If you are like me and are being honest with yourself, there are days (sometimes MANY days!) when you wonder if what you are doing has any validity, any impact or is doing anything at all worthwhile.  As a matter of fact there are days when you might wonder if the ministry is actively harming you and making life more difficult, even to the point of harming your health and your family.  The truth is that ministry can be a brutal avocation, whether you are a bivopastor or a fully-funded pastor.  There will be days when you come out of the pulpit on Sunday morning and look desperately for the back door so you can get out unseen.  There will be days when you have to confront someone about a sinful behavior, or mediate between two warring ‘pillars’.  There will be times when you are called out in the middle of the night to a deathbed.  There will be times when you and your congregation just don’t seem to be on the same page, and you have to lead them into unknown and very frightening territory.

And then, there are days like yesterday.  After church my wife and I went to the local mall and in the food court encountered one of my former High School students from my days in Special Ed as a paraeducator.  She saw me from a distance, talking to her parents, and before I knew what was happening she had me in a bear hug that would have cracked a lesser man’s ribs.  Fortunately I knew her well enough to expect it!  We talked for quite some time, and she introduced my wife and I to her two daughters.  The oldest is in first grade now.  My former student has been married for twelve years.  The most important things that were said were, first, she feels she would have never made it through High School if it were not for me taking the extra time with her she needed and encouraging her, and because of this she is now an advocate for her own daughter in school.    And second, she is attending a local church and reaching out to everyone she can.

What is the proof of the Holy Spirit working through you, the proof of ministry?  It is in the changed lives around you.  Seemingly small things can be tremendously impactful, while the big, flashy events we all like may make no difference at all.  Having an outreach event which brings in 500 people sounds great, while sitting with a person in a coffee shop and praying with them after they lost their job may sound mundane.  Years later we find out that the person in the coffee shop was so greatly moved by the encouragement you gave, showing God’s heart to them, that they came to Christ and now their entire family is on fire for Him.  And we never heard anything else from those 500 people at the big event. The problem is we do not have God’s perspective and while it may seem that sometimes we are just spinning our wheels, God is at work in the background.

Those days when you feel discouraged…look back and remember the individual lives that your ministry has touched.  The proof of your ministry lies in those lives.


“I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…”
Philippians 1:3-5 (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.


Pastors as a group are not well known for risky behavior and especially behavior that may impact their church growth.  There is an old joke about the church being about 10 years behind the curve when it comes to innovation.  Sadly, that may be closer to the truth than we are likely to admit.  In my own small circle I know of churches who are just now introducing such things as lyrics projected onto a screen during worship.  In a meeting just this last week we were talking about music, and I remarked that what we refer to as ‘the new choruses’ were actually published almost 25 years ago!  (“Master Chorus Book” by Ken Bible)

The concept of risk is something with which we as bivopastors should become friends.  There are a few things we should know, as a basis, though.

First, risk is risky.  Duh!  Any particular action taken may or may not succeed, and in many cases the action will fail.  This is not bad, though, if we learn from our failures.  It is only bad when we do not learn from our mistakes.  Thomas Edison is said to have tried 10,000 experiments as he was inventing his light bulb.  When asked about his failure he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Second, just because it worked (or didn’t work) somewhere else is no guarantee it will do the same thing in our context.  As stock brokers are prone to say, ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings’.  Seeing something working in one place, like a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church, does not guarantee it will work for you. This is probably more a problem with context than with execution.

Third, a slightly tongue in cheek definition of ‘insanity’ is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.  One of my favorite movies is ‘The Princess Bride’.  No matter how often I watch it, though, it always ends the same way.  If I expected it to end a different way as I watch it over and over again…there is something wrong!  Yet, in the church we often do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  I knew of a missionary years ago who boasted that they had given out 20,000 tracts on a street corner over a period of two years.  When I asked how many responses they saw, he told me that 2 people  had come into the church.  That is a response rate of .01%.  Yes, those two people are precious to God, but almost certainly the missionary would have been better off trying something new.  ‘We have always done it this way’ is a death knell for a church.

How do we use risk to our own benefit?  We need to embrace the uncomfortable.  Yes, change is difficult, and sometimes painful.  We then decide to learn from our mistakes, rather than retreat from them or wallow in our own misery.  If we are successful, so much the better.  Never let a good failure pass you by!

