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Friday, October 29, 2004

Redneck Churches

I thought I'd throw something from the lighter side out there on this Friday... so here are the top signs that you're a part of a Redneck Church:

If the finance committee refuses to provide funds for the purchase of a chandelier because none of the members knows how to play one.

If people ask, when they learn that Jesus fed the 5000, whether the two fish were bass or catfish, and what bait was used to catch 'em.

If when the pastor says, "I'd like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering," five guys and two women stand up.

If opening day of deer season is recognized as an official church holiday.

If a member of the church requests to be buried in his 4-wheel-drive truck because "It ain't never been in a hole it couldn't get out of."

If the choir is known as the "OK Chorale".

If in a congregation of 500 members, there are only seven last names in the church directory.

If Baptism is referred to as "branding".

If high notes on the organ set the dogs on the floor to howling.

If people think "rapture" is what you get when you lift something too heavy.

If the baptismal pool is a #2 galvanized washtub.

If the choir robes were donated by (and embroidered with the logo from) Billy Bob's Barbecue.

If the collection plates are really hub caps from a '56 Chevy.

If instead of a bell, you are called to service by a duck call.

If the minister and his wife drive matching pickup trucks.

If the communion wine is Boone's Farm "Tickled Pink".

If "Thou shalt not covet" applies to hunting dogs, too.

If the final words of the benediction are, "Y'all come back now!! Ya Hear!"

Have a great weekend!


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October 29, 2004 in Humor | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Conflict? Ask Ken: How Can I Deal with Injustice In the Church?

Here's this week's "Conflict: Ask Ken" question...

Dear Ken,

I was suddenly fired from my job Sept. 2 without any notice by the administrator in a very large church (average attendance of approx. 1,000) I had worked there full-time since January 1995, so I was there nearly 10 years. (The administrator who fired me is not the same as the one who hired me. This one has never liked me and has been looking for something a long time to use against me. Others have observed it too.)

In previous years, I was chosen as employee of the month in June 1998 & received a pay raise and at least two job promotions with pay increases while there, as well as commendations publicly and in written form from the pastor and other staff and church members. The pastor is the one who has always seen to it that I received the pay increases.

Then on Sept. 1, there was a simple misunderstanding about my job description that could have easily and quickly been resolved. (I did not know that one could be fired for following their job description, above and beyond, but you can!) The administrator and another staff member (my boss) would not deal with me redemptively to resolve the situation. I have always gotten along well with my boss until this came up. I asked for mercy, grace, forgiveness and another chance and was denied. (My boss DID forgive me he said.) Having one problem/question over my job description in 10 years is a pretty good record I think.

I had to pack up everything (by myself) from the past 10 years, load it into my car and leave within 2 hours after being notified of my "termination."

When I asked the administrator if the pastor knew about this decision, he became very defensive and said "He knows I have the right to fire." My reply was "I'm not questioning your authority. I am simply asking for information." I was gruffly told "Yes, he knows."

I am single and have no other source of income. I was given some severance pay by the church, but my parents have given me money the past 2 months to help out because I was barely making it before I was fired.

When I applied for unemployment benefits I was told I did not qualify in our state because I had worked for a non-profit organization. I have health problems and my insurance runs out in a couple of weeks.

I have only had 2 interviews since September 2 and none of those have worked out after having sent out approximately 50-60 resumes. I went to a personnel agency yesterday to try to find some kind of employment.

God will provide, but it is very hard to think that I ever want to work in a church again. (I've worked in churches since 1980 until now.)
I am hurt, wounded and confused. I am "guarding my heart, for out of it is the wellspring of life" because I do not want to become bitter nor hold a grudge in my heart.

I haven't said a word to any of the staff nor contacted them about what has happened, but I wonder if I should write them and the personnel committee a letter letting them know what has happened from my viewpoint. I don't want to go back to work there, but I feel I was wrongfully terminated. I literally "shook the dust from my feet" when I left. What should I do?


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


As I read through your comments, it seems to me that the underlying question you are struggling with is how to deal with the injustice you experienced.

Oftentimes in this life, wrongs are not made right. People are not always made whole again after a loss. Sometimes the most difficult aspect of this reality is not the loss, as bad as it may be, but the lack of acknowledgement of the injustice done – especially by those who caused it.

Yet Christians believe in moral order because we believe in God. The need to have that moral order affirmed is strong in all of us. When an injury cannot be undone and/or justice cannot be administered, to speak the truth about what happened and to identify the moral wrongs committed brings the sense of right and wrong into balance again.

You said in part, “I haven't said a word to any of the staff nor contacted them about what has happened.” That sounds to me like, by and large, you are suffering in silence. You were part of a community for 10 years and almost no one knows about what happened.

