Over the last few months we have been dealing with a bivo pastors nightmare of circumstances (which is what has kept me from writing) including sickness and job transitions. In the middle of all of this mess my last paternal aunt was sick and dying in a hospital in a state quite far away. We had given our word to my father that we would take care of her no matter what, and so we did. As we journeyed to that distant place we learned several lessons.

First, don’t be afraid to lean on people. There is a very misguided sub-text to pastor’s lives that says, “I am here to minister, not to be ministered to.” This is a very self-destructive line of reasoning. I was ministered to by family members, friends and even my boss. Without the ministry of these people whom God had placed in my life neither my wife nor I would have survived.

Second, in the midst of tough times there is always opportunity to find ministry. God is incredibly creative n placing these ministry possibilities in front of us. My aunt had a roommate who was behind a curtain in her room. She was pretty quiet, but my aunts closet was on this lady’s side of the room. As I entered the room and went to the closet a few times I developed a cordial relationship with her. By the time we left she knew our names, knew that we were Christians and we had a short chat or two and we let her know that we were praying for her. Ministry.

Third, expect the unexpected. Roll with it and be confident that God is going to handle it all. We went to my aunt with the expectation of bringing her home with us, going so far as to buy a plane ticket and to furnish a room in our house for her. Two days before we were to return the doctor rescinded his ‘able to fly’ certification. We had to place her in hospice and return without her. On the trip back we realized that at least one of the legs of the trip my aunt would have never even been able to board the plane due to impediments on the flight. God had foreseen all of this, and prevented us from bringing her, only to be stranded at an airport.

Fourth, look for the blessings. We met a wonderful lady whom my aunt had become friends with. We had several opportunities to talk with her and though she is not a Christian (she is Buddhist) she blessed us in many ways. Our example to her of how Christians can (and should) interact with those of other faiths may yet see her drawn to Christ. In the meantime we take her friendship at face value, and count her as a big part of God’s plan. She visited with my aunt for literally hours every day until the day she died.

I believe compassion, both given ad received, is grossly underestimated in today’s Western culture. As a bivo pastor we should be looking for those opportunities and taking advantage of them.

Have you ever thought something has gone away and will never return?  I have thought that on a number of occasions and been wrong.  Vinyl Records were overtaken by first 8-Track tapes, then cassette tapes took over.  Cassette tapes gave way to CD’s, and CD’s eventually were supplanted by digital music files.  And then…vinyl came back.  WHAT?!

Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s the ‘worship wars’ were all the rage.  Churches debated endlessly whether it was better to stick with the old hymns, use more modern music, instrumentation and choruses-heavy worship or maybe do a little of both.  The debates were often billed as being ‘seeker sensitive’ versus ‘maintenance mode’ worship orientations. The discussions often had more heat associated with them than light.  Since I was just starting ministry during this time period I remember having many discussions with other pastors about the best way to proceed.

Last week I found this was one of the ‘old becomes new’ discussions.  A very animated discussion took place on a pastor’s forum I am involved in, and it generated a heavy sense of Deja Vu in me.

So, what is the real answer here?  Is there one?  Well, as a matter of fact, there is an answer. The answer is that it depends on your context.  The problem herein is that this is not a nice, clean answer for pastors.  We want someone to tell us that if we use a particular worship pattern that our churches will grow, we will reach new people, that the church will be healthy and will fit the Biblical patterns established in Acts.  It is akin to the statement often heard when people from various faith traditions get together and they start having ecclesiology debates.  The statement invariably comes out, “Our church follows the New Testament form and pattern better than any other church”.  To which my comment is, “WHICH New Testament church are you talking about?  Acts 2?  The Church at Ephesus?  The Church in Jerusalem?  The Church at Rome?  Galatia?  Philippi?  Corinth?”  Each of these churches was unique in some way, and fit the context of their region.  In the same way, we need to fit our church and it’s worship to the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In my own circumstances we have a  number of people who have been in the church for many years, and who really appreciate the old hymns.  We also have a number of younger people who prefer the newer choruses.  So, we host a blended worship service.  Almost a year ago we tried moving to a much more contemporary format, and frankly it was a disaster.  No one, not even the younger people, liked the format.  For us the blended format is what works.  Some churches in our area find that the contemporary format is more appreciated, and some find that a strictly traditional and even liturgical format is best.