Encourage your people to try new things.  Give them permission to fail!  Let them know that the trying is the important part, and you will not be mad at them for failing if they are doing something new and worthwhile.

Take a look at your current ministry, what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If it is not working or if it is requiring much effort for little in terms of results, don’t be afraid to cast it aside and try something different.  Realistically a small church cannot ‘do it all’.  It must pick and choose the ministries it can offer in a strategic fashion.  Those ministries it does, it must do well.  There are certain core ministries EVERY church must supply, however.  A worship service of some sort is essential, as is a missions program, an outreach or service ministry and an opportunity for prayer.  Beyond these, everything is up for grabs.  Notice I did not define what those particular ‘essential’ ministries look like.  These are more or less defined as missional priorities rather than a fixed format.  Worship could be home groups, a formal church setting, a live band with a worship leader in a park or a coffee house.  Outreach could be a nursing home ministry, a school Bible club, servant evangelism or collecting box tops for an Native American school.  In addition, some ministries simply have a life span.  It may be that once worked no longer does and it is time to change.  That is okay.

The one thing to keep in mind here above all else is that if you do not take some risks, the chances for growth are exceedingly low.  Failure is seldom fatal, but is merely another opportunity to learn.


‘ “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’

John 4:34 (NIV)


What I am about to say may sound like I am getting far off the track of bivocational ministry, but I am convinced that all pastors should seek basic certification from FEMA (US Federal Emergency Management Agency) in Incident Management.

You may be thinking, “Incident Command?  What’s that got to do with me?”  If you have ever been involved in any sort of community disaster response then it applies to you.  If you have ever participated on a Nazarene Disaster Response team, then it applies to you.  If you have ever had a flood, snowstorm, hurricane or other disaster in your area, then it applies to you.  If you hold a chaplaincy in your area, whether it is Law Enforcement, Hospital, Nursing Home, Emergency Medical Services or Fire Services, then this applies to you.  If you have ever sent supplies to a disaster region, then it applies to you.  If you want to use your church building to help in times of need, then this is for you.  If you ever anticipate any of the above, then this applies to you.

Simply put, the Incident Command  System puts a structure in place that is flexible, scalable and standardized to encompass any sort of community response, whether it is a fire, a shooting, a flood, snowstorm or nuclear meltdown.  This is the structure that is used no matter where you are in the country, and regardless of whether it is a single responder or a National response effort. How you fit in to that structure is critical.  Knowing how you fit in is crucial.

How difficult is it to obtain this certification and training, and how much does it cost?  First off, it is easy…all the instructional courses and videos you need are online.  Second, it is free of cost for most of what you will need.  You simply sign up at FEMA’s site for a FEMA Student ID Number and take the courses.  I recommend spending a couple hours a day, for four days.  There are four courses and each will take you a couple hours…to avoid overload I would not try to do more than one course a day for fear your brain will turn to mush.  The courses you need are:

  • ICS-100b  Introduction to Incident Command System
  • ICS-200b ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incident
  • ICS-700a National INcident Management System (NIMS)
  • ICS-800b National Response Framework, An Introduction

Once you have those four courses under your belt there are others that can prove highly useful.  For instance, “IS-360 Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents: A Guide for Schools, Higher Education, and Houses of Worship” is a course I recently completed which speaks directly to our work as the Church in our community.

If this makes sense to you, here is the link to the FEMA website, with instructions on how to take the Independent Study courses.  https://training.fema.gov/is/isfaq.aspx

All of that said, I hope you do take some of these courses, and never have the opportunity to use them.   But if you do…you will be the face and hands of God to many around you.


“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)


planning_bubbleHave you planned for your church to shrink this year?  No?  Didn’t think so. But have you planned for it to grow?

A significant problem for small churches that are growing is lack of planning.  What do you do if you have a family come in with small children and you don’t have a children’s ministry?  Or perhaps you have a worship area that is not big enough.  What do you do?  The wisest thing you can do is to think of these things BEFORE they become an issue.