You also wrote, “I am hurt, wounded and confused. I am ‘guarding my heart, for out of it is the wellspring of life’ because I do not want to become bitter nor hold a grudge in my heart.”

Paradoxically, your excellent intentions and your approach to your difficult situation can cause you to become the very thing you do not want to be: bitter. Martha Minow, a Harvard professor, who not only studied some of the major atrocities of the 20th century, but the attempts by survivors to subsequently heal, wrote, “victims and witnesses who seek to forget ironically may assist the perpetrators by keeping silent about their crimes. Silence about violence locks perpetrators and victims in the cruel pact of denial, literally and psychologically.” From my perspective, expressing outrage (righteous anger) over wrongful harms committed is a response that not only reaffirms the moral order, but is a first step that can lead to reconciliation, at least in some form.

You clearly stated, “I feel I was wrongfully terminated.” You then asked, “what should I do?” What I have written so far probably gives you the direction of my counsel. What you additionally wrote actually provides a specific avenue. You wrote, “I wonder if I should write them [the staff] and the personnel committee a letter letting them know what has happened from my viewpoint.”

I would not write to the staff, but I would write to the personnel committee and send a copy to the governing board above that committee, whether it be trustees, deacons, or elders. Writing to the staff will not help your cause. The staff can’t do anything about the outcome and such a letter could actually be used against you, painting you as a trouble maker. (This does not mean you can’t share your experience with individual friends on staff who call you. But I would limit such conversation with friends on staff to just that).

However, writing to the personnel committee (and to the board above them) is entirely appropriate. This is an administrative matter over which this group is (these groups are) given oversight responsibilities.

The next question becomes, what is the purpose and goal of your letter. I think it should be two-fold. First, you want to express the hurt you have endured as a result of your being fired. Share your reasons why you believe that your termination was wrongful. In doing so, make sure you write your letter in the first person. “I felt.” “I was mystified.” “I can’t understand.” Conversely, avoid writing in the 3rd person when talking about the attributes of another person. “He’s insensitive.” “What a jerk.” “He had it out for me.” Why this distinction? No one can argue with how you feel, but disagreements readily follow when accusations are made, as people become defensive or come to the defense of others. In the former instance, you will be heard. In the latter, you will be rebuffed.

Secondly, you want to make it clear the kind of bind your wrongful termination has put you in. You certainly want to include your health insurance situation. In this section, you are not asking for handouts. However, if the powers that be are persuaded that you are suffering unjustly at the hands of their church, over which they are stewards, they may want to take some corrective action to, at least, ease the difficulty of your transition.

In other words, part of the letter is for you to express your own perspective on what happened. Hopefully, this will be a big step in your own healing. One black man who had been blinded by a white South African apartheid police officer was given the opportunity to share what happened to him before the country’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” When later asked how he felt, the man responded, “I felt what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn’t tell my story. But now I – it feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story.’” So, part of the letter is for your healing.

Part of the letter is for the church. Your letter will give them an opportunity to take steps they may think are appropriate. (Don’t demand anything. Simply set forth your current circumstance).

Let me also add, you want to get your points across as succinctly as possible. You want your letter to be read, not set aside because it resembles a mini-book. So have a friend or family member look at it before you send it with a view to making it as complete, yet as concise as possible.

To my way of thinking, the letter signifies a healthy response to the past. Much beyond it becomes unproductive and self-draining. You’ll say your peace to those in authority. Chances are you will not receive a reply that states, “you are right, you were hurt, and it was wrong.” But you will assert your perspective on the moral order of life. You will give voice to your deep seated feelings. Speaking the truth in love is always a right thing to do.

Send your letter with a prayer to God that His will be done, regardless of how the church responds or does not respond. Then begin to focus more and more of your energies on finding what lies next just over the horizon in God’s unfolding plan - for us all.

Janet, may you find strength in Him for the journey.

Sincerely in Christ,


Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs individualized help, please visit Ken's website or call 301-253-8877.

To submit a question and connect with Ken, click here.

© 2004 Kenneth C. Newberger

QUESTION: Have you ever encountered what you considered was injustice in the church? How have you handled it? Was Ken's advice valuable to you? Leave your comments and ideas by clicking the comments link below.

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October 28, 2004 in Church Conflict | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Introducing Christ through Pop Culture

One of the most exciting churches I've attended recently is Granger Community Church in Granger (South Bend), Indiana. Granger is a very fast growing church (I believe a recent survey put them as the 13th fastest growing church in America). This is a church that is a leader in reaching its community through relevant services... services that utilize 'pop culture'. Pastor Mark Beeson describes the purpose of Granger: To help those who 'don't get it' to 'get it'. Recently, the South Bend Tribune wrote a major feature article about the ministry at Granger. I'll include most of Sara Toth's article below. You can also read this artice at the Tribune (as of today). I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on this article.

