Lessons Learned While Coviding in the Church

God is good, even in pain and frustration.
All of us preached that, and probably rather often.  We had to, given the pains and fears of our people, and us of course.  And we were reminded that many biblical texts say that so loud and clear.  Kind of limited the space for health-and-wealth promises.

To shepherd a church is hard work.
Yes, yes, you say, we did know that.  No, no, I say, it is much harder,  I am finishing year 55 as a full-time pastor or coach of pastors,  and I say it is harder, a good bit harder, than ever before for four reasons:

COVID : and all the complications and hard decisions and divisions it has brought.

Politics:   and the way ‘they” argue and avoid compromise or unity.

Social networks of communication:  even people of the church talk on that like God cannot read.

Christian shallowness — is that an oxymoron?  I pastored in four decades when if you trusted Christ you probably went to church, and none of this two out of five Sundays! 

Virtual meetings are far better than no meetings.

We can at least see each other’s faces in groups and teams, and perhaps some team decisions or necessary gatherings  can sometimes be on the screen good to save time. And no question some of our connections with church attenders or members — will we call them that? — will be virtual from now on.

Staying in touch, or trying to, with people kind of dropping  out of church should be easier after this.

Many churches learned whom to call and who prefers texts or nothing at all.

There exist pastors and staff people who can allow themselves to get by without working hard or very long some weeks.  If Covid can be an excuse, surely there are others.

Some staff leaders did not ask for reports or check-ins during this time, and production in some cases argues that they should have.   And still should.

We learned to get better digital equipment even with small budgets,  and to look carefully at those cameras and not pretend there are 200 people in an empty worship center!

You can really talk warmly  and personally to a camera because you care about the persons receiving your picture.

You can do a good job of communicating in a video of 30 or 60 seconds or just a little longer.

A very natural greeting or talking point about the Sunday ahead or church news became a habit for many during the shut-down,  and I urge pastors to keep producing them, especially with a mood that would make it easy for church people to forward it to a friend with no church.

This goes back pre-Covid, but most of us have decided on-line giving is more important than we once planned.

Physical exercise is very important.

OK, I threw that one in because some people ate too much during lockdown. But we all know the drill. And we all know how good health keeps us going better and longer and helps others listen to us better.

This is not I told you so, but rather I told me but I wouldn’t listen. You know, analog church, passing the offering plates as an act of worship, and all that. But digital also helps, and can be used as  spiritual priests do good and give offerings on line, which are both acts of worship, as said in Hebrews 13:15, 16.

We sort of learned that we should receive guests better and smarter.

The lesson came from how hard it is to connect with the new viewers, but it reminds us to develop better ways to get conversations going with the digital and the analog guests, through the screen but also through the front door of the church.

Surveys are not the way to make decisions.

Ask me what I think we should do and I probably will be disappointed if you decide some other way.   And I may even wonder why our leaders cannot make that decision on their own.

Maybe as much as anything we learned to teach hope in the presence of our Lord in the middle of something that is painful.

And every regular week there are people who are in deep pain hearing us and watching us, and most of them will not be helped with the health and wealth promise.

We must keep getting better at teaching the Bible for a painful setting, something like the time in which it was written.

That we must always show up with truth in love.

Which we always knew;   this makes us re-up.

Learned while Coviding in the church

  • Virtual meetings are far better than no meetings.
    We can see each others’ faces, hear and respond; and attendance in some information groups can be better by internet than by driving.
  • Staying in touch with people kind of dropping out of church should be easier after this. Most of us have learned how to use the phone better, even text, and provide lessons on facial connection on the screen for those who cannot attend and who are not techie.
  • We have learned to get better digital equipment. The livestream service is here to stay, even when we are live also. It seems worth the cost, a necessary budget item.
  • And to look at the camera instead of pretending there are 200 people in the empty worship center. We can really talk warmly and personally to a camera because we care about the people receiving the picture in their living room or bed.
  • A loving and clear worship service with clear and warm Bible teaching can connect around the world.
  • I have heard many encouraged pastors tell of new contacts in other countries. Some have even started zoom study groups with them.
  • There exist pastors and staff people who can get by without working hard or very long some weeks. If Covid can be an excuse, surely there are others. Some staff leaders did not ask for reports or give coaching input during this time, and production in some cases argues that they should have. And still should.
  • This goes back to pre-Covid, but most of us have decided online giving is more important than we once planned.
  • This is not “I told you so,” but rather “I told me but I would not listen.” You know, “analog church,” passing the offering plates as an act of worship, and all that. But digital giving also helps, and can be used as spiritual priests “do good,” which is another act of worship, as seen
    in Hebrews 13:15, 16.
  • We need exercise regularly. Okay, I threw that one in because some people ate too much during lockdown. But we all know the drill. And we all know how good health keeps us going better and longer and helps others listen to us.
  • We sort of learned that we should receive guests in a better and smarter way. The lesson came from how hard it is to connect with the new livestream viewers, but it reminds us to develop better ways to get conversations going with the digital and the analog guests,
    through the screen and also through the front door of the church.
  • We all need community, real warmth from a group where you are known and loved. Some groups have done pretty well meeting “on the screen.” But even the giant news outlets have written about how people need each other in loving community. Everything we always knew about Adult Bible Fellowships and Home ABFs is more true than ever!
  • Maybe as much as anything we learned to teach hope and the presence of our Lord in the middle of something painful. And even after Covid there will be people hearing us and watching us who are in deep pain, and most of them will not be helped with a health-and-wealth promise. We must keep getting better at teaching the Bible for a painful setting somewhat like the one it was written in.
  • That we must always show up with reality-truth and sincere love, not one or the other. Which we always knew, and this makes us re-up!

