One Step to Church Growth, Health and/or Vitality…or Shrinkage, Sickness, and/or Death

We church people love lists! We especially love lists that will help us become better Christians, help our churches grow, make our pastors sermons less boring, help us overcome whatever group we happen to be disagreeing with at the moment, or the ultimate list would be the one that gives us 5-simple steps to do all the things in this list!

So, I thought I’d give it a shot. Here is my one step that will lead to church growth, health, and vitality…or church shrinkage, sickness, and/or death.

Now, some of you are not going to like this. On the other hand, some of you are going to use portions of this blog at your next administrative council meeting to say “Hey, I’ve been telling you this all along!”

Okay, here it is, the one step that will lead to church growth, health, and/or vitality…or church shrinkage, sickness, and ultimately death. Trust your pastor!

Now, ask yourself, “Do I trust my pastor?”

Some of you automatically chimed in, “Of course I trust my pastor!”

Others, without hesitation, shouted, “Trust my pastor? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Some of you are possibly still thinking about it.

For those of you who quickly called into question your pastors trustworthiness, ask yourself, “Why don’t I trust my pastor?”

There is a chance your pastor is not trustworthy. So, laity, if you have a pastor that cannot be trusted, you just might have the wrong person leading your congregation. I will be the first to admit that there are some pastors who simply should not be trusted.

Let me ask this, for those who do not trust your pastor, is there a non-petty reason for this? If you don’t trust your pastor because her theology doesn’t line up exactly with yours, that’s petty. If you don’t trust your pastor because he doesn’t tuck in his shirt, that’s petty. If you don’t trust your pastor because you watched him pocket money out of the offering plate, well, that’s not petty. If there are serious reasons not to trust your pastor, you should not hesitate to contact those that oversee the pastor. If a majority of the congregation questions the trustworthiness of the pastor, it’s time for a serious conversation.

I’ve come to find that many of the folks who do not trust the pastor are withholding their trust over minor issues. Eventually, you are going to come to a crossroads. If you cannot trust your pastor, it might be time to find a new church. Seriously, if you are putting up roadblocks every time the pastor attempts to lead, you are probably not helping the church. So, if you don’t trust your pastor and it’s for petty, minor differences…get over it. I’m not saying there is never a time to question your pastor. Questions help us refine. Questions don’t always mean a lack of trust. Sometimes questions are just an attempt to find clarity. However, some folks are going to question everything due to some silly disagreement they had with the pastor over whether or not his Blues Brothers tie was appropriate on Sunday (come on, at least the pastor was wearing a tie!).

Now, pastors, we all play a role in this too. Are we giving our laity reasons to question our trustworthiness? Simple things, like not showing up when you said you will show up, call trust into question. While we may not be having affairs, stealing money, or covering up major scandals, we may be doing small things that, over time, add up and cause people to trust us less and less. So, are we leading in ways that are worthy of trust? Are we being faithful to God, faithful to our families, faithful to our call, and faithful to our churches? Are we honoring God, family, church, and our commitments in ways that build trust?

For those of you who quickly affirmed that you trust your pastor, ask yourself, “Do I really trust my pastor?”

Do we trust our pastors to set the mission, vision, and values? Do we really trust our pastors to set the tone? Do we trust that our pastors actually know what they are doing? Do we trust that our pastors are being led by God when they push us to take risks? Do we trust our pastors when they encourage us to prune ineffective programs and ministries? Do we really trust our pastors?

So, if you trust your pastor, and he/she is worthy of being trusted, you have taken one step towards church growth, health, and/or vitality.

If you don’t trust your pastor, and yet he/she is worthy of being trusted, you have taken one step towards church shrinkage, sickness, and/or death.

If you trust your pastor, and he/she is not worthy of being trusted, you have taken one step towards church shrinkage, sickness, and/or death.

If you don’t trust your pastor, and he/she is not worthy of being trusted and you are taking appropriate steps to address the issue, you have taken one step towards church growth, health, and/or vitality.

Of course, I’ve seen pastors that should never be trusted grow churches. And, I’ve seen pastors for whom trust should never be an issue kill churches. I know some pastors who are messed up and really have no business leading churches grow churches that are doing some amazing things. And, I know some pastors who are incredible followers of Christ, overly qualified to be pastors, and they kill churches everywhere they go.

So, I guess at the end of the day, I could be wrong.

Well, there you have it…My one step to church growth, health and/or vitality…or shrinkage, sickness, and/or death…trust your pastor (or don’t).



Hey Jealousy

I know you are probably expecting this to be a blog about the Gin Blossom’s “Hey Jealousy”. I’m sorry to disappoint you. No, this is a blog about struggling with feelings of jealousy…

Last night, while reading Shauna Niequist‘s book, Bread & Wine, I found myself being overcome by feelings of jealousy.

The book really is a wonderful read. Lots of keen insight on the beauty of gathering together at the table. Throughout my reading, I’ve been reminded of the numerous memories that involve food, pints, family, and friends. Throughout most of the book, I’ve fallen somewhere between nostalgic and inspired to create new memories around the table.