The lesson from this is simple.  Don’t get caught up in these kind of debates which attempt to fix one form or format to everyone.   There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ church.  God has made a wonderfully diverse church which has many appearances, and consequently many differing needs.  Pray about it, ask your people, and do an honest evaluation. Then, and only then, decide if a change is needed.


Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Cor 12:27 (NIV)

So many words in the Christian lexicon are important, but many of them are meaningless outside of the Church.  We have a language of our own and although useful for communication between ourselves they are not useful when communicating with people not in the church.  Communication is always a two-way process, and if we are not speaking to people in a way they understand then there is no real communication.  So much of it comes down to one simple word in our glossary…’relevance’.  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary ‘Relevant’ has the following definition: “a :  having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand  b :  affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion relevant testimony  c :  having social relevance”.  In order to meet any of these meanings it is necessary for communication to take place.

How do we as pastors make ourselves relevant?  The first step is to examine our language and see if people can understand what we are saying without using cryptic language.  John Wesley tried hard to achieve this very goal. “I design plain truth for plain people. I labor to avoid all words which are not easy to be understood, all which are not used in common life.”   This was part of the great character of the man in his preaching style.  If the least educated person in your congregation cannot understand what you have said, then you need to go back and rework your sermons so that they do understand.

Different people have different learning styles as well.  Some of your listeners may be stirred by your words, others by the images you convey, still others may write notes on your sermon to review later.  Some others may learn from the visual cues or resources you use.  Endeavor to provide all learning styles with something they can take away.

Keep your sermons simple.  Boil them down into one sentence or one thought.  Don’t try to cover the entirety of the Gospel message in one sermon.  As “Gold Five” said to “Gold Leader” in Star Wars, “Stay on target!”.

Always provide an action item or a challenge at the end of the sermon.  If people can take away something and then you tell them what they can do with the teaching in a practical sense, then they don’t have to try to read between the lines and potentially never get started.  For instance, after one sermon on evangelism I introduced a concept called ‘Use It and Lose It!”, in which I gave everyone present three pens with our name and address on them.  They were instructed simply to use the pens during the week at a restaurant, bank, work or some other place and then to leave them behind.  They were then to pray about the pens and those who might use them.  No confrontation, no memorizing of scripture, no fancy debate techniques.  By the next week all the pens we had given out had been used and prayed for…and people were asking for more.  Some people came back with wonderful stories spurred by this simple action.

And perhaps the most important item of all, spend time yourself getting to know what the social trends are within your community and setting.  Jesus knew the news of his time (“…Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?Lk 13:4 NIV) and used it to connect with people.  Know what TV shows and movies are being watched.  Know what music is being listened to.  Know what political views are being expressed and which sports teams are adored (or reviled).  Simply knowing these things and being able to speak about them will create connection points for you.

Being relevant is important, and it is really simpler than you might imagine.


mindfulLately we have had some interesting happenings around my secular job.  Yesterday I walked in to work and found we had a mandatory meeting across the parking lot at the Middle School library.  Upon arriving there I learned that our ‘Wellness’ coordinators had booked a meeting for our department to have a lecture on ‘Mindfulness’.  If you have not followed this trend then be assured it is coming to a venue near you!  Our presenter told us that mindfulness is being presented around our School District to all the employees as a way of reducing stress and therefore contributing to our overall health and happiness.  According to one source, mindfulness is defined as a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them’.  We went through three exercises in which we were encouraged to focus on certain thoughts.  Afterwards, in speaking with another participant who is also a Christian, we were both struck with the same thing; this was really prayer, but without God!

Now, that is kind of a strange thought, isn’t it?  How can you pray, without praying TO someone?  Frankly, twenty years ago this would have been immediately derided as a New Age indoctrination.  Parents and staff would have been complaining to the School Board.  Newspaper, TV and magazine articles would have been devoted to the subject.  Grated, this is Vermont, so even back then it might have been ignored or viewed as ‘progressive’. But now, we have a staff member who is paid to do this specific job.

So, what is to be our stance on this?  I will be the first to say that if we believe that this practice is dumbing down Christians into some Eastern religion technique, or even atheistic/agnostic psycho-babble, then we need to engage it directly.  But if we look at this as a way that NON-Christians are being given a first step into a relationship with God, and that God may use it to speak into their lives…then maybe we should think of this as an evangelistic tool.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  If being STILL is a first step, then the second step of ‘knowing God’ may very well be the next thing to happen.  God’s prevenient grace can work in ways that we may find to be…unusual!

