Bill Campbell

Thoughts of Life and Ministry

LIVING IN THE PRESSURE COOKER OF PROBLEMS

Problems. Difficulties. They are all around us, aren’t they? Constantly. On a daily basis. They never stop. Never end. Never have a deadend point. One problem ceases only for a new problem to raise its head. Problems simply refuse to sleep.

In the face of life’s problems we all want to find a utopia. A way out. A problem free existence. A life without difficulties. A life no longer tied to tough decisions; a life liberated from numerous u-turns; a life without troubling conflicts and unending hassles; a life that makes no demands and is without financial anxiety and instability.

Let’s face it. You have one of two possible choices. The first choice is to deny your problems and seek to avoid them. The other choice is to view them in a totally different fashion. How? By perceiving them as opportunities in disguise. That is, they can be approached as obvious obstacles, but difficulties that are  ready to be courageously faced, openly addressed, and then surmounted.

One thing is certain: problems are unavoidable. There’s no way around them. Like the sun, they have their times to rise up. Then, they bear down on you. There’s no utopia for being able to separate yourself from them. Being able to gain a release from their vicious assault. As long as you are alive problems will visit you. Without warning. Often. They will be a part of your day. They will refuse to leave the stage.

What is true for persons is also true of congregations. For life isn’t free of problems for congregations either. How do I know this? Through theory? Conjecture? No, because the  problems are not simply some kind of mind excursion on my part. Rather, I’ve learned that congregations have problems from having spent time in a congregation’s pulpit and in its pew. Also, through serving as a listening consultant or coach. Some problems I’ve encountered seem legitimate. Other problems appear to be nothing more than childish or selfish.

Now to the big question. The all important question: Why are there church problems? Why do they exist?

  • Because congregations are composed of imperfect people serving a perfect God.
  • Because congregations lose sight of their primary reason or reasons for existence.
  • Because people allow their selfish agendas to get in the way of God’s agenda.
  • Because congregations rely more on themselves than they do on God.
  • Because a congregations decisions are often based more on the decisions of church leaders than they are on the basis of prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Because congregations have allowed themselves to become satisfied to live with their problems than they are with solving them.
  • Because congregations are, more often than not, guilty of tying the hands of their leadership from making needed congregational changes and improvements.
  • Because congregations are much more market and success driven than they are God driven.
  • Because congregations are caught up in the divisive effort to cast blame on others in place of sharing the blame among themselves.
  • Because congregations are frequently unwilling to go through periodic visits by a church health physician, who can give them a more objective understanding of how to be  effective amidst their current difficulties.

No congregation will ever be completely free of problems. For problems are part of the human arena. But we can nonetheless learn and be prepared to work more effectively through our problems as we courageously face them, and then work through them.

 

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April 26, 2013 Posted by | Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Family, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Prayer, Preaching, Relationships, Service, Spirituality | Leave a comment

THE KEY TO UNLOCKING YOUR CONGREGATION’S LATENT POWER

Congregations I encouter today are often troubled. Deeply concerned and burdened. Overwrought. They try many things. Work extra hard. Give of themselves. Yet, they soon agonize and lament about arriving nowhere wothwhile through their efforts.

“What’s our problem, Bill? What do we need to do differently? How can we leap over numerous dead-end roads in our ministry?”

These are questions that express a persistent mindset. They are posed more than one would be led to believe. In fact, I’m hearing these concerns, expressed through these kind of questions, more often than any other concerns. So, here is my response which I’ve chosen to address through questions of my own.

