Why I Love Ashland, Kentucky: Reason #1

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I believe that God calls pastors to communities as well as churches. You can’t have a healthy church without personal evangelism and local outreach. If is very difficult for a church to engage in these activities without the support of their pastor. In my experience as pastor, its hard to get excited about reaching beyond the four wall of a church unless you love the community where you minster.

In order to show my love for the area where I minster, I want to share a series of blog posts this week on the reasons why I love Ashland, Kentucky.

  1. The people here are warm and welcoming

My wife and I were both raised in the north. I’m from a small farming town southwest Michigan and she grew up in sprawing suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. We have lived a few places in our life together, some big and some small, but none with such kind and gracious people.

Our church family has been incredibly warm and welcoming, but it goes way beyond that. We have enjoyed a quick smile and an offer to help from shopkeepers, salespeople, and workmen. The teachers and staff at the schools where our children attend have been accepting and encouraging. Our neighbors are friendly and helpful and we have enjoyed a few cooks and block party together.

That is not say we haven’t encounter any grumpy people. But for the most part, the people in this hard-working little city have welcomed my family and I with open arms. For that, we are grateful.

Check back tomorrow another reason why I love Ashland, Kentucky.

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5 Tips for Leading More Productive Meetings

Staff-MeetingIf churches are made up of people, than meetings are an inevitable, and important part of church life.  Meetings have gotten a bad reputation, but that doesn’t have to be the case in the place where you serve.  Here are a few tips to lead more productive meetings

  • Have a plan.  The old saying is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You may choose to send out a written agenda ahead of time, or make one up at the start of the meeting. Either way, have a plan and stick to it
  • Be flexible. Flexibility is a necessary complement to good planning. Sometimes new information comes to light or situations change, even during the middle of a meeting. Good leaders take advantage of changing situations and adapt whenever necessary.
  • Solicit input.  The best meetings are a collaboration of the best ideas in the room.  Be prepared to ask open-ended questions, listen, and clarify for the sake of the group.
  • Surface conflict. Not everyone will voice his or her concern or opposition to a decision. A good leader will find ways to bring divergent opinions and disagreement to the surface so that it can be dealt with. This is one way to encourage buy-in and support moving forward.
  • Clarify next steps.  Whether its further research, a follow-up meeting, or a phone call, every meeting can be improved by clarification. Make sure that everyone knows what is happening next and who is responsible for each step.

What other tips would you share with church leaders who want to improve the productivity of their meetings.?

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Five Tips for Making a Hospital Visit

pastor-hospital-visitChristian leaders minister to others in crisis situations. One of the most common crises is going to the hospital for surgery. Here are five suggestions to help you be a better hospital visitor.

  1. Be kind and courteous.  Remember, you are there to encourage the patient, not embarrass them. Don’t sit on the bed, make light of their health condition, or get in the way of the hospital staff. Instead, stand where the patient can see you easily, use humor, only when appropriate, and compliment the hospital staff whenever possible.
  1. Respect their privacy.  Patients take their pain and sickness to the hospital, but usually have to leave their modesty at home. It is always a good idea to knock before you enter a patient’s room or excuse yourself if they need to get settled in their bed. You should also be careful not to share too much information with other caring people, even as a prayer request.
  1. Make time for spiritual encouragement.  If you are visiting on behalf of a church, the patient is probably expecting you to pray with them at sometime during your visit. Don’t be shy about leading the patient and whoever else may be present in an uplifting word of prayer. You may also choose to read or quote Scripture as an added encouragement.
  1. Don’t impersonate a doctor.  You may learn details about the patient’s health situation or diagnosis during your visit. The patient may even ask for you opinion. In either case, resist the urge to share your “unprofessional opinion” with the patient or their family.
  1. Don’t wear out your welcome.  Most people are glad to have visitors in the hospital, but they may feel as if they need to entertain you while you are there. Unless the situation is critical, it is best to keep the visit brief; 15 to 20 minutes is usually sufficient.

These are just some suggestions I’ve found to be helpful.  What would you add to it to help others make better hospital visits?

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Six Tips for Leading Others in Prayer

prayer-part-2-pic-web-586x300Pastors, deacons, and other Christian leaders often have to privilege of leading others in prayer in a worship service, Bible study, or similar gathering. Here are six suggestions to help you pray more effectively in public.

  1. Prepare.  Prayers don’t have to be spontaneous to be meaningful. Feel free to write down some notes or focus your mind for few minutes before hand so that you will feel more at ease.
  1. Don’t apologize.  Nervousness or humility can lead some people to start their prayer out with an apology. Leave it up to the congregation to decide if they are sorry that you were asked to lead in prayer; don’t make their mind up for them.
  1. Match the mood of the service.  Different services have different tones. Some services are energetic and upbeat while others are more somber and reflective. If you violate this principle you may make people wonder if you have been attention to the rest of the service.
  1. Pray for the benefit of other.  Leading others in public prayer is not the same as praying by yourself. Share enough details to draw the congregation in, but not enough to embarrass yourself or the people listening to you.
  1. Don’t editorialize. Public prayer is not the place to air your negative thoughts or opinions on the sermon, the church, or other church leaders. Instead, concentrate on lifting others up and leading them into the presence of God.
  1. Keep it relatively brief.  You will not wear God out, but you might wear the congregation if you choose to drag on with long-winded prayer.   If this suggestion doesn’t make sense, review the previous suggestions till it does.