Just to be clear, there is a distinct difference between Eastern meditative techniques and those of historic Christianity.  The Eastern techniques, especially those from Buddhism, are essentially an ’emptying’ of the mind, in order to connect with the ‘universe’, whereas Christian mediation focuses on taking the mind off ‘self’ and filling it with God’s presence.

Many of the best of the old time hymns were framed around the bawdy songs sung in the bars.  The early Holiness preachers used the familiar tunes to catch hold of the sinners there and provide an in-road resulting in their salvation.  Could it be that we need to use the ‘frame’ of the ‘Mindfulness’ movement to catch the attention of the sinners around us, to see them saved?

Thoughts to challenge us…


“Be still and know that I am God”.    Psalms 46:10


summer-834098_960_720Summer is here!  (I know, according to my kids I probably just guaranteed a late May snowstorm!)  There is an old saying in Vermont that we get our two weeks of summer sandwiched between mud season (Spring) and leaf-peeping season (early Autumn).  How do we take advantage of that special time of year?  What makes summer ministry different than any other time of year?

Most churches will make accommodations for summer they won’t make at any other time of year. Bible studies take a break for the summer, youth ministry goes on hiatus, worship times are moved or condensed.  Why?  Because of the perception their people are more likely to take vacation during the summer, or at least take advantage of the warm weather and will be away from the church.  So here are a few thoughts.

  • Go against the flow.  Don’t reduce your ministry, enhance it!  People have more time available in the summer than when they are tied up in school and limited by low temperatures and short days.  Take advantage of those facts.  Have a marshmallow roast at a convenient location at night.  Organize a walking group for outside exercise.  Sponsor a motorcycle ride. Start a community garden.
  • Prepare for summer visitors.  Yes, many people are traveling away from your church, but there will probably be people from outside your area vacationing nearby and looking for a church to visit.  Every year we have a repeat visitation from an older couple from North Carolina.  We look forward to seeing them every summer.  Place some ads in the local newspaper catering to this need.
  • Keep an eye out for seasonal activities your church can be involved in.  Our area has numerous farmer markets during the summer and fall.  We have discussed placing a table with some home grown vegetables, pickles and such at our local market, and having church brochures on the table as well.  There are also several ‘Fun Runs’ in our area who are always looking for volunteers.  Make volunteering for these an outreach ministry!
  • Use the time to bring your people together outside the walls of the church in informal events.  Barbecues, pool parties, mountain climbs and fishing expeditions are all possibilities.

Enjoy the summer, and plan for success!

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Colossians 4:5 ESV

waitressingSome time ago when thinking about the whole concept of friendship evangelism it became apparent to me that people are, by and large, scared stiff of talking with people about Jesus.  At least in their minds this is something that is complicated, theological and out of their league.  Traditional evangelism training was not working because people simply didn’t use it.  So, what do you do in this case?  We decided to provide tools for people to use in everyday situations that are non-threatening and effective in raising awareness of the presence of the church.

First, we provided pens with our church contact information on it.  Not just pens, GOOD pens!  We called this part of our strategy “Use It AND Lose It“.  We urged people to take four or five pens and use them when out around town.  Sign a check at the bank.  Sign your credit card slip at a restaurant.  Use a pen at the store.  And here is the key…after using it, leave it there!  Waitresses are constantly hunting for pens because people walk off with them.  What is nicer than having someone not only leave a tip, but leave a good pen behind?

Second, we provided our people with small copies of the book of John from the Pocket Testament League. They have various pictures on the cover to appeal to a wide range of interests, as well as being in NIV, KJV or even large print versions. We asked people to dedicate one pocket in their jacket or coat to carry one or two of these.  Then simply pray for God to open an opportunity to leave them with someone.  Not get into a theological  debate, but offer comfort during a time of trouble or stress.

Third, we provided prayer list cards for people to take.  We asked them to think of one or two people who they had in their circle of friends and family who need Christ in their lives.  Keep the card and pray for those people specifically each day.  The cards were also used to keep track of prayer requests that people might randomly encounter from their circle.

Every item on this list can be carried in a single pocket.  A couple pens, a prayer card and one or two Gospel of John’s.  Three tools.  No extensive training, no confrontations or debates.