  • Could it be that your congregation’s ministry has evolved into being more about you and what you want, than it is about God and what He wants? Congregations, I’m discovering, frequently have established their own agendas for operation. These agendas end up pushing out God’s agenda.
  • How much time do you spend in prayer as church leaders and as a congregation? Do you spend more time talking, planning, doing, rationalizing and agonizing that you do praying?
  • What does prayer do? Anything at all? Mainly, it gets you focused more on God’s agenda and His will, and less on your own will and agenda. I’ve been to numerous congregational settings where there is, more often than not, an opening and closing prayer, but seldom ever an extended time for persons to simply seek God’s face and His will.
  • Can you imagine the unlimited power God is ready to unleash in lives and congregations when limitless time is spent with Him and not upon ourselves?
  • Are you aware of the latent power that’s available through prayer when it’s tapped into? James reminds His readers: ” … The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16 – NKJV). The Message renders the verse even more clearly: “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” If this happens to one person think how much more power is unleashed when an entire congregation is constantly bathing its life and ministry in prayer.
  • Have you read any of the great testimonies given regarding prayer’s power. A. W. Tozer comes quickly to mind. He lacked academic credentials, and formal training. Yet, prayer took this simple man as he was, and shaped him into a fit vessel to deeply impact his generation as he preached, taught, wrote, and provided leadership. One comment he made repeatedly was the following one, “As a man prays, so is he.” May I also add here that, “as a church prays, so is it!” Prayer is the key to unlocking your congregation’s latent power.
  • Additionally, do you want to become an individual with God’s kingdom eyes, in place of being merely one with culturally influenced religious eyes? It can happen. Right where you are. And it will happen as you grow closer to Him through extended periods of time in earnest prayer, and as you seek His face and will for the direction of your church. Over time, prayer will not only turn your life around but prayer in your church will permeate every crack and crevice in its life, and will enable your church to become something you had never even dreamed it could become.

Prayer is the available key to unlocking everything that God wishes to do and accomplish through His church. Will you unlock this door, and walk through it with your congregation? As Mother Teresa has reminded us, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Celebration, Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Family, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Prayer, Relationships, Scripture, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Spirituality | Leave a comment

THE PASTORAL ROLE IN A DIFFERENCE MAKING CHURCH

Growing congregations are led by visionary pastors. How do I know this? Through observing successful congregations. This doesn’t eliminate the role lay members must play in a church. But the excitement for growth and mission will start with having visionary pastors. For congregations look to their pastors to show them the way.

Sometimes pastoral leaders will have and demonstrate visionary congregational direction. At other times, however, pastors will lack this gift. But please note: You cannot turn congregations around if pastoral leaders do ministry only as pastors and shepherds. With these thoughts in mind, why are there so many congregations today that are stagnant and passive?

  • Because persons in past days grew up in a congregation where ministry was mainly pastoral. And many of today’s pastors grew up in these kinds of context. They were conditioned to think of the church as a place where you took care of the flock.
  • Even earlier college and seminary training portrayed the practice of ministry as being pastoral. Thus, the pastor graduated, was ordained, then accepted a local church ministry to care for the souls under his care. Church growth and church health were not even in his academic program of study. He may have taken a personal evangelism course, but that was somewhat of a sidelight to the larger and more important issue of general pastoral ministry.
  • It’s also true that some pastors graduated from college/seminary with a great flair for developing growing congregations. But their passion soon died as their excitement didn’t square with the thinking of a particular congregation and its leaders. Many established and comfortable congregations do not want to change. And they pour cold water on pastors who attempt to change them.
  • Another problem pastors will face when they walk into an established congregation is that it has performed a cultural form of church ministry for a long period of time. This established form has placed the congregation in a very familiar and comfortable rut. Thus, focusing on reaching those outside their walls is a function established congregations will find difficult, if not impossible, to accept.
  • What is most disconcerting is to recognize the amount of difference between the college and seminary’s thinking and that of local churches. The academic institution believes they train pastors to  go out and change the thinking of a passive church and its leaders. But zealous pastors will predictably encounter a major roadblock when they try. Why? Because the local church has operated too long in a traditional fashion. As a result, they will resent and barricade pastors efforts to  exert any change. Some way we need to begin building crossable bridges between the college/seminary and the local church, as they are often on huge divergent paths.
  • Allow me to also stress that pastoral leaders will go into a church with wrong mindsets. For example, they will do everything members wish in order to gain their admiration. Or, they will function in a way in which they do everything for the members. This continues until their health breaks and they can no longer minister. Pastors will even fall victim to thinking they can minister to everyone in a church. The only thing wrong with this kind of thinking is that it’s wrong!!
  • An important transition for pastoral leaders to be able to turn a church around today, is to learn the important fuction of ministry balance. Simply stated, they need to possess an inside and outside focus. In this way, they can balance the roles of inside ministry with that of outside mission. Making this transition will mean that pastors will need to grow through planning and delegating much more. They will do less “hands on” ministry. But they will not become so overwhelmed, as they will now be able to see the bigger picture, and secure the increased involvement of others with them.

