Who Keeps You Connected?

Who Keeps You Connected?

LEADERSHIP MATTERS by Roger Yancey, D.Min.

All through 2023 we are looking at how to grow in our leadership capacity.  I would like to share with you the chapter I submitted for the 2020 book, Guard Rails: 10 Vital Questions To Guide Your Ministry Journey.  It focused on the value of close personal friendships and how God uses them in our lives and our development as leaders.  I trust you will find it helpful and my prayer is if you see a gap in your “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” you will begin to ask the Lord to help you develop them in the near future.

Who keeps you connected? – The Value of Close Personal Friendships

By Roger A. Yancey, D.Min.

As Jim pulled out of the parking lot of the church, he couldn’t shake how different the day had started compared to its ending.  He had awoken that Wednesday morning with a sense of energy he always felt when he knew his sermon for Sunday was finished and he was even ahead on working on his sermon for the following Sunday as well.  The call from Pete Miller, his Chairman of Deacons to get together for coffee at the newest local downtown brew shop would be a chance to find out for himself the rave reviews he had heard about their version of his favorite caffeinated drink, the Cortado.

 When Jim entered the Café, he was surprised but glad to see Glenda Wilkins, the Chairperson of Personnel was at the counter ordering a coffee and it appeared she would be joining the conversation as well.  It occurred to Jim that this conversation must be about his upcoming 5-year anniversary and perhaps they wanted to run some ideas past him before meeting with the entire Personnel Team.  He had mentioned to Glenda several weeks ago that he was not comfortable with having too much of a focus being put on himself but decided to wait and see what they had in mind before trying to minimize their efforts.

 After a round of greetings Jim saw Pete fidget in his chair for a bit before clearing his throat and then saying in an unfamiliar tone, “Jim, we need to talk.”

 The next 45 minutes were both the longest and shortest time periods Jim could ever recall experiencing.  His mind reeled with the statements that Pete and Glenda made about his ministry at First Church and the impressions and sentiments they expressed as the appointed voices for both the congregation and his staff.

 “Unapproachable” Members were complaining they didn’t feel comfortable bringing their concerns directly to him.  They expressed earlier attempts resulted in a feeling of being corrected or ignored.

 “Unavailable” Members and staff stated Jim was often away from the office and not easily reached when decisions needed to be made or when visits to shut-ins were left undone.

  “Unaccountable” The staff in particular felt that Jim was arbitrary in his decision making and favored his own projects over their ministry needs.  They saw Jim as drum major of a one-man band and everyone else was expected to march in time with his parade.

 “Unconsiderate” Jim knew this wasn’t a word but he was too much a preacher to not alliterate.  Church members, church leadership, and again, his “faithful” (Jim was thinking fitful) staff had shared several ongoing encounters where careless and hurtful words had been spoken by Jim that resulted in wounded hearts.  They all expressed that they knew Jim was a “kidder” but the sense of the underlying sarcasm outweighed any humorous value.

 When Pete and Glenda finished talking, they got up to leave while telling Jim to be ready to meet after the Wednesday activities jointly with the Personnel Committee and the Deacon Leadership to determine a way forward so his future ministry could be ensured at First Church.  They also directed him to not return to the church office until after they met that night so he wouldn’t make the staff uncomfortable as they were all aware of the meeting that morning and the one that evening as well.  As Pete said, “Perhaps it would be best for Jim to take a day or two to reflect on what he needed to address before making additional contact with his staff.”

 When Jim left the downtown area, he found himself driving down one of the many country roads that entwined around the town.  His reeling mind ached to find some semblance to the words he had heard versus the life he thought he was experiencing as the pastor of the church.  While he could see kernels of truth in many things, they had spoken to him it seemed to be more of a tinker-toy connection of a web of instances instead of an actual reality that was substantive.

 He wanted to talk with someone.  But who?

 Jim knew that if he called his wife Kathy and let her know what had happened that morning she would be devastated.  They had just had the staff and their families over to their home a few weeks earlier and nothing seemed amiss.  That was part of what was so puzzling and hurtful about this whole thing.  Why had no one spoken to him directly?

 He knew he needed to talk this out with someone.

 Jim’s thoughts drifted back to his seminary days more than a decade ago when he would gather each Tuesday at noon with his friends Brent, Chase, and Doug.  All of them were 2 to 3 years into their first pastorate and they would compare notes, share stories, seek counsel, and pray for each other.  There was nothing he couldn’t share with those guys and those conversations were a source of strength that had got him through some rough patches in his first pastorate and even was a safe place to hurt when he and Kathy had experienced two miscarriages before the birth of their daughter Sarah and later her brother Samuel. 

 But that was more than 15 years ago and the circumstances of ministry had caused the drifting away of those close relationships.  For a while, Brent and Chase had reached out to him but he found it hard to keep up with them.  Eventually, they quit talking altogether though he would get an email on occasion from Chase who now served as a Director of Missions in a neighboring state. 

 Life had taken its toll with the pressures Jim experienced as he left seminary to go to a new ministry location 1,000 miles away to start a new church followed by his coming to First Church with its prime location, growing population, and his first real fulltime staff to lead.  Growth had come and with it the challenge of trying to meet expectations and capture increasing opportunities. 

 He had a growing ministry with expanding responsibilities in a church that had doubled in attendance since he arrived.  But as Jim found himself turning around on a dead-end of a country lane it occurred to him that when he needed a friend the most, he didn’t really have anyone that he was comfortable calling. 

 Oh, he had people he could call but no one other than his wife Kathy who really knew his heart and could be trusted with the pain that was now deeply lodged within it.  More out of desperation than desire Jim sent Chase a text asking Chase to let him know when he could call to talk with him.

 Jim was surprised when his phone rang within five minutes of sending the text and a voice from the past said, “hello friend, how are you?”

 Suddenly Jim felt like he was back at that table in the seminary cafeteria with a cup of coffee in one hand and his heart in the other.  Over the next two hours, Jim poured out his soul to Chase about the meeting in the coffee shop, his hurt, his frustration, and his embarrassment that he had neglected keeping up with their friendship.  While Chase shared with Jim many things that would become the foundation of Jim’s resetting his ministry footing at First Church there was one concept he shared with Jim that became foundational in Jim’s personal growth as a pastor and a man God could use more fully.

Chase called it the “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships”.  Chase explained that everyone in ministry needed to develop three kinds of relationships so they could navigate and grow in their personal ministry journey.  Like the legs of a three-legged stool, each circle was needed for personal stability.

 The first circle is the Ministry Relationships.  Everyone needs to identify and connect with people who are skilled in their ministry vocation that can help us grow in our area of calling.  These people are invaluable in helping us understand different and fresh ways of doing ministry, so we continue to be challenged and not get stuck in routine duties.  Whether as mentors, coaches, or challengers in our lives they drive us forward to be all God called us to be.

 The second circle is the Journey Relationships.  These relationships develop in the journey of our ministry where we connect with people inside and outside of the walls of our church who become important and dear to us.  While these relationships can be challenging at times there is a unique strength found in connecting well with our people and loving them even through possible disappointments. 

 The third circle is the Heart Relationships.  We need people in our lives who really know our hearts, our joys, and our sorrows.  Friends who we know without question love us and want the best for our lives.  People who see our lives are a reflection of God’s glory and have walked with us through the reality of the dark nights of our soul.  Friends who can ask us hard questions and speak into our lives truths that cause us to rethink our direction.  These are people you can call at 2:00 a.m. and spill out the hurt of your soul without them being more concerned about their losing sleep when you think you’re losing your mind. 

While this is the smallest circle in number of people in comparison to the other two circles it’s the one that can have the strongest impact in shaping us into who we will become.

 Chase described the “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” were not separated but often overlapping and interlocking circles of influence in our lives.

Chase asked Jim to take time over the next few days and identify people God had put into his life that might fit in each of the three circles and to make note of which circle might be lacking.  They agreed they would talk later that week on how he might go about the discovery of who God was putting into the circles of his life.

 One thing Jim quickly realized was that he already had someone other than Kathy (his wife and best friend) that he would welcome in his “Heart” circle and he was grateful God had used his moment of challenge to draw him back into his friendship with Chase.

___________________________________________

Perhaps like Jim you know what it is to find yourself in a situation where you really need a friend.  You may consider yourself to have many “friends” but you don’t really have a friend whom you can be totally open with without fear of rejection or judgment.  

 You might have tried to develop those deep friendships in the past and didn’t sense it was reciprocated or valued in the same way.  Maybe you resonate with the story of the group of ministers who joined a prayer circle and began to share with one another their personal struggles.

 “I struggle with gambling,” said one, “I struggle with anger,” said another, “I struggle with lust,” said the one to his side.  So summoning his courage the minister shared he struggled with “coarse language” only to hear the final minister say, “I struggle with gossip and I have to get out of here and talk to someone.”

 Whenever we consider Confessional Relationships we must do so within a construct of Wisdom and Discernment but to fail to develop them is to position yourself to experience the reality of Proverbs 16:18  “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 So what do you do now?  How do you ensure that you don’t live out your ministry in self-imposed isolation?

Consider taking the following steps as a beginning point.

  1. Prayerfully list your three circles and identify whom God has brought into your life in each area. You might find in the Ministry Circle that you want to consider just including your top 10 instead of listing everyone possible.  Limit your list to those who are ready to invest in you and help you grow in your ministry.  Do the same for your Journey Circle and finally your Heart Circle. 
  1. Identify where the gaps are in each circle – which circle is lacking (or absent) of people who would make up the circle.
  1. Began to pray specifically for God to add people to your “Three Circles of Solid Ministry Relationships” as he sees fit. Remember, friends are made they don’t just appear.
  1. Ask yourself where you might fit in the circles of someone else’s life. Is there someone who is trying to connect with you that you haven’t made time for?  Are you open to God planting you in someone else’s life just as you need to have others planted into yours?

In Kingdom service,

Astros winning the world series

Astros winning the world series

LEADERSHIP MATTERS by Roger Yancey, D.Min.

With the Astros winning the World Series, those of us who are fans are grateful for a tight series with the Phillies.  The teams both had amazing playoff games and are evenly matched in many ways.   Even those who aren’t big baseball fans enjoyed the commitment these two teams have played with.

So in the spirit of the World Series I would like to offer what can make a baseball team great – and corresponding lessons that would be helpful to a church staff or team of leaders.  Frankly, there is no shortage of opinions, articles or analysis of what makes a great team. I did read one article by Arthur Raise of particular interest.  As he stated,Baseball is a team sport and every player and team needs to be committed and passionate about the game.”  To succeed every team whether major league, minor league, or local needs the following:

1.  A team spirit and commitment to the game. The team must work as a single unit and be devoted to the game. They must live and breathe baseball.

2. The team must have a good support system of families, team owner, sponsors, the coach, school and college authorities and more need to understand the psyche of the team and create a strong impermeable support system.

3. The team must have a good coach who will lead the team in every way. The coach is the backbone of the team and needs to be tough and yet loving. He or she must care for the team and its every player. The coach must understand the team and its members better than he understands himself or herself.

4. The team must be devoted to the sport and yet understand that there is a world beyond baseball. So, every member must simultaneously prepare for life beyond baseball. Be trained in skills and have qualifications that will allow the player to live a fulfilled life after baseball.

5. Great focus must be placed on balanced nutrition and mental strength training. A strong mind and body makes a great baseball player. Team training must include aspects of health, nutrition, and mental strength. The team must have a balanced diet, a balanced exercise routine that includes breathing exercises and meditation techniques.

6. While winning can be the goal every team must play for sheer joy and each player must focus on his strengths and work out his weaknesses. The team must become an impregnable fort so that the opponents can never use kinks in the armor.”

So how would these apply to a Staff Team or a Team of Servant Leaders in a church Family?  Same principles with a bit of adjustment would make them more applicable:

 1. A team spirit and commitment to the Gospel. The team must work as a single unit and be devoted Christ followers. They must live and breath to bring glory to God. 

2. The team must have a good support system of church families, church partners and supporters who join with them in fulfilling the Mission of the Church and the fulfillment of God’s unique intention for them. 

3. The team must have a genuine Pastor who will lead provide healthy servant leadership. The pastor is a critical part of the team and needs to be tough and yet loving. He must care for the team and every member.

4. The team must be devoted to the Church and yet understand that there is a world beyond the Church.  Work-Life balance is critical – all work and no play makes for an unhealthy staff or team of leaders.  We need time to recharge, be with our families and have a life that is not fully defined by what happens within the Church.

5. Great focus must be placed on balanced nutrition and mental strength training.  We are told to love God with all of our soul, mind and body.  A strong mind and body makes us more effective and gives us stamina for the long-term.

6. We already won – Jesus saved us.  But we are called to follow Him for the sheer joy of serving Him.  Each team member must focus on their strengths and work out their weaknesses. The team must become an impregnable fort so that the enemy can never use kinks in the armor.”

 

Maybe you would agree – a great baseball team might have something to teach us about being an effective team.

In Kingdom service,

Executive Director/Associational Mission Strategist

Right, Rights, & Responsibilities

Right, Rights, & Responsibilities

LEADERSHIP MATTERS by Roger Yancey, D.Min.

Now what? With the striking down of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which impacted the lives of so many for almost 50 years, has come to an end. But not before impacting countless lives including more than an estimated 60 million preborn children. As the conversation moves from the national to state legislatures there are 3 questions we need to consider as Kingdom people.

What is Right? This may seem obvious but too often it’s not the first question asked. For the believer, the first response when considering a matter is to simply ask what does God say about this? What can I learn in God’s word about the matter at hand and how do I best glorify God in my obedience? While there may be differing views on interpretations there is no variance in the critical understanding that when we say yes to Jesus, we committed to yield all our lives over to him.

Romans 12:1-2

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What are our Rights?  This is where many people start their decision-making process.  Our understanding of rights is shaped by many factors including culture and tradition.  When we begin with what are our rights instead of what is right, we are in danger of making choices which may be within our civil rights but not within God’s eternal purpose.   We have the right to speak into the process but not to intentionally villainize those with whom we disagree.  We have the right to be involved in the processes which will be taking place at the state governments across our country but not to demand everyone agree with us.

What are our Responsibilities?  What does this decision mean to my life and to our church families?  Being prolife means more than protecting the unborn.  It means taking seriously the Gospel’s message about neighboring.  We must be mindful of the needs of those who find themselves with child but without resources, the child born but not wanted, the child who needs fostering, the child who is an orphan, the fatherless, those in poverty, the infirm, the challenged, the elderly, to name just a few.  It’s not enough to support the rights of the unborn, we must champion the needs of those who are born and in need or we are violating the spirit of James 2:14-16.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

The coming days will provide opportunities for meaningful conversations to take place. We will have a growing opportunity to show the reality of God’s love to those who are facing challenging realities. How we answer the questions will show our true hearts.

In Kingdom service,

5 Trends in church planting

5 Trends in church planting

LEADERSHIP MATTERS by Roger Yancey, D.Min.

Ten years from now your church may not be able to find a new pastor.

In reviewing the materials found in, The Coming Shortage of Christian Leaders: Facing Facts, Finding the Way by Bruce McAllister from June 2021, the March 2017 article by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, The Aging of Americas Pastors, and Daniel Yang’s work with the SEND Institute, 5 Trends in Church Planting

Two realities are colliding to cause the present and future challenge the church is and will be facing.

The first is the aging of pastors across America. “The aging of pastors represents a substantial crisis for Protestant churches,” says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. “In fact, there are now more full-time senior pastors who are over the age 65 than under the age of 40. It is urgent that denominations, networks, and independent churches determine how to best motivate, mobilize, resource, and deploy more younger pastors.

As the median age of pastors increases there will be an increasing number of churches who find that when their pastor retires, they may not easily locate a viable pastoral candidate. It’s not just pastors median age is getting older but the age of those who surrender to ministry is increasing while the number of those who commit to ministry is not keeping
pace with the present and future needs of the local church. 

The second reality contributing to this growing challenge is the calling out of future ministers has largely declined in many local congregations. It was once a common part of many evangelical church services to ask during a time of invitation if God was calling someone out to Christian ministry. Whether it was to missions or as a minister it was a question people had to grapple with as part of God dealing with them. It was a question heard at camps, student gatherings, university settings, and in their Bible studies but it is a question largely absent in most invitations today.

How can we expect for people to respond to God’s call if we don’t challenge them to deal with it? Just as we ask people to make a decision for Christ, we need to ask them to deal with the possibility of God’s call on their lives. Almost 80% of churches acknowledge they don’t place a significant priority on training and developing the next generation of church leaders. If you speak with ministers over the age of 40 you will find most were part of a church where they were invested in by their pastor or other significant church leader as they were dealing with God’s calling on their life. Unless we purposefully identify, develop, train, and enable future ministers we will find the lack of future church leaders continuing to decline.

What is happening with the aging of church pastors and the lack of calling out the called is directly impacting church planting and the lack of available church planting pastors.

But first let’s examine 5 trends identified by Daniel Yang and the Network Leaders from the Fuller Church Planting Initiative:

1. Demographic Demand Multiethnic Churches. “By 2045 there will be no majority culture. The fastest growing ethnic minority is Asian Americans… The implication for this is the need to recruit diverse planters, as well as training and coaching planters in cultural intelligence (CQ).“

2. The Rise of Micro-Churches. “Micro-churches are uniquely able to reach micro- cultures and other hard-to-
reach areas with the gospel. In contrast to house church movements of the past, which were mostly independent and not interconnected, micro-churches today seem to thrive and to reap benefits from some centralized infrastructure that connects and resources these missionaries.”

3. From Worship Services to Community Engagement. “As post-Christendom settles in and as the next generation increasingly identifies as “nones” and “dones”, church planters must be able to demonstrate the gospel before it is declared. They have to be able to prove in tangible ways that the gospel makes a real difference in the world before they have enough credibility for their message to be received…Churches are moving away from attractions models based on proclamation, and to more missional models that are based on demonstration of God’s love through community engagement.

4. Enlarging the Farm System. “As the first wave of church planting in the 21st century comes to shore, networks are realizing their low hanging crop of leaders — largely youth pastors and parachurch ministers — have all been recruited to plant churches…to tap into new leaders, churches and networks need to be able to identify and develop missional leaders earlier. For example, creating spaces of discernment, normalizing church planting as a legitimate path of calling, and establishing residency and apprenticeship opportunities.”

5. More Co-Vocational Church Planting. “Church planters increasingly see their calling overlapping with the economic marketplace. Rather than spending their time fundraising, and rather than pursuing a job at Starbucks simply to evangelize co-workers, planters are considering how their job can be part of the way they plant a church…The implication is networks can come alongside co-vocational planters to offer business help and even micro-loans that can fuel church plants that are more economically based.” 

With the aging of ministers, the decline of calling out the called, and the necessity for embracing new realities in church planting, it is critical for the church to strategically respond. We need to pray for God to raise up future ministers, for us to regularly issue a call to Christian ministry, and expand our understanding of what will be part of ministry in the future.

God is still a calling God. He may be calling you today to ministry. What will you say?

In Kingdom service,