People fill the 650 seats in the auditorium. Chatting among themselves, they wait for the clock to hit 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday.

Instrumental music plays quietly. Advertisements for various ministries flash one after another on two video screens.

At 5:30, the first of five weekend services will begin at Granger Community Church, the 33rd fastest growing mega church in the country, according to the Megachurch Research Center in Bolivar, Mo.

However, it's not so much GCC's size that defines it as its use of popular culture to introduce newcomers to Christianity.

At the same time the church believes many aspects of the modern world are out of sync with Christian morality, making a life with purpose more important.

The auditorium suddenly darkens. Spotlights in reds, greens and blues illuminate the band on stage.

"Yeah, when you're a celebrity, it's adios reality," the singer twangs the words of country singer Brad Paisley. "No matter what you do, people think you're cool. Just because you're on TV ..."

The musicians use the basic props of modern entertainment to chide reality TV.

Then four women playing the roles of former sorority sisters replace the band on stage to perform a drama.

One of the women confesses that she is dating a married man. She begins to cry when she realizes that her friends are right; it isn't a healthy relationship.

A soloist takes the spotlight and croons an Avril Lavigne song about lost love.

Then the Rev. Mark Beeson arrives on stage dressed in a black suit.

"Well, there's good news for us," Beeson, the founder and head pastor of the church, says calmly. An aura of charisma surrounds his tall and sturdy form.

"There is a place for us to go. There is one who comes for us," Beeson continues. "There is a home that is calling. There is a God who cares, who loves you right where you are."

He asks the congregation to bow their heads in prayer.

"Lord, give us a sense of what truth is, what the reality really is," Beeson prays.

For the next six weeks, Beeson will use reality television to teach his growing flock about Christian attitudes toward sex, money, relationships, religion, success and their church.

At Easter, Beeson used the movie "The Matrix" to teach about Christ's message of rebirth. In July he used the character Spiderman to teach about identity.

On the surface, this approach contains as much irony as a music star on stage making fun of celebrity. After all, this is a United Methodist Church, an institution founded on scripture as its core.

But these weekend services are designed for people who don't attend church on a regular basis. In fact, they cater to people who have never been to church, Beeson explains.

That's why rather than reading from the Bible and singing hymns, the church uses the images, sounds and language of popular culture, Beeson says.

To reach these people, whom Beeson calls "unchurched," he has to communicate in "culturally relevant ways," he explains. "Basic change theory demands minimal overlap between what is and what can be. You can't communicate unless you overlap," he says, employing the lingo of communication studies.

"We don't compromise the message. We use the culture to most clearly communicate the message," he says.

Approaches like Beeson's make sense and are growing in popularity in an age when, according to many theologians, Protestantism is declining, says Scott Thumma, a scholar at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who studies megachurches and the interplay between religion and the Internet.

The branch of religion founded on the principle of allegiance to the Bible is looking for other ways to convey Jesus' message, Thumma says.

"Most folks in the modern world are not biblically literate," Thumma says in a telephone interview from Connecticut. "It makes more sense to put a spiritual spin on Star Wars than to teach people there was this guy named Daniel ... "

Beeson points to the numbers to prove he has succeeded in introducing people to Jesus: When he started the church in 1986, the only people present at a service in his living room were his wife and three children. Now, about 5,200 people attend weekend services every week, he says.

'People don't know how much they matter to God'

Beeson says his goal has always been to reach people who were not attending church. Even while growing up in Greenfield, Ind., he recalls, he was constantly inviting friends to his church youth group.

"I have always been concerned that people don't know how much they matter to God," he says. "They don't know that they are precious and loved. And I think if they knew what a treasure they were, it would change their outlook, their family. They would have hope. Jesus does that."

When deciding where to open a new church that would eventually become GCC, "I did the same research that any expanding business leader would do," he recalls. "I studied the demographics and psychographics of the growing communities across Indiana, and Michiana was a hot spot." (Here, again, Beeson is speaking in terminology derived from the business world; psychographics refers to people's lifestyles, values and behaviors.)

The church has never put its United Methodist affiliation on its sign, Beeson says. While GCC members eventually learn about Methodism, displaying this label would not help further the goal of getting people into the church so they can learn about Jesus, he says.

"In marketing you have to pay attention to value added," he explains. "Because everyone is asking, how will this benefit me?"

When someone's daughter is depressed and their son is on drugs, "they are not asking for a denominational brand," Beeson says. "They are asking for help."