I love pastoral ministers. I always have. And I always will. I know their hearts and concerns, as I’ve been in their moccasins. They wish to be effective channels for the Lord and His church. But they are often caught in that tense bind between what a congregation needs to be, and what it currently is.

April 13, 2013 Posted by | Celebration, Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Family, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Relationships, Scripture, Service, Shepherds, Spiritual Gifts, Spirituality | Leave a comment

BECOMING A DIFFERENCE MAKING CONGREGATION

Over time congregations tend toward becoming lethargic and frozen stiff. In this condition they appear immovable. Unchangeable. They cannot seem to advance or progress. Too spiral out of their paralysis. Experience any real discernible sense of growth . Someone once told me they are best described as being, “sound asleep and frozen solid.”

The foregoing description could allow me to go on endlessly. Offer the reader tons of information and examples of the deadness of many of these congregations. And quite truthfully, many congregations are caught in the middle of this serious and discouraging dilemma.

An important question needs to be raised at this point: What important steps need to be taken for a stagnant and unhealthy congregation to become a difference making church?

The foregoing question is a crucial one. Most vital. In response, I wish to offer a few suggestions for being able to emerge out of this crisis. Notice that I emphasized suggestions. Being suggestions they need to be mobilized into life and out of the realm of being mere suggestions. Simply stated, they need to become deliberate action steps, that move a congregation beyond the mental level to experienced reality.

Here are my suggestions for taking active steps that will help bring about a difference in congregations:

  • Initially a congregation needs to become discontented with being content. Where contentment reigns there can be no attempts made toward becoming a difference making congregation.
  • It is also necessary for a congregation to maintain the connection to the timeless message of Scripture without being tied to forever following time-worn methods. In short, a congregation needs to be willing to change or alter their existing methods.
  • A third step is to have a vision and mission in clear sight that your congregation practices in every aspect of its life and ministry. This vision and mission must always be highly visible and in operation. What is seen must be consistently practiced.
  • Having a team concept is also a necessary step. Utilize the abilities/gifts of the congregation. Christianity is never a solo flight. It is a movement that involves everyone.
  • Do not lose sight of the community. Their needs. Where are they hurting? What makes the community happy? How can we become a magnet to draw them? Bring them aboard? Give them a reason to live and a reason to die.
  • Make sure you endeavor to do some things differently. Refuse to get into a rut. Keep anticipation and breath taking experiences high.
  • Stay current with the times. Step into the 21st century. Avoid the thought ~~~> “We’ve never done it that way before.” If you continue doing things the same way you will get the same results.
  • View your pastor/minister leader as a coach. If no one is directing – leading – showing the way – a congregation becomes locked in neutral. You can go nowhere without an alert voice with a compass showing the way.
  • It’s also advisable to follow the dictum ~~~~> Lead – Follow – Or get out of the way!!” Could it be possible that you are standing in the way of your congregation’s progress?
  • When you attempt small or great things with God, you need to anticipate incredible results. For God’s involvement with you will bring incredible results, when the results are viewed from the human perspective.

God is waiting to do wonderful things through your congregation. Will you give Him the necessary space? If so, then get yourself in step with HIM who only majors in doing the impossible!!

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Celebration, Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Family, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Prayer, Relationships, Scripture, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Spirituality | 1 Comment

DOING THE CONGREGATIONAL TURNAROUND

Being a turnaround congregation was my concern in the previous blog. I endeavored there to paint a word picture of the type of congregation that could be defined as a congregation being in need of turnaround.

But why was it necessary to spend considerable time focusing on the problem or problems? Because unless one sees a congregation’s problems clearly, it will be impossible to have the necessary information in place for knowing the positive steps that need to be taken by a plateaued or declining church body.