I Peter in Sermons: Christian Living Like a Rock! In 20 sermons

1:1,2. Introduction to the book and Peter’s life and the great change he
experienced
1:3-9. Salvation
1:10-12 Salvation revealed
1:13-21. The Perfect Lamb of God. (Including tracing of sacrifices and John 1:29)
1:22-25. We only have a short time to love
2:1-3. Christian growth
2:4-10. Our priesthood as believers and the six sacrifices of the New Testament priests
2:11,12. Our testimony
2:13-17. Human authority
2:18-20. Work relationships
2:21-25. A biblical view of suffering
3:1-8. Marriage according to Peter and God
3:9-12. Suffering
3:13-17. Doing good
3:18-22. The way baptism saves us
4:1-7. We get a choice of gods
4:8-11. How action love shows
4:12-19. Moron suffering
5:1-11. Mood of the church
5:12-14. People who are not heroes in a review of the book


“Immanuel”

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given” ** — Isaiah 9:6.

“God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” *** — Galatians 4:4.

“Immanuel ”God is with us. God and man in one person. Jesus (“God is our salvation.”). As man He can represent us and stand in for us on the cross; as God He can conquer death and pass the victory to us! ** The obvious is often missed. The child is born in a woman, by the word of God, and the process of embryo and pregnancy. A human being starts. But the Son is given, because He was eternally alive and there in the beginning and before! He had no start, but could be given. Isaiah chose his words rather carefully. *** The obvious is often missed. The Son is sent forth, because He was already there from eternity. He never “started.” He is born of a woman, from scratch, by the miracle of the virgin birth. Paul chose his words rather carefully. The truth of “Immanuel” puts light years between the Bible’s Christmas message and all religions or theories or Starbuck’s conversations, whether tendered by individuals or committees. We should choose our Savior rather carefully. “

Doing Elders and Pastors and Boards the Way of the Bible!

A few things to think about when we read the verses about shepherds or elders or overseers in the New Testament,  and how to apply to today

ASSUMPTIONS,  PRESUPPOSITIONS

… The Bible is God’s Word for today. We must obey it.

… The teachings of the Bible can be obeyed in all cultures and situations.

… Jesus Christ is the head of the church.

… There are three and only three general categories of “offices” or positions of service in the church as described in the NT: pastor/overseer/elder,  deacon,  and believer/member-minister.    All three are here today.

… There is room for differences of opinion and even strong conviction about how those categories are functioning today,  with a call for mutual respect and honor when there is difference.

… Facing reality while holding to Bible teachings,  we must have an application for doing church organization that fits all sizes of churches.

DIFFERENCES IN TODAY’S CHURCH

… Today we have many different sizes of churches.   In larger ones over 100 one or more shepherds must give vocational time to the church — full-time,  most would say.

… Today we have many pastor-elders who are trained and educated for leading and ministering as servants of Christ and people in the local church.  That does not make them better than others called to give oversight to the church,  but it compels a difference in responsibilities.

…Those who help in the pastoring or “elding” or overseeing of thelocal church while maintaining other vocations (callings indeed, in line with the priesthood of all believers) cannot possibly give the same amount of time or carry the same burden of those who choose the church ministry as their vocation.
Good writers and believers like Alex Strauch argue that this can be done “by self-sacrifice,” and he quotes R. Paul Stevens  to say they “must be willing to forego a measure of career achievement and private leisure for the privilege of getting the prize (Phil. 3:14).”  Almost as if that prize is for the faithful elders and not for all faithful Christians.
Surely the issue is faithfulness and there can be a division of labor that still obeys the principles and requirements of the New Testament teaching and implications about oversight of the local church.

… Most churches today have many more activities and responsibilities than the early house churches founded by the apostles and early Christians. There could be another debate about whether every scheduled activity is good or necessary, but that is for another day.