However, last night I was hit right between the eyes with an overwhelming sense of jealousy.

Niequist’s life stories involve world travel, growing up splitting time between the wealthy Chicago suburb’s where her father’s humongous church is located and spending summer’s “at the lake” in Southwest Michigan. Last night, as I was reading about having to reschedule trips to Rome and settle for time in a fancy hotel in Chicago, I found myself thinking, “Man, I wish I had those problems.”

Now, there is so much more to the story…but this is how I found myself feeling. Jealous.

You see, I like to whine and complain about what I don’t have…for example: a lot of money, a Harley Davidson, a Taylor 812ce, a Rickenbacker 360, a cabin in the woods, you get the picture.

And, while I’m busy whining and complaining, I fail to celebrate what I do have…for example: a beautiful, kind, caring, intelligent, and healthy wife, two amazing and healthy children, an incredible family, awesome friends, a great “job”, a wonderful church, easy access to People’s Brewing Company!

So, last night, I found myself jealous as I read about world travel, celebrations in South Haven, and gatherings with Christian “celebrities” like Shane Claiborne. Therefore, I felt justified in my jealousy…

Until I looked out the window and watched the sun slowly setting just behind the tree line at the back of my neighborhood. And, I found myself being thankful…for my wife and kids, for my extended family, for my friends, for my church, for the delicious pint of People’s Space Cowboy, for Shauna Niequist’s book that’s reminding me to create memories around the table, for shelter, for food, for transportation, for all the things I so easily take for granted.

And, as I continued to read, I came across stories of pain, suffering, and struggle. While Niequist may have enjoyed a certain amount of privilege, she has not been free from loss, from hurt, from doubt.

I was reminded that, while I may not have it “as good as some people”, I’ve got it a lot better than most. In many ways, I grew up a child of privilege. I never really “wanted for” anything (which is probably why I struggle so much when I don’t get what I want…like a Harley, a Taylor, a Rickenbaker, a cabin in the woods). My parents did their best to provide for our family.

So, now, when I’m overcome with a sense of jealousy, I’ll remind myself that no one has a perfect life. I’ll remind myself of and give thanks for what I do have…which is more than I need or deserve…because I’ve found that when I pause to reflect on what I have, those feelings of jealousy seem to quickly fade.

And, because some of you are disappointed that this was not a blog about the Gin Blossom’s, well…here you go:


From the Archives: The Hospitality of Toilet Paper

This post is from the archives. It seems relevant due to a recent experience at a conference.

 Several years ago, a member of a church I worked at came to me before a worship service and said, “Man, I will increase my giving if you can make sure the Trustee’s will buy softer toilet paper. That stuff in there is like sandpaper!”

It should be noted, this member was very active in the life of the church through the giving of his time, his treasures, and his talents. It should also be noted, he was being completely serious.

Toilet paper is no laughing matter. I happen to be a toilet paper snob. I prefer a certain brand…and a certain sub-category of that certain brand. And, if people try to buy a different brand or a different line within the same brand…well, I get very indignant. I make statements like, “you know I like _____. Why would you buy _____? Just buy the stuff I like! Are you trying to kill me?” Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. Pray for Emily…she has to put up with a lot!

So, when this individual came to me, I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of compassion and understanding. He was right. That toilet paper was just like sandpaper.

And, in a roundabout manner, it communicated a message.

That message: We don’t care about your comfort in the restroom.

Now, some may say that I am going overboard. But, we have to realize that even the smallest things communicate a message…they have an impact on the overall experience one has when they visit your church or business.

Maybe businesses and places of worship should consider their toilet paper as a hospitality issue. Are you putting out your best? Or are you trying to save a couple of dollars by purchasing individually wrapped rolls that come in boxes of 500 and barely qualify as a paper product suitable for human use?

Last week, I found myself at Reardon Auditorium on the campus of Anderson University. Now this is a place that cost over $33,000 per year for students to attend (includes tuition, room, food service, and the ever important “miscellaneous” fees). At one point, I found myself in the men’s restroom. I was greatly disappointed. I expected more. Sitting in that bathroom, I did not find myself feeling welcomed. I did not find myself thinking, “Wow, this is a place that I want to send my daughters for their college education.” Instead, I was thinking, “I do not think my great-grandmother made a deal with AU for the land that this building is sitting on in order for them to put this kind of sub-quality toilet paper in their restrooms.” I was not overwhelmed by radical hospitality.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to splurge for the toilet paper that has lotion…but it would leave a pretty positive impression.

I’m just saying that we have to think about everything that contributes to the overall experience of our visitors…even the toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper…and the overall condition and smell of a bathroom…could contribute to the radical hospitality that a church or business displays to its visitors. What does the bathroom of your church or business communicate to your visitors?

“Offer hospitality to one another…without grumbling.” ~1Peter 4:9

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” ~Hebrews 13:2

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” ~Romans 12:13