  1.  Set a goal for growth and be specific. Sit down and write it out.  “We would like to see two families come in during the next year with 4-5 kids under the age of 14.”  “We want to see a total net growth of 20 people over the next 12 months.”  “We are doing outreach to senior citizens and expect to see 6 attending worship in the next 6 months.”
  2. Determine what you would need to support those goals if they are achieved. Need another Children’s Church worker?  Need 20 more seats in the sanctuary?  ADA Compliant bathrooms and an entry ramp?
  3. Put the resources into place.  Find the children’s church worker and train them, rearrange the sanctuary and put 20 more seats in there!  Start construction on the entry ramp and bathroom, or at least find the funds for construction.

Planning for the future is essential if you are to see any permanent growth. This is is a basic principle set forth in the Bible.  We have to ask ourselves the question, why would God send us people if we are not prepared for them?  If we are not prepared or at least preparing for growth, maybe we don’t really want it to happen.  And that…is the subject of a whole other post!


“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

i-am-a-failureEveryone likes a success story.  You do, I do, everyone does.  We generally don’t like to hear about failures, yet which of us has not failed at some point?   I have a confession to make; the reason I stopped listening to certain pastors and motivational leaders is because they succeeded too well.  It is discouraging to me because I hear on the one side how well something may work, and then I look at myself and my own context and think, “Why do I fail when I try something like that?”

Well, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the last 20 years is the art of failure.  So here are a few points for you to consider.

  1.  Realize that everyone fails.  Even that megachurch pastor and motivational speaker with all the success stories fail.  For every success story they have a plethora of failures that they usually don’t bother to mention.
  2. Give yourself permission to fail.  Learn from each failure.  Then sit down and analyze what happened and why, and what might have been done differently.  Debrief all your team members and apply the lessons learned to other efforts in progress.
  3. Train your people to do the same.  Make learning from failure a part of the discipleship process, and teach them to extend this practice of grace and forgiveness to themselves.  People tend to be better at extending grace and forgiveness to others than they are at applying it to themselves.
  4. Give your people permission to fail, too.  Most people are afraid to try new things because they don’t want to be seen themselves as ‘a failure’.  Tell them you are giving them permission to try new things and it is okay if they don’t work as desired.  Become an encourager!

A famous pastor once made the remark that he tells his people to try new ministry ideas and if one out of 10 succeeds then the effort was worth it.  I not only agree with him, but have told my people the same thing.  I am not going to think less of them if we try something and it fails…we can always learn something from the effort.

One of our biggest successes over the last few years has been a ministry no seminary-trained pastor would have ever thought to try.  My men’s ministry director started a blowgun competition.  My church now offers the only United States Blowgun Assn sanctioned club in New England.  We have great fun with it, but it also offers us outreach opportunities we could not otherwise duplicate.  We have been in our local paper twice with full color pictures and nice write-ups.  We have drawn interest from a wide geographical area and presented our ministry to over 75 men’s group leaders at our church camp.  By the way…over half of our group are now women.

The moral of the story is don’t fear failure.  Use it.

Learn to fail well and you will end up succeeding, too.


“After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”  Mark 9:28-29 (NIV)




NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

NOAA WP-3D Orion weather reconnaissance aircraft

In 1943, during World War 2 an airborne unit was formed that still exists and whose mission is unique.  Today that mission encompasses several agencies in the US government including the US Air Force Reserve, NOAA and the US Navy.  The mission…to track and acquire data on tropical cyclones by flying into them.  They are known as Hurricane Hunters.

Watching the political rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential contest, and just having gone through both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is easy to imagine the whole scenario as a figurative hurricane.  Lots of wind, rain and collateral damage.  How do we as ministers, especially as bivo pastors out in the secular workplace, address the current situation?  Do we visibly back a candidate?  Do we support them from the pulpit?  Can we post to our church website links to a candidate?  Ask for donations?  Can we do any of these as private citizens? Even if we CAN do these things, SHOULD we do them?  Folks, we are about to fly into the eye of the storm!

The first question is CAN we do these things suggested?  The answer is two-fold.  On the public level, from a pulpit or from a church website or other official forum we reference the Johnson Amendment put forward by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, which refers to a change in the U.S. tax code prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)3 organizations are also specifically addressed in the US Tax Code and have strict limits or prohibitions imposed on them.  So very simply…the answer is no, unless you want to endanger your tax-exempt status.

On the private level, yes we can endorse or work for any candidate we wish as long as our official capacity is not used or referenced.  Be warned, this is sometimes a thin line.