… Most churches today have a much more complicated financial system and obligations and buildings.

WHAT CAN WORK WHILE FULFILLING BIBLICAL TEACHINGS

… The “soccer field model” seeks to take all the commands or principles of the New Testament about pastors/elders/overseers and give them to the full-time pastors and staff and the lay elders in a way that promotes the plurality and responsibilities of both in a workable and protected way.
The board members or elders or presbyters or non-clerical shepherds give oversight to the church by defining and guarding the four “boundaries” of the ministries and church.  These are the four sides of the soccer field.
The pastor and team of staff shepherd the many ministries and people “on the field” and stay  in bounds.   Because of the nature of leadership,  the senior pastor (the only pastor in some churches) is responsible for the team of staff or member-ministers who carry out the many ministries of the church.    These include care for each other and witness words and actions to reach the unbelieving or unchurched.

… Thus the commands or responsibilities  of :
leading  (Acts 20:28) and  ruling/managing (I Timothy 3:4,5)
shepherding (I Peter 5:1-4)
teaching  ((II Timothy 2:15)
equipping  (Ephesians 4:12)
being examples (I Peter 5:3)
are overseen by the board (elders, overseers, lay pastors).  They do not seek to do it all themselves just as a  “younger women” in Titus 2:5 to be “keepers at home” does not imply they cannot assign responsibilities at home to others in the family!

… This can work well in a church of 50 and a church of 10,000.

COMMON QUESTIONS

 What about a renegade pastor?
Release him. Fire him. The board has oversight and guards the boundaries that way.

Does this model not give the pastor too much authority?
It gives the pastor the same authority for ministries as he has for Sunday or weekend services. The board does not check every hymn or every word in the sermon beforehand, but they could tag him out if he began teaching things that were not within bounds or doing things in the pulpit that did not show their values.

… Can’t these lay elders of board members use their spiritual gifts in other ways?
Absolutely. But they serve as senior high teachers or directors of groups or leaders of worship or parking attendants not because they are on the board but because they are willing  to do that and want to be active servants and ministers in the church.Can 

… In what sense then do these overseers shepherd the people?
By instituting a system that works – normally through the groups of the church where care can happen. In any church over  150, if board members feel they must personally shepherd all the people,  they either spend all their time doing that or simply pray for their list as a group. That is not shepherding.

… Should members of the pastoral staff be a part of the board also?
This does not rule that out.  But in a practical way, it may caution against that.  The agenda of the pastoral staff and the agenda of the oversight board are two different agendas,  not redundant  as in some models.  The pastor and staff lead the ministries of Sunday and the week,  with the lead pastor as captain.  The lead pastor then joins the oversight board as an equal to make and guard the policies and goals and lead the finances and financial projects of the church.

Can there be other boards of the church?
No.   This is a one-board-of-oversight system.   In many churches there should be a finance team or a building projects team or a missions team,  but they all report to the oversight board to avoid the confusion that results from multiple equal boards.

 How does this relate to the “congregational rule” preference that some churches have?
The congregation leads or rules by selecting their pastor and  the members of the oversight board. In most systems they also must approve any building projects and the annual budget. And there is no Biblical mandate for the congregation to decide everything,  as used to be true in some churches.

… Where do the deacons or deaconess fit in?
Obviously churches handle this in many different ways. The title simply mean serving, and probably many of us would like to recognize all who teach or serve or help in various ways would be under the general heading of servant or minister or deacon.   Rather than electing people to serve these ways, many churches appoint them to teach or take care of shut-ins  or count the offerings or visit in the hospital or lead the youth or serve in various ways. If the original deacons took care of widows or tables for eating, many ministries in the church would be parallel.

Executive pastor options on a large church staff

Every situation is different, a little, but there are some advantages to a
strong team joining the lead pastor to form the “office of the executive
pastor” instead of having one person do that.

Definitions
Senior or lead pastor: the leader of staff, the pastor-in-chief, the CEO of the church and staff.

Executive pastor: often the co-leader of staff, the vice-president, the COO of the church and staff.

The board: hopefully they are overseers who care for the boundaries of the church (see“The Soccer Field” papers) and allow the staff to “play on the infield.” They call and review the senior pastor, who leads and reviews (or has a system for this)_ the others on the staff.

They could be listed first here, because the senior pastor reports to them.

Administrative pastor or director of administration: often the leader of the financial and facilities side of the ministries and church.

Associate or senior associate pastors: others who lead ministries and have a segment of the ministries as their responsibility. In a large church each will have assistant pastors and directors of areas of ministry reporting to them.
Three main options for the role and duties of the executive
pastor:

1. Executive or senior associate pastor.

+ It is clear who manages the ministries at the direction of the senior.

+ If this person is loyal to the senior and understands the enabling role, this can work well.

