge of being a vibrant and thriving church in the 21st century.  Others are frustrated and bewildered by the challenges they face. They tend to want to revert back to what worked in an earlier programmatic era, rather than embrace the new. When that, inevitably, doesn’t work, the mood and tone of the church often turns dark. The halls are filled with anxious deacons or elders and worried finance committee members. During these rocky times, a familiar scenario seems to be playing out in many churches. Attendance is trending down. Offering plate receipts are sliding. Soon, budget adjustments have to be made and since the vast majority of a typical congregation’s budget is fixed (facilities and personnel), mission and ministry dollars are the ones that bear the heaviest cuts. Despite belt-tightening in increasingly creative ways, the bottom line remains troubling. Into this highly anxious mix a voice begins to be heard. The Bible calls it “murmuring”. It is a voice that seeks someone to blame for the metrics and economic ills that plague the congregation. Leviticus 16 describes a community blaming practice known as “scapegoating”. On the Day of Atonement, an innocent...
Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Easter changes everything. Like no other part of the Christian faith, the story of Easter is at the heart of what makes our faith unique and life-changing. Death is overcome by life. Not even the grave is immune to the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. Those simple statements have profound implications. Across the centuries, this triumph of life over death has proven to be the spark that has inspired individual believers and the church. No obstacle has been too large, no challenge too intimidating. Men and women have found hope in the midst of oppression, loss, and excruciating pain. Faith communities have leaned into challenges that seemed overwhelming with conviction, grit and confidence in victory. Living on the right side of Easter makes all the difference in the world. There really are two sides of Easter, aren’t there? One is the side of Easter that the disciples experienced during the dark hours following the crucifixion. It is the side marked by discouragement, loss and despair. There is also the side of Easter those same men and women experienced when they discovered the tomb was empty and Jesus had been resurrected. This is life marked by confidence and hope. Why, then, do so many of us, and so many of our churches seemingly live on the wrong side of Easter? Think about the difference in a church that finds itself mired in a “pre-Easter” mindset versus a church that lives out of it’s “post-Easter” mindset. Here are four key contrasts between the two. A pre-Easter church believes only in what they can see. Thus, they work very hard and are...
Holding Your Staff Accountable

Holding Your Staff Accountable

Whenever I have an opportunity, I suggest that the starting point for bringing health and effectiveness to a church’s ministerial staff is the critical work of clarifying mission, vision and purpose in the congregation. That clarity then becomes the “north star” for every decision, every investment of resources, every staff position, every event that a congregation chooses to engage in. What comes next? May I suggest that accountability is essential for a healthy and functioning staff? We find that many times congregational staff members operate in a bizzaro congregational world devoid of healthy accountability. Without a thoughtful, rational system in place, evaluation and accountability disintegrates into personal opinion and judgments made without benefit of facts. Expectations are fuzzy. Ministers find themselves pushed and pulled by individual tastes and priorities. Congregational bullies show up and exercise inappropriate influence. Motives begin to be assigned. Facts take a distant backseat to innuendo and gossip. Other times, congregations are victimized by clergy who seem to operate without rules or fail to practice rudimentary work habits. Clergy too often operate in silos, content to patter around their ministry corner without concern for the church as a whole. Clergy who are not held accountable make mistakes that no one calls them on, and thus fail to learn valuable lessons. Boundary violations are inevitable, as most are reticent to “call foul” on a man or woman of God. There must be a better way! Accountability for clergy teams begins with healthy peer pressure. Patrick Lencioni  (The Advantage) goes so far as to say that “peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on...
Jesus on Strategic Visioning

Jesus on Strategic Visioning

Building a congregation’s life around a clear vision and purpose is an easy thing to believe in. Aligning that purpose with biblical teaching and witness is an agreeable notion. I seldom encounter a leader or leadership group who resists the idea that the path toward a vibrant and engaging congregation is to embody God’s mission in clear, dynamic and powerful ways. The problems emerge when we begin to talk about the HOW of living out God’s call to be his people on a mission. Like barnacles on a ship, our preferences, traditions, icons, and cultural accommodations have encrusted the mission and threaten to smother it. I’ve been thinking about using Jesus as a model for how to live out a clear and compelling mission. In his life and practices, perhaps there are some insights for us in our struggle to stay true to our calling. How about this for a list of healthy habits of congregations on a mission? Solitude: Jesus knew the value of time spent with a compass rather than a calendar. He repeatedly frustrated those who prized efficiency. From the beginning, he was prone to pull back from the limelight and reconnect with the divine dream and mission. Rather than allow others to sway his agenda and trajectory, he clearly defined who he was and what he came to do. The wilderness was his friend, and solitude was a regular habit. Planning and preparation claimed a healthy portion of his time. Relentless adherence: For the kingdom vision to take root, Jesus found it imperative to avoid every temptation to water down or diverge from the vision...
Is your church making you healthy or sick?

Is your church making you healthy or sick?

When our grandson was 10 months old, he underwent a medical emergency. His immune system was compromised and his body was under assault from an infection. He needed immediate treatment and the diagnosis called for him to receive intravenous immunoglobulin. This is a concentrated dose of antibodies, extracted from blood plasma, which helped his body fight off the illness. Within 48 hours, his high fever and other symptoms responded to the treatment, and he came through that traumatic experience in good health. In talking with the doctors and nurses during his hospital stay, I learned that one dose of immunoglobulin is derived from the donated blood of more than 1,000 blood donors. This collection of antibodies from the donated blood provides what the patient’s body cannot: defense against infection. As we marveled at the efficiency of the treatment, the knowledge of the medical professionals, and the healing touch of God’s providential love, I came away struck by how congregations provide much of the same hope and healing for one another. Despite our illusions, none of us are capable of living the life God has called us to alone.  We all need someone, some group, some community to help us fulfill God’s dream for our life. We may be extraordinarily gifted, wealthy, wise, self-sufficient and independent, but in the end, it will not be enough. There will be a day, if there has not been already, when you will come to a point where you cannot stand alone. Our grandson benefited from hundreds of people donating their blood so that others could be blessed their healthy blood. The extraction of...