Archives For Pastoral Ministry

Your church website conveys lots of messages about your congregation, including some you may not be aware of. That’s particularly true when it comes to presenting pastor and staff member information.

What does your church website say about you?

While visiting hundreds of church websites in connection with a research project, I discovered that there is no such thing as a typical church site. I’ve seen everything from high-end, custom designs to Facebook pages to no web presence at all. Yes, really. About 24 percent of the churches I examined had no web presence.

Likewise, there’s a gamut of approaches to presenting information about the senior leader and staff (or not).

All of them are fine, so long as you know who you are and what you’re communicating through your pastor’s bio. I’m convinced that many pastors have little idea what the “Our Staff” page actually says about them and their congregations.

Here are some of the most common approaches.

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The standard advice to pastors these days is that they should under no circumstances do pastoral care. That’s been de rigueur in leadership circles since the late ’80s when John Maxwell began telling church growth conferees, “I don’t do hospital calls.”

The theory is that anybody can do pastoral care, so the pastor’s time is better spent energizing the leaders within the congregation. The sooner the pastor hands off hospital calling to small group leaders, the sooner the church will break attendance barriers.

Pastor visiting the hospital

Pastoral ministry doesn’t scale, which is why it’s taboo among pastors who style themselves as (or already are) leaders of a large organization. There’s no way for one person to do all the pastoral care for a congregation of 20,000 people. It’s a black hole that sucks time and energy without adding to attendance, so successful pastors avoid it.

I couldn’t care less.

Ministry of Word and sacrament is the primary task of a pastor. Here’s why every single one of them should be a pastoral care giver.

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My earliest preaching mentors taught me that every sermon needed four things: a compelling introduction, a body that included two or three points of biblical exegesis, illustrations to make it memorable, and a conclusion that helped people apply the truth to their lives.

Boy were they wrong.

Group of people watching boring movie in cinema

Three points and a poem may have worked at one time; not anymore. Listening habits have changed, listener attitudes have changed, and the environment of the preaching event has changed.

Today, every sermon must do these seven things to capture attention and motivate life change.

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As a pastor for most of the last 30 years, I had one burning question: Am I doing this right? The reason pastors wonder about that is that (a) there are many different ways to do church these days, and (b) there are so many people telling us we’re doing it wrong.

The word "PASTOR" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

Given that leadership theory is now the dominant way of evaluating pastoral effectiveness, it’s fitting to apply the advice of  Warren Bennis, the grandfather of modern leadership theory, to pastoral ministry.

Thirty-five years ago, Bennis said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Rather than asking “Am I doing this right?” a better question for pastors is “Am I doing the right things?”

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The task of a spiritual leader is to inspire people to see and enter the other life, the life of the spirit. It isn’t that spiritual leaders don’t have to deal with mundane concerns. Even Francis, the most inspirational Pope in recent memory, has spent his share of time revamping the Curia and reeling in renegade bishops.

But spiritual a spiritual leader’s primary task is not directing the affairs of an organization. That’s the work of deacons, useful chaps who are great at setting goals, forming strategies, measuring results—the very things we wrongly label “leadership.”

As the spiritual leader of a congregation, a pastor’s job is quite different. And my greatest mistake as a pastor was to set aside my true work to become the CEO of a nonprofit corporation called the local church.

Here’s how it happened.

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Pastors have a lot on their minds each week. They have a huge task, and there’s much to remember. Heading toward Sunday, a minister may be preoccupied with dozens, even hundreds of concerns.

They think about:

The shreds of biblical language they learned in seminary.
The number of dollars they’re behind on budget for the year.
The number of volunteers needed to make Sunday happen.
The calls they need to return.

But there’s one all pastors forget eventually. And when we do, it tanks our effectiveness harder and faster than missing budget or blowing a board meeting.

I know this because I’ve done it myself.

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Fewer people are attending church these days, and the reason is not what you think.

The Pew Research Center dropped a bombshell yesterday. The center for the study of religion in American life released a new study based on a survey of 35,000 Americans, which finds that Christians have declined sharply as a share of the population while the number of religiously unaffiliated and other faiths have continued to grow.

Though some see good news in the study for Evangelicalism, I strongly disagree. Though historically evangelical denominations may have gained about 2 million members, that gain was purely from “religious switching.” Evangelicals as a percentage of the US population declined by about 1 percent. There is no positive spin on the decline of Christianity in America.

Detail of the church seats with Bibles

The Pew research mirrors other data on the decline of church attendance, so it’s not really news. Still, it begs the question: Why don’t people go to church?

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