United Methodist Church Bishop of Indiana Michael Coyner says that "minimizing the usage of confusing denominational labels" helps GCC reach its goal of bringing in people not familiar with church.

Later, Beeson and Coyner say, those who attend GCC learn in a series of classes for new members that the church is United Methodist and study Methodism.

"Rev. Mark Beeson and his staff do a wonderful job of helping people become a part of our denomination as well as that local church," Coyner says.

Coyner says he is "delighted" with the "phenomenal growth" of GCC.

In addition to the language, images and sounds used in the service, the facility itself appears slick and modern. Outside the auditorium is the Connection Cafe, which offers lattes, chai teas and caffe mochas like those sold at a Starbucks.

The commons and the auditorium are equipped with wireless Internet access. People may bring their laptops into the 7:30 p.m. service on Saturdays.

The expansion now underway will add a food court, video cafe, more themed classrooms for children and additional parking.

Beeson and other pastors wear suits rather than robes in an effort to remain atuned to modern dress trends.

"If I stood up in a robe, well, the last time they saw a fairly large man in a black robe was superior court," Beeson says. "So I dress the way they see business professionals dress."

Other churches reluctant to address issues

Beeson says "we're in a fallen world in every aspect." He talks about societal changes in the 1960s that broke the family and allowed for more sexual freedom. Households went from "two-parent families to blended families to Cuisinart families," which are so mixed up that children don't know who their parents are, he says.

Things have spun out of control, he says. "Now, sex can kill you," he says, referring to AIDS. He says that many churches are reluctant to address these issues in the context of the culture.

Beeson's goal is to introduce people to Jesus so He can guide people to "live a life of purpose" in this "fallen world."

And the only way to capture the attention of people surrounded by loud music, and digital images is to use some pieces of this cacophony to tell them about Jesus, he says.

"We use the arts to raise the issues, and we use the scriptures to lovingly address the issues," Beeson says. "What we're doing is not a new thing. Jesus would illustrate in the style of the culture." It just so happened that in the first century A.D., people were occupied with farm animals and land, not cars and movies, he says.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Just click the comments link below to share!

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October 27, 2004 in Leadership Issues, Outreach and Evangelism | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Is it Time to Leave? Assessing Your Church's Generosity

This week, we're continuing our series on "Is it time to leave?", based on John Cionca's book "Before You Move: A Guide to Making Transitions in Ministry". This week we'll talk about how your church's generosity might help determine whether or not it is a good time to move on.

Just like attendance, the giving of your congregation is never a complete signal as to whether or not a ministry change is in order; but they can one snapshot of signals that can help you make a decision.

John writes, "Disgruntled members do not need to fight a pastor with words-- their quiet withdrawal of contributions alone exerts an enormous amount of leverage...The closing of a checkbook is not as loud as the vocal critic, but it may be felt more strongly. But when realistically set and normally reached budgets shrink considerably, beware! The withholding of normal giving indicates either disapproval of church goals or the existence of unanswered needs. The pastor whose church is experiencing a chronic shortfall or decline in needed resources may be seeing a green light that signals the advisability of a move. In some cases, staying may help people work through their concerns, but if remaining continues to fuel the problem, it's time to go."

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments. Just click the comments link below to give your input!

Have a great day!


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October 26, 2004 in Personnel Issues | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Monday, October 25, 2004

Lessons from Those Who Reach the Lost (Part 2)

Last week, we looked at some of Dr. Thom Rainer's fresh research on ' breakout churches' . Today, we'll continue that discussion with the remainder of the 15 lessons that his research has learned about those who are aggressively reaching the lost. Here are eight more lessons that emerged from the results of interviews with at least 101 church leaders. Dr. Rainer summarized: From their personal authenticity to their refusal to compromise the essentials, there is a lot we can learn from leaders who reach the lost.

Lesson 8: Have small-group opportunities available
While some church leaders debate the best type of small group, most of them agree that some type of small-group organization must be in place both to reach and to assimilate the unchurched. A number of church leaders viewed their small-group organization as indispensable in reaching the unchurched. And while more leaders in our study favored Sunday schools as their primary expression of small groups, most of them saw the outreach potential of numerous kinds of groups.

Lesson 9: Reaching people in crisis
One factor is certain about the leaders of these churches that reach the unchurched: they are highly creative in their attempts to reach the unchurched. A Baptist church in West Virginia has a hospital ministry to new mothers, an attempt to reach these young families in their "positive crisis." A West Coast Evangelical Free Church has reached more unchurched through its crisis pregnancy ministry than any another approach. And a Wesleyan church in the Midwest offers its beautiful sanctuary to prospective newlyweds at a very modest fee -- but only if they agree to four sessions of premarital counseling.