How effective is this?  One Sunday after church my Board Secretary and his wife went to lunch at a restaurant about 10 miles away from the church. When they went to sign their credit card slip after eating the waitress handed them one of our pens to use!  We have seen people come to Christ.  We have seen answered prayer.  Maybe this won’t work everywhere or in every context, but it is something to consider.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”   1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

wise_owlNewchurches.com released a recent study showing the state of church planting in the USA. There are some interesting implications and insights for bivocational pastors as many, if not most, church planters are also bivocational. This was brought to my attention by Dr. Kim Richardson, pastor of the Beverly (MA) Church of the Nazarene and District Church Planting Coordinator.

Take a look at the report and see what you think!

Click on this link to go directly to the report… Churchplanting Report


(Cource: http://images.roadtrafficsigns.com/img/lg/K/WHOA-Sign-K-6934.gif)Peter’s admonition for us to be ready to give a reason for our faith in 1 Peter 3:15 also shows us an inherent limitation of the use of apologetics. In a previous post it was mentioned that ‘apologetics’ is basically a courtroom style defense of the faith, giving logical and consistent arguments from solid premises.  In a criminal or civil courtroom trial the judge and sometimes a jury would then take those arguments, compare them to the standards of the law and make a decision.  As one of those presenting arguments before the court sometimes the decision is in our favor, sometimes not.  That decision is not in our hands, it is in the hands of the judge and jury.

Often we go into a debate with a person about some theological matter, present our premises and arguments, answering every objection in what seems to us to be a winning way.  We assume at the end of the day the person we are talking with will see those arguments the same way we see them and will be persuaded to our point of view.  Sometimes we are sorely disappointed.  It is even possible that our debate partner will concede the arguments, but then will still not change their mind.  This is the limitation implicit in 1 Peter 3:15.

Peter wants us to give a reason for our faith, but those reasons are the BASIS for our faith, they are not the substance of our faith.  Simply put, we can give cohesive and logical arguments for why we believe, but our faith is a leap beyond those arguments.  No matter how good our points are, no matter how logical, God always leaves room between what we can prove and what we believe…and going from one to the other means we have to make a leap of faith, and our hearts must change.  God is the only person who can change someone’s heart.

Why am I bringing this up at the beginning of our discussion about apologetics?  Is the study of apologetics useless in the end?  No; apologetics can provide the base from which a person starts.  It gives credence and credibility to Christianity.  From that point it is possible to make the leap from intellectual assent to a changed heart through faith in Christ.  Without a logical platform, we could believe in anything and still be on equal footing.  Believing in tree spirits saving our souls for reincarnation into woodland fauna would make just as much sense (or as little sense) as believing in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is very necessary to the life of faith.

With this knowledge of the limitations of apologetics comes consequential actions.  First, we live a life of prayer…every apologetic debate must be bathed in prayer.  We ask that not only is our debate partner persuaded by our arguments in an intellectual manner, but that the arguments might lead through the Holy Spirit’s action to a change of heart and a leap of faith.

Second, we live a life of surrender.  The outcome of our apologetics is not up to us.  We need feel no pressure or guilt in the outcome of the debate.  The outcome is in the hands of God.  It is even possible the person with whom we are speaking is not the person whose heart and life is changed, but perhaps a bystander who is listening in on the conversation.  God knows, and it is in His hands.

Third, we live a life of reflection and study.  We need to be prepared for an apologetic discussion at any time and any place.  read your Bible.  Study the Word.  Speak to God in prayer.  Live a life worthy of your calling.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  

1 Cor 1:22-25 (NIV)

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Religion/Archive_2#/media/File:P_religion_world.svg"A few days ago I was talking with a friend about a well known apologist, Dr. Ravi Zacharias.  His comment to me was, “I’d love to be one tenth as smart as him”.  We talked for a bit on the fact that Dr. Zacharias has 30 or so years of full-time experience in apologetics, as well as an extensive education in that field.  What is ‘apologetics’?  It stems from ‘the Greek word apologia, which was originally used of a speech of defense or an answer given in reply. In ancient Athens it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure’.1  So an ‘apology’ is making a logical, courtroom-style defense of the Christian faith.

The biblical admonition from 1 Peter 3:15 is, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have“.  That seems to indicate that the need to be an apologist impacts us all, but how many of us can earn a doctorate and spend 30 years getting to the point we feel comfortable in witnessing to people?  Moreover, what use is there for this type of ministry for the typical bivocational pastor?  What do we really need to know?