Becoming a turnaround congregation can be experienced, I suggest, through taking the following path:

  • By a congregation being able to see itself through the lens of the previous blog in which I endeavored to open a door through which a church body can see itself. Until this spark of seeing a church needing change is ignited, there can be no possible turnaround.
  • This turnaround process must begin at the congregational leadership level. This means that the minister or ministers, including the complete church leadership team, must catch a shared vision of the existing problem or problems needing to be resolved.
  • A considerable period of time needs to be spent by the leadership team in Scripture, identifying there the purposes of a congregation’s life and ministry. This process needs to be matched equally with prayer. The church leadership team needs to appeal to God in a continued and concentrated fashion to open their eyes to the important steps and actions they need to take.
  • Important reading resources should next be consulted that will help further highlight and inspire the leadership team to understand the many practical and important principles of a healthy and growth directed church. Two resource examples to consult are: Bob and Rusty Russell’s book, When God Builds A Church; and my own book, The Magnificent Church.
  • Identify two or three congregations that have achieved significant turnaround, as these become another important step. Congregations, that is, which have been on a plateau or have declined, and have reversed directions in a positive fashion. Being able to see a turnaround congregation functioning effectively, and drawing from their turnaround experiences, can become a rich resource from which to learn.
  • Secure the services of an outside church consultant/coach. Those inside are really too close to their problems. They need outside eyes to come inside and help them see what they are unable to clearly see. A consultant/coach needs to function with the spiritual body much like a medical doctor does with the human body. This means the church consultant/coach needs to have much experience and training to function as a spiritual physician.

The path suggested here for congregation’s in need of turnaround is not an armchair road to follow. Rather, it is the path many derailed congregations have followed to get themselves back on track.

Do you need get on track in your congregation? If so, the call is to begin, not tomorrow, but right now. You need to, “get off your donkey!!” Dismount from your current comfort zone, and get busy with what needs to begin immediately within your church.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Celebration, Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Family, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Prayer, Relationships, Scripture, Service, Shepherds, Spiritual Gifts, Spirituality | Leave a comment

OPENING THE DOOR TO CONGREGATIONAL TURNAROUND

There are many established congregations today. Briefly described, these are congregations that have existed for a rather significant period of time. The duration of their existence has caused them, through a gradual process, to become sluggish and stagnant. Over time they have assumed this paralyzed posture, as they have evolved into a comfortable religious rut. Some of these congregations have simply become plateaued. Others have reversed themselves completely, and are on the slippery slope of decline.

Congregations in the category just described, have some identifiable characteristics or traits to be noted. Among these identifying marks are the following:

  • These congregations are in need of a serious turnaround. A need of being reinvigorated. Re-energized. This is due to their being at a standstill or going backwards. They lack a sense of direction and purpose.
  • They are heavily maintenance oriented organizations in place of being ministry oriented organisms. They are more about form than they are function.
  • Though they need to experience a spiritual turnaround, they’ve slowly evolved into a passive religious posture that has become their entrenched and accepted comfort zone.
  • Congregations that are in need of a turnaround are predictably bothered by perpetual warfare. Internal fussing and fighting. This internal disease has caused them to lose sight of their major purpose: Glorifying God through the process of making disciples.
  • Leaders in these congregations function more often as meeting executives, rather than intentionally moving themselves and the membership into active ministry. As a result, they are experiencing death by countless routine meetings in which they are being lulled to sleep.
  • Falling into deep established ruts is another issue for these congregations. Encouragements to emerge out of these ruts are not welcomed. In fact, they are more often than not avoided, or politely ignored.
  • Doing church is viewed as an inward function and lacks external expression. Church is about what members want, and is not about what is necessary to attract the unchurched who are outside their walls.
  • Discipleship is absent. Church is about attending and participating in all the scheduled meetings. Members are expected to participate in all the scheduled gatherings, but are not equipped to engage in making disciples, the ultimate function and ministry of the church.
  • Members are not enabled to serve the Lord and one another according to their God given abilities and gifts. They are assigned a church job, or simply end up doing nothing more than sitting on a church pew. Little do these congregations understand that turning members into pew sitters results in losing them to a congregation where their giftedness can find better expression.
  • Becoming a turnaround congregation though is not something achieved overnight. A congregation did not arrive in this negative posture overnight. Thus, turnarounds will require patience along with well understood and communicated intentions. Specifically, a passive congregation will need a mindset change that can only take place over time before they can function faithfully and responsibly as a turnaround fellowship.

More definitely needs to be offered here from the solution perspective. And this solution portion will be forthcoming in the next blog. Yet, before this healing step can emerge and be set in motion, a congregation needs to first see their present positioning clearly, before they can take steps tward being a turnaround church.

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Christ, Christian Life, Church, Church and Ministry, Church Growth, Church Health, Church Leadership, Church Unity, Coaching, Discipleship, God, Outreach, Relationships, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Spirituality | Leave a comment