Lesson 10: Reaching the unchurched through quality childcare
We received mixed opinions from the church leaders about the effectiveness of a "mom's day out," a day care or a five-day preschool as an evangelistic tool. Some leaders indicated that these ministries typically lose their evangelistic focus and cater to Christians only. Others said the ministries tend to become a tail wagging the dog. But still some said that, with highly intentional efforts, these weekday ministries can be evangelistically effective.

Lesson 11: Focus evangelistic efforts on children and youth
Our research team's studies indicate that 81 percent of those who accept Christ do so before the age of 20. Whether this number is an indicator of receptivity to the gospel at a young age or the ineffectiveness of the church to reach adults, the case for focusing evangelistic resources on young people is compelling.

Lesson 12: Use a discovery class to reach the unchurched
In a previous study, our research team found that new members' classes were highly effective tools in closing the back door. Many leaders of the effective churches told us that they use these classes for dual purposes: entry into membership and an inquiry class for prospective members including the unchurched. Such an approach makes sense in light of the strong desire of the formerly unchurched to learn doctrine, to know more about the church, and to learn biblical issues. While some leaders of churches created two separate classes, almost all of those we interviewed indicated the ease by which one class can be used for two purposes.

Lesson 13: Find an evangelistic leader
"I have been the senior pastor of four churches in 32 years," the Southern Baptist pastor from Texas told us. "In every church, I've looked for and prayed for someone who is passionate about evangelism. God has answered my prayers. And when you turn that person loose, the gates of hell begin to fall." Four out of ten pastors we interviewed indicated that through an intentional process or by an unsought blessing, an evangelistic leader has emerged. "You wouldn't believe the difference it makes in the church," the pastor told us, "when you have both the pastor and a key layperson being evangelistic champions."

Lesson 14: Marketing tools alone are ineffective
I frequently come in contact with people whose primary vocation is to sell marketing tools to churches. Their products are quality products: direct-mail pieces, visitor cards and response letters, to name a few. And every marketing person whom I have met tells prospective purchasers that such tools are to be used in conjunction with a comprehensive evangelistic strategy. Still some church leaders think neat, well-packaged marketing tools are all they need to reach the unchurched. Even some of the leaders of the effective churches confessed their own mistakes of depending on marketing tools alone.

Lesson 15: Patience is required
We rarely met or interviewed church leaders who said their churches' growth was easy. Many expressed to us their seasons of dryness, growth plateau or decline, and frustration. We heard stories of how a number of these leaders felt like they could not continue in their place of ministry. Yet those who remained faithful and persistent in their places of ministry told us about breakthroughs on some occasions and slow but steady growth at other times.

Dr. Rainer concludes...

Reaching the unchurched world, they said, is hard work. It requires a life of prayer and an evangelistic spirit. It also requires leadership skills. Many of the church leaders shared with us that they found themselves ill equipped to lead their churches. Leadership is vital, they said, but many were not prepared.

Your thoughts? How is your church doing? I'd love to hear your comments and first impressions of what Dr. Rainer said. Click the comments link below to leave your feedback.

Also... you can read the full article now at ChurchCentral.com by clicking here now...

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October 25, 2004 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, October 22, 2004

Ministry Perfectionism

I don't know about you, but I am many times prone to perfectionism. (Those who know me might disagree) After all, it is vitially important to get everything just perfect 100% of the time, right? For example, if just 99.5% was acceptable...

--Two million documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
--811,000 faulty rolls of 35-mm film will be loaded this year.
--22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
--1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunication services every minute.
--12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
--268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
--14,208 defective personal computers will be shipped this year.
--103,260 incoming tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
--2,488,200 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
--5,517,200 cases of soft drinks produced in the next 12 months will be flatter than a bad tire.
--Two plane landings daily at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe.
--3,056 copies of tomorrow's Wall Street Journal will be missing one of the three sections.
--18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
--291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
--880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
--$9,690 will be spent today, tomorrow, next Thursday, and every day in the future on defective, often unsafe sporting equipment.
--55 malfunctioning automatic teller machines will be installed in the next 12 months.
--20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
--114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
--$761,900 will be spent in the next 12 months on tapes and compact discs that won't play.
--107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed by the end of the day today.
--315 entries in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language will turn out to be misspelled.

Well... the ministry decisions that you make everyday many times are not life-threatening, but it is important the we strive to do our best in everying 'as unto the Lord'. However, when we become consumed with perfectionism and getting everything just right, we strike up an unhealthy balance that can cause many different things (according to the University of Texas Austin):

--Performance anxiety
--Test anxiety
--Social anxiety
--Writer's block

Do you have any of these symptoms? If you're a closet perfectionist, you can probably relate. Here are some differences between perfectionism and striving to do your best:

A perfectionist sets standards beyond reach and reason. A healthy striver sets high standards, but just beyond reach.