– Sometimes the senior loses touch with staff, by “moving upstairs,” and there is a different mood and direction, sometimes even without the senior’s realization.

– There can be bottleneck at this one person’s desk, and lack of synergy and the creativity and chemistry that can come with a stronger and larger team approach to leadership thinking.

– Sometimes the person who is good at the “executive” role is not built with a “pastor’s heart,” and is just a good manager or executive,  therefore hurting themood and ministry.

2. Three or four associate pastors or senior associates who join with the senior pastor to be the leadership team

+ More staff leaders own the leadership visions and dreams. Closer to “a multitude of counselors.”

+ With four or five on the dream-and-envision-and-assign team, there is more creativity and perspective. This is enhanced when one or more on this leadership team (I simply called ours “ETeam”) are women.

+ The same people who join the senior pastor to dream and envision with him will be the ones to carry it out in their areas of ministry. They will not be one step separated from the development of the goals. All of the reports on staff, even a very large one, come under the responsibilities of the members of this team.

+ One of the members can be the worship pastor, who usually has strong influence on the mood and direction of the church — if that person is more than an artist.

+ One of the members of this team can be a director over finances and facilities, which are always involved in dreams and plans for the church — but only if that administrative leader is not a “bean-counter” who cannot pray and dream well.

+ One of these senior associates or associates can still be the #2 person, and known as such, “first among equals” among the associates. This can help in carrying out plans. (Sometimes this person is called the senior associate pastor and the others the associate pastors. Some of us think the title “executive pastor” can be perceived as more executive

–colder in one way — than pastoral — warmer.)

– There are more than two people to make the meeting and to spend the time.

– There can be negative feelings of others on staff because they are not asked to be on this leadership team.

– There can be more arguments or pushback to the senior because there are more people to do that (though I think this is an advantage, to consider all angles).

– Sometimes there are not three or four other strong leaders-dreamers on the staff (though perhaps this calls for the development of them).

3. Everyone reports to the senior pastor or, in some churches,
to the board.

+ This is the way it should be (reporting to the pastor) when there are one or four or five others on the staff.

+ The leadership plan is clear and simple.

– If there are more than four reporting to the senior pastor, he has too
many reports.

– If any staff other than the pastor reports to the board, count on
confusion and frustration. All staff must report to the leader who is there
with them every day and giving his life and heart to this church in a loving
and careful way.

Suggestion for Christmas

1.   A special weekday service – lights or ornament to represent people who passed away that year –

A.   with special prayer for each
B.   with chance for each to say a word about person who died
C.   a few carols
D.   a 5-minute devotional about why Christ came

2.  Gift to shut-ins delivered by pastor or staff, with thanks for the past.
3.  Christmas eve services – early for kids and later for older. (11:00 pm was most popular.)
4.  College students to pastor’s house for cider and doughnuts (7:00-9:00 pm, or stated hours so they know not all evening).
5.  Letter to high school seniors about Christmas and their futures.
6.  Start carols early. All ages like carols.
7.  Do not hesitate to sponsor a special end-of-year giving offering, whether or not you like to call it a Christmas gift to Christ or the church. Other ministries are asking your people, and many need to give in a special way at the end of the year.
8.  A letter to church to thank them and express love from you and staff. Include all staff.
9.  Honor the staff with a “Thanksgiving benefit” to use for family Christmas. (Obviously only in a strong year – we’re talking $100, $200, or $300, not massive.)
10  .Project to help needy in community with food baskets and turkeys. Church people turn in names and deliver.
11.  Sermon series from Old Testament or Isaiah or “Christmas in the Letters” – not always traditional Matthew or Luke sermons.
12.  Church building decorated by Sunday after Thanksgiving.
13.  Three-minute interviews during all December in worship services, for people to be asked about both how they began with Christ and how they continue. (You hold the microphone.😊)

P-R-A-Y

praySuggestions for a way to pray in public, and especially for prayer in Sunday and home groups  — to get more involved and attached.

  •  Because so many group prayer times are really request times,  with little time left to pray….
  • Because so many group prayer times are only about “surgeries and accidents”…..
  • Because sometimes one or two people pray long prayers in group prayers,  inhibiting others …..

Continue reading “P-R-A-Y”

A Plea For Public Prayer

Thoughts on a missing part of church worship, with some possibilities for a reinstatement

It is not that a worship time for a church does not work without a planned worship and request prayer. Many churches do very well without it. And no one complains. But…

…All of us who follow God’s ways are clearly commanded to pray. And Jesus taught His disciples to pray.

…Spontaneous prayers by a guitarist are not very worshipful, and they do not model prayer for families or individuals, though they are often good examples of praise and heartfelt love. (Sometimes they are just indicators that the leader liked the previous song :-). Continue reading “A Plea For Public Prayer”