Should we endorse a political candidate?  That is an ethical question which should be approached on a case by case basis.  In some contexts it may merely serve to push people away from the church on account of their knowledge your choice of candidate.  In other contexts it may be perfectly fine.

In practicality I have found that simply reminding people that the Bible has specific things to say, urging them to read the Bible and then getting out to vote is sufficient.  I specifically tell them I don’t care who they vote for as long as they have chosen a candidate that lines up with their view of what is best and what God is telling them.  I leave the rest in God’s hands.

One final note.  I remind our congregation that we are Christians first, and citizens of an earthly nation second.  The words of John Wesley in his journal still ring true today…

“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Go and do likewise. Amen.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:17-18 (NIV)

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

(Source: https://pixabay.com/en/writing-write-writer-letter-41354/)Some people are just not very good at journaling.  I have tried to keep one several times in my life, but have never succeeded over the long term.  Today I went out and bought a new journal; however, this one is for a specific purpose.  One of the ladies in my prayer meeting on Tuesday nights was keeping track of our prayer requests and answers to prayer.  Unfortunately she is taking a class now and is not able to come to the meeting.  The new journal is meant to fill that gap.  That begs the question, why keep a prayer journal at all?  Isn’t just praying good enough?

  • Keeping a journal forces you to be specific in your prayers. It also keeps you organized.
  • Keep a journal allows you to pray for people from week to week, easily tracking them.
  • Keeping a journal allows you to record the answers to prayers as you know them.
  • Keeping a journal lets  you look back and see the answers when you need encouragement or assurance.  Think of the times when the Israelites looked back to the Exodus during their various festivals, or as we do during the Lord’s Supper when we look back to the Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross .

Keeping a prayer journal does not require an Italian leather-bound, hand-made notebook.  It can be a college composition book, a loose-leaf notebook, spiral-bound notebook or something else.  A journal is as valuable for your private prayer time as it is for a group meeting.  Here is a good article  on creating your own journal.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)

prayerWhen I was growing up as a kid in church we always went to Sunday School and the Holiness Meeting (Sunday AM Worship).  The more devout among us went to the Salvation Meeting (PM Praise service).  The really, really devout went to the Wednesday prayer meeting, too.  As I got older and a little wiser I began to  go to the evening Salvation Meeting and realized that it did indeed add to my spiritual well-being and life in the fellowship.  Even later, when I was called into the ministry I went to the Officer (pastor) and asked when the mid-week prayer meeting was, so I could attend.  To my utter shock and surprise he told me that it had been discontinued due to lack of interest!

Fast forward to today.  In my own church there are only two indispensable ministries.  The first is the Sunday morning Worship Service.  The second is our mid-week Prayer Meeting.  we can dispense with any ministry we have, but not those two.  And of the two…the prayer meeting is, in my opinion, more important.   So why should you have a prayer meeting?

  • Prayer is the engine that drives the church.  Prayer, communion and communication with God is what undergirds everything we do.  Without that we are just a fancy social club.
  • Prayer focuses the church.  The church is brought to the point where they begin to intercede in a very specific fashion.  It is easy to pray for ‘world peace’ in a general way, but you are more likely to be able to see answers when praying for a sick person, a conflicted relationship, or someone who needs a job.  Focus and intentionality increase as the prayer life expands.
  • Prayer forces us to look outside the church.  In a word, outreach and missions are brought to the front of the church.  Praying for someone at work or at the store can be a very powerful thing.   When people outside see the Hand of God in their lives when they know a church has been praying for them…lives are changed.  When people in the prayer meeting see God’s Hand in response to their prayers their faith is increased.
  • Prayer bonds the church together.  People who are praying for each other become connected.  Those connections are the ligaments of the Body.
  • Prayer makes spiritual matters, and especially spiritual warfare, become as tangible as brick and mortar.  Most people sitting in a pew who do not pray with a group of other people regard spirituality and spiritual warfare as euphemisms.  They are not solid and real.  Group prayer makes it real.

So, how do you start?  “Where two or three are gathered…”.  It is as simple as that.  Find someone and invite them to join you, even if it is only one person.  Set a time and a date to get together on a regular basis.  Mondays at 7am at McDonalds is as good as 7pm on Wednesdays at the pastors office.  Set an agenda and stick to it so you don’t waste most of your time simply talking about random things, or worse…gossiping in the name of prayer.

Then just do it.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  Matthew 18:20