A perfectionist is never satisfied by anything less than perfection; a healthy striver enjoys process as well as outcome.

A perfectionist becomes dysfunctionally depressed when experiences failure and disappointment; but a healthy striver bounces back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy.

A perfectionist is preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval––this can deplete energy levels. A healthy striver keeps normal anxiety and fear of failure and disapproval within bounds––uses them to create energy.

A perfectionist sees mistakes as evidence of unworthiness, while a healthy striver sees mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.

A perfectionist becomes overly defensive when criticized; but a healthy striver reacts positively to helpful criticism.

God knows our weaknesses and inefficiencies. After all, he was in the flesh, just like you and me. It's something I need to be reminded of everyday so that I can be a healthy striver, rather than a perfectionist...

Your thoughts? Click the 'comments' link below to let me know what you think... Are you a perfectionist? How do you deal with your perfectionism?

Have a great weekend!


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October 22, 2004 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 21, 2004

"Conflict: Ask Ken": When Your Leadership Can't Handle Conflict

Here's this week's church conflict management question with Ken Newberger...

Dear Ken,

I have been pastor of the same church for nearly half a dozen years. Since I have been here, conflict occurs on a cyclical basis. Every six to eighteen months a small group of people complain anonymously to our elders even to the point of trying to get people to vote me out. This same antagonistic behavior dates back to at least two of my predecessors.

One man, for example, sent out a letter to the elders accusing me of everything that has gone wrong in the church, from declining attendance (it is slightly up) to our budget problems (income has increased each year I have been here). I am also being accused of the resignation of some elders (older men who were tired of the complaints and gossip in the church as well as the letters that stir up trouble). In essence I am being accused of anything and everything.

I thought my leaders would see the value in a conflict resolution consultation, but I'm sorry to say, they do not. They are concerned with the cost. They are also concerned that bringing someone like yourself would only exasperate the conflict whereas they just want to be done with it. In essence, their solution is to put a band aid on the problems, but I can guarantee you that we will be right back facing the same situation in 6 months to a year. There are a number of members who are tired of this pattern and want it to stop. Do you have any suggestions?

East of the Mississippi

Dear East of the Mississippi,

You are in a difficult position, one I am sure you have been in much prayer over through the years. My response is not directed so much to you as to your board since the ball seems to be in their hands. It is my attempt to convince them to rethink their position. Use the following as you see fit. I hope it will be of some help to you.

Why the Bar Seems Too High for Some Church Leaders to Ask for Help

Church conflict can deteriorate to such an unmanageable level, that barring a miracle, a major rupture within the church is inevitable. Calling upon the services of a conflict resolution specialist before the conflict goes beyond the point of no return may be pivotal to the church's health, well-being, and functional survival. So why don't some leaders of a church in conflict avail themselves of the help sanctioned by Jesus (Mat. 5:9)? Here are three answers.

“It Costs Too Much”With all due respect, this can't be the real reason. If just two or three families leave the church because they are weary and wounded from conflict, the church will lose more income than the cost of bringing in a church conflict resolution specialist. “It cost too much” can't be the real reason.

“If I Acknowledge Conflict in the Church, It Will Create More”
“Better to ignore a backyard hornet's nest than try to remove it and really stir things up.” This is the way some people think about church conflict. But why don't we say the same thing about people in sin? “Leave her alone. She will steal more clothes at the mall tomorrow if you confront her about the clothes she stole today.” The first and most effective way to deal with reality is to name it. Hence, to acknowledge the existence of conflict in the church doesn't magically create more of it. To the contrary, it is the essential first step toward containing it.

“I am Embarrassed to Admit I Really Don't Know What to Do”
Deep down, this is a core reason why church leaders won't avail themselves of the help of a peacemaker. They are reluctant to acknowledge that they haven't been able to manage the conflict, and that the conflict itself, like a tornado, is moving in a direction of its own making, not theirs. But there is absolutely no shame in such an admission. The real failure is not naming that reality and acting accordingly.

Keep in mind that in organizational life of any kind, leaders tend to blame those directly engaged in conflict without realizing that their own actions, or lack thereof, contribute to the workings of the entire system. If, out of frustration, leaders act rashly or with a heavy hand to quell conflict, the division quickly deepens. Conversely, inaction or a “wait and see” attitude is the tinder by which the conflict steadily grows. As Edmund Burke noted, "the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

So what should church leaders do? They should take the one step that offers the best chance of resolving the conflict in a manner that preserves the fellowship of the church. They should utilize the services of one trained in helping people make peace! Jesus sanctioned the work of peacemakers by calling them “blessed.” Church leaders, therefore, have no reason to be embarrassed by allowing their congregation to share in such blessing. Indeed, being open to and following the will of God is what exemplary church leadership is all about!


Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs individualized help, please visit Ken's website or call 301-253-8877.

To submit a question and connect with Ken, click here.

© 2004 Kenneth C. Newberger

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October 21, 2004 in Church Conflict | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Future of the American Mega-Church

It seems that many people are now saying that the day of the megachurch in America is over. And it is true, that many larger churches are taking a multi-site or multi-service approach instead of building bigger buildings and having large services. In the most recent issue of The Church Report magazine, Dr. John Vaughan tells what he thinks the future of America's megachurches holds. As of July of 2004, there were around 240 non-catholic 'megachurches' (defined by having a weekend attendance of over 2,000. According to Vaughan, this is almost 15 times the number of megachurches just 20 years ago. Here is a summary of what Dr. Vaughan predicts for large churches:

Trend 1: The number of large churches will continue to increase.
"In 1984, there were only 20 known global churches with a weekend attendance of more than 3,900. In 1992, there were 44 churches that size in the U.S. alone. Outside the U.S., there were more than another 52 churches known to have at least 6,200 weekend attendees. This means that the number of really large churches increased more than five times from 1984 to 1992. As of mid-2004, there are at least 238 known U.S. churches with 3,900 weekend attendees, almost 15 times more than just two decades ago."

Trend 2: Large churches will, in many instances, continue to grow larger.
"Increases in the growth of U. S. congregations have been dramatic. From my best efforts to identify the diverse definitions of "large," it appears that the largest churches in the U.S. are no longer Catholic churches. The largest Roman Catholic congregation in this country appears to average about 10,000 attendees each weekend served by more than 10 masses. Even with the discussion of the decline in Catholic attendance and membership, there are a multitude of rapidly growing and large congregations. One younger Catholic researcher estimates that there may be as many as 5,000 Catholic mega-churches in the U.S. For non-Catholic congregations in the U.S., the meaning of "large" has changed significantly since 1980. The average weekend attendance among the 10 largest churches almost doubled from 1980 to 1990."

Trend 3: Large churches are requiring less time to reach mega-church size.
"How long does it take for a church to reach an attendance of 2,000 or more attendees?"

The answer, according to a 2004 study of 500 U.S. mega-churches by Church Growth Today, is:

38 percent of the mega-churches--60+ years
11 percent of the mega-churches--40-59 years
9 percent of the mega-churches--30-39 years
11 percent of the mega-churches--20-29 years
19 percent of the mega-churches--10-19 years
8 percent of the mega-churches --5-9 years
4 percent of the mega-churches--1-4 years

Trend 4: These churches will continue to be theologically conservative.
"While a church may be theologically conservative, it may also be socially liberal. This can be true of any ethnic group but is especially true among African-American and other minority churches. Seventy percent belong to denominations, 45 percent are Baptist, Assemblies, Christian or Presbyterian. Thirty percent are independent churches."

Trend 5: Researchers and church leaders will continue to explore the vital role of small groups.
"When it comes to small groups through Sunday school, Southern Baptists in the U.S. are the recognized leaders. For home groups, the U.S. leader is Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana. Globally, the leader of both home groups and Sunday school in a single congregation is probably the Yoido Full Gospel Church of Seoul, Korea."

You can see the complete article at The Church Report's website here.

What do you think? Is the day of the megachurch in America over, or just beginning? I'd love to hear your comments... please click the comments link below to share now...

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October 20, 2004 in Church Growth | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Is it Time to Leave? Assessing Your Church's Attendance

This week, we're continuing our series on "Is it time to leave?", based on John Cionca's book "Before You Move: A Guide to Making Transitions in Ministry". This week we'll talk about how your church's attendance might help determine whether or not it is a good time to move on.

Church attendance as a factor in the health of your church may be highly over-rated. I say that because church size and growth many times is the first (and sometimes only) factor looked at as the tenure of your pastorate is reviewed. Translated into the political venacular, the question might go something like, "Are we larger now than we were four years ago? (or more specifically, when you came here?) While attendance is important, many other factors should be looked at when reviewing the success or failure of your pastorate; and when you are deciding whether it is a proper time to accept a new ministry position.

Having said this, it can also be said that church attendance is one indicator of ministry effectiveness. Even small churches can draw some new people into its ranks. John says, "Community demographics affect,but do not determine, the size of a congregation. Some churches are alive and well; others are dying. Some churches have a vibrancy that makes them attractive to visitors; others are bland, unable to draw newcomers. Some churches are growing, even in shrinking neighborhoods; others are in decline in expanding communities."