I intend to cover some of these questions in the next few posts, but let’s start with the low hanging fruit.  Who has the time and energy to get a doctorate and 30 years of experience?  Very few people, and probably even fewer bivocational pastors.  When is the last time you heard a guidance counselor advise a young person to get an education in apologetics because they are in demand and pay well?  And yet, we need to follow the call of God faithfully.

God tells us  there are various kinds of ministry and we listen to Paul’s analogy of the Church to a body…interconnected and interdependent.  “Ephesians 5:11 ff says, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”  Those of us who are not specifically called to this ministry still have the need to give a reason for our faith.  Using the analogy of a body, even though we may not be that particular body member called ‘apologist’, it is still in each cell’s DNA.

The second question is similar, but different.  How much should we as bivocational ministers be concerned with apologetics?  What do we really need it for?  The answer is perhaps even simpler for us than for fully-funded pastors.  We work outside the church and are in constant touch with people who have questions and no grounding in the Christian faith.  We truly need to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks”.  If someone comes to us and asks genuinely seeking  questions we need to be able to address those queries in an intellectually honest way.  We need to be able to meet the world on it’s own ground and show that our faith really does make sense.  This sounds scary, but it is not as bad as it sounds.  Over the next few posts I will explain this radical statement.


“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord”  Isaiah 1:18 (KJV)


1  https://bible.org/seriespage/2-what-apologetics

(source: http://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrB8o_At4lVVEEAZuCjzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBtdXBkbHJyBHNlYwNmcC1hdHRyaWIEc2xrA3J1cmw-/RV=2/RE=1435117632/RO=11/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.richmondpriesthoodmm.com%2fpage%2f481949612%3fpage_610306992%3d2/RK=0/RS=c9YYgTqQPXYeFvbZ.Tr13g20GBY-"It is rare you can talk to someone and offer them a short and sweet solution to their biggest problems.  That is especially rare in the context of the church.  So when someone offers you a bumper-sticker length bit of help you probably want to take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, this is exactly what I am going to do here today.

Most of the problems in the church are easy to define.  Lack of finances.  Lack of leaders.  Too many debates about inane issues.  Too much ‘gazing at belly buttons’. Lack of vision.  Lack of focus. Lack of involvement.  No new people.  New people leaving through the infamous ‘back door’. These are issues every church has, whether averaging 20 people in Sunday worship, 200 people, 2,000 people or 20,000 people.

There are two keys that you can use to solve these issues, or at the very least put a serious dent in them.

1)  Prayer, prayer, prayer!  Prayer is the ‘engine’ that drives everything in the church.  Prayer is our connection to the Father, made possible by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The closer we get to God, the more we hear His voice and the more we will have a heart for people.  I cannot stress this enough.  If your church was to die tomorrow, what would be on it’s tombstone?  “This was a praying church!” or “This church did a lot and accomplished little.”  Pray for your church.  Pray for people outside the church by name, and ask God for opportunities to minister to them and to tell them the Gospel story.

2) Get out of the church!  Yes, you heard me right.  Leave.  Go to the park.  Go to the beach.  Go to Walmart.  And get your people out, too.  The sad fact is that we have bought into a model that says evangelism must bring people in to the church so they can be told the Gospel and get saved.  The reality is that these days unsaved people will not come in to the church in any significant numbers (at least in places like my native New England) to hear the Gospel.   Kids who go to VBS are likely from churched families.  Kids who come to youth groups are most often from churched families.  Men’s groups are populated by men from the church and Ladies groups are as well.  Bible studies are predominately for Christians, not the unsaved.

The hard part is we as the church are stuck in our old ways.  As bivocational ministers we already have broken one mold…the view that the pastor is available to the local church body 24 hours a day, and is the primary evangelist (“That’s what we hired him for, right?”)  We also have the advantage of being able to take the Gospel out into the so-called marketplace…where we work.  In doing so we can model the behavior for our people.

I think, though, we have to take it to the next step to be truly effective.  This is an area I am struggling with.  We need to place less priority on our in-house ministries and more emphasis on ministries conducted outside the four walls of the church.  When we do this the church as a whole can start connecting with the community.

Now, the question remains.  Do you have the desire to reach people?  All of those problems you have in the church…too few leaders, too little money, not enough people being saved…they can all be solved by these two simple elements, prayer and focusing outward.  Do you have the desire, and will, to make a difference?