This is not an exhaustive list.  What would you add to it to help other pray more effectively in public?

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2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Thank you to everyone who helped make my blog success so far!  In 2015 I will adjust my posting patterns so that I can focus more closely on my Doctor of Ministry ministry project.  Keep checking in and have a great New Year as you lead other to follow Jesus Christ.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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How to Start a Prayer Support Team

prayerWhen it comes to prayer support, there is no such thing as too much.  I’ve never met a Christian leader, paid or volunteer, who complained because they had too many people praying for them, too often, or with too much passion.  If you  need more prayer support, you may want to form a prayer support team.

A few years ago I read The Book of Church Growth by Thom Rainer.   In a chapter on the power of prayer, Rainer listed 6 potential facets of a church-wide prayer ministry.  One of those ideas was to organize a team of prayer warriors called the “Pastor’s Intercessory Prayer Partners” who were devoted to pray for their pastor and his ministry on a daily basis.  Over the past few years I’ve taken this idea and put it to use in my own ministry with some modifications.  I call my team the “Pastor’s Prayer Team,” but you don’t have to be a pastor or a church staff member to benefit from this approach.  You could use it with your Bible study group, international mission ministry, or non-profit organization.  All you need is a ministry, a group of people who are willing to pray for you, and a way to communicate with them.  Here is a 5-step process for starting or improving your own prayer support team.

1. Teach and model the importance of prayer.

Jesus did more than just talk about prayer. He taught his disciples how pray and modeled prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane among other places (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 26:36-46).  People will not be motivated to pray if they don’t know how to pray or why prayer is important.  They will not be eager to join you in pray if they are not convinced that you are passionate and persistent in your own prayer life.

2.  Ask people to commit.

Some people are not ready or willing to join a prayer support team, but some are!  Those who are willing are just waiting for your invitation.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I would recommend doing it in writing so you have a list of people for follow-up. Depending on your situation you could use a sign-up sheet, a commitment card, but I prefer email.  I ask those who are interested in joining the team to send me an email to let me know.  Then, I use those email addresses to send a return email acknowledging their request and to build a distribution list for future use.

I do not ask my prayer support team members to commit to a specific frequency of prayer.  Instead, I ask them to pray for me, my family, and my ministry on a “regular” basis. If that ends up being daily, great; if it ends up being once a week or every other week, I’ll take it.  My goal is to equip and organize people to pray.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating just because they can not make a daily commitment.

3. Share regular praises and prayer requests.

Once again, this can be suited to your situation.  You can send out regular praise and prayer requests via “snail mail,” email, or social media.  They could also be added to a newsletter, either in print or online.  I choose to use email because it is faster and easier than “snail mail,” but more manageable and accessible for the people on my team.

Praises should be shared along with prayer requests because people like to hear good news along with your needs.  Sharing praises is a way of thanking your team for their prayer as well as reminding them that prayer really does make a difference.

Every ministry has its own cycle.  A non-profit organization or missions ministry may operate best on a quarterly or monthly cycle.  The local church runs on a weekly cycle, so I try to send out my praise and prayer requests on a weekly basis.  Whatever your frequency, let your team know your intentions and stick to them.

4.  Be humble and transparent.

This is not as much of a step as it is a general principle.  One of the pitfalls of kingdom work, especially if it is perceived as successful, is pride.  Pride causes us to keep others at a comfortable distance because we are afraid they might see our flaws.  This simply will not work with a prayer support team.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members.  Would you be motived to pray regularly for someone who came across as superficial or fake?  This does not mean you should share every sin and struggle with your team.  It does mean, however, that you need to be open and honest about your needs

5.  Show gratitude and appreciation

Who doesn’t like a little appreciation for their efforts?  Being a part of a prayer support team is usually something that is done behind the scenes.  In order to keep your team inspired and engaged, you need to let them know they are not alone and they are making a difference in your life and ministry.  You should tell your prayer support team how much you appreciate them every time you share your praises and prayer requests. You may also want to send a separate “thank you” note sometime throughout the year.  If you use email like I do, you may choose to send a “pen-and-paper note” for emphasis.  If possible, you could organize a reception once a year to recognize your prayer support team and let them interact with each other.

What methods have you found effective for recruiting prayer support?  Have you ever formed a prayer support team?  How have you benefited from the process?

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Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Running and Coaching Well

Feet-Running2In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to a foot race.  He encourages us to “run in such a way that you may win” (v. 24b).

The writer of Hebrews also makes the same comparison urging believers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrew 12:1-2).  Christians who are also leaders must read this passage from two perspectives.  First, they must read it as a “runner” striving to live their own life well.   But Christian leaders should also read these verses as a “coach” who is responsible to help others run their race well.

Recently, I set down with the staff that I am privileged to work with and looked at Hebrews 12:1-2 from the perspective of coach.  Here are the “coaching tips” that we gleaned from the passage.

  1. Remember, you are not alone.  One of the best parts about running in a road race is the camaraderie and the people who cheer you on.  The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone.  We all need to belong to a local congregation to encouragement and support.
  2. Even if you are slow, just keep going.  The Christian life is a more like a marathon than a sprint; it requires endurance.  Distractions and stumbling blocks are unavoidable, but just keep moving.
  3. Stay focused on Jesus.  Focus in key because it determines your motivation and direction.  For the Christian, the focus should always be in Jesus Christ, “the author and perfecter of faith.”

What other coaching tip would you add to our list to help others “run” well?

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