But how does church attendance help you determine whether it's time for you to go or stay in your present ministry? John suggests this simple test: "If your flock is experiencing vibrancy and growth in response to your leadership, you probably should stay. Thousands of pastors would love such an opportunity! On the other hand, if stagnation or decline has set in and you lack the ability or desire to take the church any futher, you probably are seeing a green light and are free to move elsewhere."

What are your thoughts? Have you ever 'bailed' when decline set in; or have you ever left when attendance was booming? How did you decide when it was time to go? Let us know your comments today... just click the comments link below... I'd love to hear what you have to say!

And for tons more on this subject, pick up a copy of John's book. It's worth every penny!

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October 19, 2004 in Personnel Issues | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Monday, October 18, 2004

Lessons From Those Who Reach the Lost

EvangelismAs you may know, Dr. Thom Rainer has been doing a tremendous amount of research on breakout churches recently. In an article just published last week at ChurchCentral.com, Dr. Rainer found 15 lessons that his research has learned about those who are aggressively reaching the lost. Dr. Rainer summarized:

A broad picture of leadership emerged from the results of interviews with at least 101 church leaders. We saw who these leaders are and what makes them tick: a theology of lostness; passion and enthusiasm; accountability in personal evangelism; excellence in all things.

LESSON #1: Authenticity
More than nine out of 10 of the pastors interviewed told us that their own personal integrity was a major factor in reaching the unchurched.

"The unchurched look at leaders just like anybody else does," said Sam P., a Methodist pastor from Texas. "If they don't see authenticity in our own lives, how can they expect the church to be real?"

LESSON #2: The Imperative of Personal Evangelism
Almost nine out of 10 church leaders affirmed what 75 percent of the formerly unchurched told us. Without an intentional, organized effort to share the gospel with non-Christians, most lasting efforts to reach the unchurched are in vain. The comments of Earl B., a formerly unchurched man from Tampa, Florida, were instructive.

"I thank God that my church sent people out to share Jesus with me," he said. "I thank God they were trained how to share the gospel with me. I thank God they loved me enough to be obedient to the Lord."

LESSON #3: Relationships Again
Much of what the leaders said confirmed our earlier material from the unchurched. More than eight out of 10 of the pastors we interviewed indicated their keen awareness of the impact of reaching the unchurched through relationships. The struggle articulated by many of these leaders, however, was the "how" of encouraging such relationships.

LESSON #4: An Atmosphere of Love and Acceptance
The leaders to whom we spoke were highly motivated to lead their churches to become havens of love and acceptance for the unchurched.

"The stories of hurting people who come to our church are incredible," a Nevada pastor told us. "We have no advertising budget, but people just keep coming. We do not compromise our beliefs whatsoever. But we do tell people over and over again that Jesus accepted them where they were, that he forgives sinners."

LESSON #5: The Pastor Must Model Personal Evangelism
Some pastors learned the hard way, they told us. They tried the latest church-growth model, attended conferences and bought books on the church, but they still had anemic results in reaching the unchurched. More than seven out of 10 pastors we interviewed shared with us the critical importance of their modeling personal evangelism.

LESSON #6: Enthusiasm and Joy
"You'll never go into a church that's reaching people," an Evangelical Free Church pastor told us, "unless there's a lot of joy and enthusiasm present. It feeds on itself. A joyous church motivates people to invite the unchurched. And when the unchurched are reached, the joy grows. It's a great cycle!"

LESSON #7: Do Not Compromise on the Essentials
"It seems like there are two groups out there arguing how to reach lost people," an Indiana pastor told us. "On the one hand, you've got the seeker-movement people who devise a bunch of methods to reach the unchurched. Then you've got the strong doctrinal group that says preach the Word faithfully and God will reach these people," he said. But this pastor had come to his own conclusion.

"I'll tell you what I do. I won't compromise a lick of doctrine to reach the unchurched, but I'll also do everything we can with methods, programs and ideas to reach them. As I see the Bible, it doesn't teach either/or; it teaches both/and."

We'll share the other 8 lessons learned by Dr. Rainer in a future blog entry.

By the way, you can read the entire article on this subject now at ChurchCentral.com...

Want to find out more on this subject? Try our new Google Search Page. Recommended searches:
--Dr. Thom Rainer
--Breakout Churches
--Evangelism Tools

What do you think? Is your church aggressively reaching your community for Christ? If so, do these things ring true with your church's profile? What can you learn from Dr. Rainer's lessons? I'd love to hear your feedback... please click the comments link below to let me know your thoughts...

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October 18, 2004 in Outreach and Evangelism | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack