Category Archives: Pastoral Leadership

Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services

Thom Rainer

If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.

What, then, are some of the most significant changes? Please allow me to offer some trends from anecdotal information, church consultations, and objective research. As a caveat, some of the data based research comes from an excellent study, The National Congregations Study by Duke University. This study, fortunately, is longitudinal, so it is able to look at changes over many years. But the study is also dated, with the latest data reported in 2007.

From these multiple sources, I have assembled nine changes that have come at a rapid pace in many churches. Please note my perspective. I am offering these from the perspective of a researcher; I am not making qualitative assessments. Also, with every trend there will be thousands of churches that are exceptions to the norm. But these are the changes in the majority of churches in North America.

  1. Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
  2. Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
  3. Screens are pervasive. Some of you remember the days when putting a projection screen in a worship center was considered a sacrilege. Now most churches have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
  4. Preaching is longer. I will soon be in the process of gathering this data to make certain the objective research confirms the anecdotal information.
  5. “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
  6. Attendees are more diverse. The Duke study noted the trend of the decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
  7. Conflict is not increasing. In a recent post, I noted the decreasing frequency of worship wars. The Duke study noted that overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
  8. More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
  9. Sunday evening services are disappearing. This issue has stirred quite a bit of discussion the past few years. I plan to expand upon it in my post this coming Saturday. Stay tuned.

I have tried to present these changes from a research perspective instead of injecting my opinions or preferences. Obviously, I have my own, but I would rather hear from you. The readers at this blog are much smarter than I am anyway.

Do you see these trends in your local congregation? What would you add?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 7, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Ten Trends on the Employment of Pastors

10 Trends

Thom Rainer

The verbiage is different for different churches and pastors. Some pastors speak of a call. Others, particularly in some denominations, refer to their appointment to a church. Some pastors deal with pastor search committees and congregational votes. Others receive notice from a bishop or some other authority that they are being sent to a new church.

But in all of these situations, there are disruptive trends taking place. I don’t necessarily use the word disruptive negatively; I am simply saying that practices in employing pastors are changing rapidly in the American landscape. Allow me to share with you ten of these major trends.

  1. Church consolidations mean more pastors will report directly to another pastor. The trend of smaller churches being acquired by larger churches is accelerating. Many of those smaller churches once had complete authority to call or hire their pastors. Now the larger churches make the decisions, in many cases the pastor of the larger churches.
  2. Multisite and multi-venue churches will increasingly hire more pastors. The trend of multisite churches is pervasive and growing. For the same reasons as noted in church consolidations, this trend means that many of the hiring decisions reside in the home or original church.
  3. Established churches will have greater difficulty finding pastors that meet their criteria. I see this trend particularly in pastor search committees. Their criteria are sometimes unreasonable and unrealistic. And many of their potential candidates are opting to plant a church or to work in a system of consolidated and multisite churches.
  4. There will be an increased demand for bivocational pastors. Frankly, the economics of many churches will mandate this reality, both in established churches and in church plants.
  5. More churches will partner with seminaries to “raise their own” pastors. Many pastors will thus opt to become a part of a church training or apprenticeship approach.
  6. More pastors will be gauged by their social media involvement in the pastor selection process. I have particularly noted this development from a negative perspective. A prospective pastor who is argumentative or controversial in social media is often eliminated from consideration. Social media background checks are becoming as common as legal and credit background checks.
  7. There will continue to be growth in the number of megachurch pastor position openings. This trend is fueled by two simple realities. First, the number of megachurches continues to grow. Second, many of these megachurches are led by aging boomers.
  8. Pastoral tenure will move in two different directions. I am monitoring now an anecdotal trend: increase in pastoral tenure at multisite churches. But there is an opposite trend in established churches where pastoral tenure continues to be brief and declining.
  9. Pastoral mentoring will grow. Millennials pastors seek it. Boomer pastors desire to provide it. These mentoring relationships often evolve into employment recommendations.
  10. Denominational influence on pastor placement will continue to wane. Denominational leaders and organizations were once the primary gatekeepers in recommending pastors to churches. That influence has waned significantly and will continue to decline.

How do you view these ten trends on the employment of pastors? What would you add?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on April 14, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

The Narcissistic Christian Leader

narcissism

By Thom Rainer

Narcissism should not be said in the same breath as Christian. The former is love of self; the latter is love of God in Jesus Christ.

But the sad reality is that narcissism can and often does creep into the lives of many Christian leaders. And narcissists are selfish and inconsiderate. They demand excessive attention. They feel entitled. And they often pursue power and prestige without regard for others.

The world of narcissistic Christian leaders is complicated by the fact that these leaders rarely recognize their problem. And the disorder may not be readily apparent to those who see them from a distance. They can appear, at least on the surface, to be brilliant and charismatic.

In fact some of those leaders may be reading this article thinking it’s about someone else. They have trouble recognizing their own malady. Let me be more personal. On too many occasions I have struggled with prideful and narcissistic behavior myself. And it took a confrontation from a friend or confidant to open my eyes.

Any person in leadership, even Christian leadership, can be tempted to love self and move into narcissism. So what can we who are Christian leaders do to avoid this trap? What can we do proactively? Allow me to offer five suggestions.

  1. Pray that God will open our eyes. A person of prayer is already demonstrating humility. He or she is admitting a dependency on God instead of self. Let those prayers include a request for God to remove the scales from our eyes, to let us see ourselves as we really are.
  2. Get a trusted advisor. Leaders need someone who can speak truth into their lives. Unfortunately, many leaders surround themselves with sycophants who only tell them what they want to hear.
  3. Get the true picture from those who serve under us. Narcissistic leaders might fool those who don’t see us up close.  But a true, clear, and often painful picture may be available from those who are and were closest to us. They really know us. But they may not have the fortitude to speak truth into our lives. It can be very helpful for a trusted advisor or coach to interview these current and former co-workers with a promise of anonymity.
  4. Repent. Narcissism is a sin. Once we have an awareness of this sin, we must confess it to God.
  5. Seek to restore relationships. A few years ago a trusted friend confronted me with my narcissistic behavior. He let me know that I was hurting others and harming my leadership. I never knew who shared with him about my sin. But I thought it was critical to let my leadership team know of my awareness, my apologies, and my desire to change in God’s power. The entire process was very painful for me, but very necessary for me personally and for my leadership.

Christians who are leaders can be prone to think we have achieved our leadership status because of our intellect and keen skills.  And that type of thinking is the first step toward narcissism. The godly Christian leader will realize that he or she is a recipient and conduit of grace, not a dispenser of wisdom and strategic insights.

And when we have that awareness, there is no way we can see ourselves as anything but a sinner who needs the grace and strength of our Lord every day and every minute.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders

leadership

By Dan Reiland

A good place to start is a set of working definitions for good leaders and great leaders. Let me offer one assumption, that both good leaders and great leaders are Godly individuals with integrity of character. With that stated . . .

Good leaders lead what is seen and known, while maintaining healthy relationships, stay inside the budget, and get the job done. This is good! Any church would be delighted to have a pastor like that. This leader focuses on the mission in context of present reality. He or she cultivates great relationships, raises money and hits budget targets. They realize salvations, transformed lives and numeric growth for the church.

Great leaders lead toward what is yet unseen and not fully known, often increasing revenues, while developing new and entrepreneurial relationships, and exceed expectations. This is great! Any church would be thrilled to have a pastor like this! This leader sees what is not yet seen, communicates it in a compelling way, and leads the church toward that vision. This often results in momentum. He or she is able to continually attract and develop new relationships of high capacity people, often realizing revenue above budget and the results exceed expectations (salvation, transformed lives and numeric growth for the church).

You might be quick to dismiss this whole idea by saying: “The great leader simply has more talent than the good leader.” It is true that innate ability makes a big difference. The parable of the talents in Mathew 25, verse 15, confirms that God gives to each according to his own ability. But I have met hundreds of leaders who seem to settle for “good enough” after assessing themselves as a “two talent” leader. Over time, this kind of thinking can lead to “one talent” behavior and thereby resulting in “one talent” performance. Instead, if a “two talent” leader seeks to leverage what has been given for maximum Kingdom stewardship — that can be the beginning of the transition from good to great.

With that in mind, let me offer 7 characteristics of great leaders that I believe are within the grasp of any leader who will stretch and reach.

• Great leaders have great faith.

Faith is a big deal for spiritual leaders. Jesus got frustrated with His disciples when they exercised less faith than He thought they should. Jesus often used the phrase “little faith” when addressing them. This has caused me to consider the level of my faith. What do I really believe God can and will do? Do I live out my faith in such a way that inspires others? How about you, what do you believe? The best leaders I know have great faith. They aren’t always right, and they don’t have all the answers but they believe God will come through on His promises!

• Great leaders create.

There is no denial that a good percentage of local church ministry is managing stuff and simply getting routine things done. This consistency provides the much needed stability for any church. But many of the critical priorities for a great leader involve new, improved, and innovative ideas in order to take new territory. This is the process that leads to the coveted momentum we all desire. This creativity may not take the majority of your time, but it should get some of your best time. What is the last best idea you’ve had? What have you done with it?

• Great leaders insist on healthy relationships that are productive.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone, but he also guides us to make our deeper investments into a selected few. He modeled this with His twelve disciples. Jesus was honest with His disciples. He confronted them, made expectations clear, and spoke the truth in love. He challenged them to bear fruit!

In order to have healthy relationships you must first be healthy as the leader. Not perfect, but self-aware, authentic, and willing to give more than you get. Healthy relationships are honest, embrace mutual voluntary submission, and serve for the greater good. Great leaders don’t settle for friendships that get stuck or stagnant. They pursue growth and an iron sharpens iron kind of love that results in Kingdom fruit!

• Great leaders practice fierce focus.

Most leaders can name their real priorities, but surprisingly few stay focused on them to the point of accomplishment. Distraction is lethal to leaders. There are so many things that demand your time and attention, but only a few things really matter. Philosopher William James said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” In other words, the real genius is in knowing what not to do! You can’t do everything, but if you do the most important things first, you will gain your greatest results. It’s amazing how many of the less important things don’t need to be done.

• Great leaders know when to push and when to back off.

No one likes an intense leader, but all leaders must exert leadership intensity. Anyone who is intense all the time is too much to take. People end up not liking them and resisting their leadership. A wise leader knows how to kick in the intensity at the right times and when to back off to let the people breath. It’s like a race car driver. If they mashed the accelerator to the floor all the time, they would end up in the wall. Great drivers know when to let up as well as when and how to feather the brakes.

• Great leaders are willing to tolerate “messy” if it means progress.

Leadership is not a tidy process, it’s not for the faint of heart and if you are a perfectionist you may struggle. People are messy, that’s okay. Part of a leader’s job is to help people live better through Christ. This is not an excuse for unorganized chaos or making it up as you go. It’s a recognition that life is messy and that we need to embrace whatever it takes as long as it leads toward progress. The goal is progress for people individually and progress for the church overall as an organization.

• Great leaders have settled their call.

One of my personal blessings from local church leadership through the years has been conversation with thousands of pastors. One of the significant observations from these conversations is the difference between those who have settled their call to full time ministry and those who have not. For those who have settled their call, it’s not about success or failure, though we all want success. It’s about commitment. When your call is settled, it’s settled! There is a rest and peace in your soul, you know who you are and to whom you belong. You know your purpose and though you may not always be satisfied, you are always content. This is the foundation for great local church leadership. This gives you and God freedom to realize your fullest potential.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at www.INJOY.com.”

The Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas

By Thom Rainer

I am tempted to say that my ministry would be incomplete without my wife, Nellie Jo. It is more accurate, however, to say I likely wouldn’t have a ministry without her. She not only has been supportive; she has been a vital partner in my ministry.

Pastors and church staff members across the nation have shared with me the importance of their spouses in ministry. I was again reminded of this reality when I read a recent article in Harvard Business Review. The article was based on an incredibly impressive research project interviewing almost 4,000 business executives over a five-year period.

There were many parallels in this study and the anecdotal information I have heard from pastors and church staff members. To be clear, the HBR study looked at business executives, not those serving in churches. And they broadened the survey from “spouses” to “spouses and partners.” For those reasons, we can certainly expect divergence in the results compared to those serving churches vocationally.

Still, look at each of these key five areas and see for yourself if you can identify in your own ministry. The numbers may differ, but I think the sentiments will be similar.

  1. The importance of a spouse for emotional support (34% of the men and 29% of the women). A pastor recently shared with me his frustration with his church and his temptation to quit ministry. I asked him what has kept him going thus far. He told me: “The call of God and the support of my wife.” Many of us in ministry have similar stories.
  2. The importance of a spouse to accept career demands (16% of the men and 17% of the women). Someone who serves on a church staff is typically on call 24/7. Though pastors and church staff should do everything they can to give their families time, emergencies happen. Many needs are time sensitive. It takes a special spouse to handle that reality.
  3. The importance of a spouse to provide practical help (26% of the men and 13% of the women). In the HBR article, this practical help specifically addressed child raising and housekeeping and similar functions. I know a man whose wife serves as children’s minister in a church. It is very important for him to be home on weekends, particularly Sundays, because that’s his wife’s workday. He needs to be available to take care of the kids.
  4. Career advice (19% of the men and 13% of the women). I have looked to my wife every time I sensed God leading me to another place of ministry. She not only has been supportive, she has offered me wise and timely counsel. I was talking to a pastor just yesterday about a possible ministry change. He shared with me how important his wife is in providing counsel and advice.
  5. Willingness to relocate (10% of the men and 8% of the women). I feel confident that these percentages would be much higher among those in vocational ministry. The ministry is more often than not a very noble and mobile calling.

Keep in mind that the percentages noted in each of the five areas were for business executives. I believe, for the most part, the numbers would be much higher for those in ministry. And though the numbers are not mutually exclusive, there are hardly any leaders in businesses or churches who do not lean on their spouses greatly. Frankly, I can’t see how any pastor or any church staff person can make it in ministry without a supportive spouse.

How do you view these five areas? Are there some areas you would add to the five? Do you have a specific story of a supportive spouse in ministry? I would love to hear from you.

And by the way, Nellie Jo, thank you. I couldn’t make it in ministry or life without you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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