Deacons Who Serve – A Requirement for a Healthy Church

March 5, 2018 1 comment

Over the past seven years, I’ve posted more than 300 blogs on the subject of church health. I’ll confess that sometimes I struggle with what to write. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s enough to say about the church to fill a few more years of Mondays, but this form of communication doesn’t allow us to meet eye-to-eye so you can see the passion of these thoughts or even hear the force with which I type them.

You see, there’s some things that I can’t type loudly enough–and today’s theme is one of those. I want you to hear my heart as I tell you that no church can be healthy unless its deacons (elders, or whatever your structure identifies as key lay leadership roles) are servants.

In my work, I get to encounter some unhealthy churches, and one of the common threads that connect them to other unhealthy places is the presence of at least one deacon who thinks he’s a board member. He shows up for the monthly meeting and usually can be found in one of the main services, but that’s about it. His job is to make decisions, and he usually has no idea how bad the decisions he makes really are.

By definition, deacons are to be servants. They are not simply to have a servant attitude–they are to be serving. As a pastor, one of the greatest reasons for the health our church enjoyed was the active involvement of every deacon. My “board room” was filled with the most involved people in the entire church. I didn’t have to describe our latest outreach or bring them up to speed with the results of our ministry efforts because they were as close to the action as I was. Thanks Ron, Del, Bill, Mick, Warren, Adam, Dennie, Kevin, Jeff, Larry, Tate, Thom, Todd, Dean, David, Bill, Dave, Kevin, and Gail. The church was so blessed by you and your ladies. (If I forgot someone, please forgive me and add them to the front of the list, ’cause everyone of these proved what a servant is truly designed to be.)

Some have the idea that if I’m chosen to serve, then I’ll serve. Guess again. Deacons are to be chosen from among those already serving. If you need a title to serve, well, what kind of servant is that?

Deacons who don’t actively serve in the church cannot be equipped to make ministry decisions. Only through serving do we develop the heart of Christ. Without serving regularly, we slip into unhealthy management modes that actually undermine what the Church is designed to become. If you’re not serving, then you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re becoming the leader who’s blocking your Church from the path it’s intended to walk.

Some may say, well, I’m older and my day of doing all that is passed. It’s time for the younger to step up. I’d probably agree with you on that last part, but if you think you’re too old to serve, then let someone younger fill that deacon slot too. The office of deacon isn’t intended to be a title of honor. In fact, personal honor is never the goal of a servant.

Some may say, well, isn’t sacrificing a night every month for meetings a type of serving? I would suggest that unless your serving brings you into direct contact with people and their needs, it’s not the kind of serving that will equip you to lead. Don’t just serve people on paper, but rub elbows with reality.

The first deacons were chosen to serve–to manage the daily distribution of food to the widows in the Jerusalem church. That’s the healthy paradigm. So, if you’re a deacon–keep serving, stay active in the ministries of your church. That’s the only way you’ll be able to serve that role in a healthy way.

There’s really no way to soften this truth. There are too many sickly churches who’ll die unless they are infused with the shot in the arm that serving deacons bring. Yes, this is but one of the factors in helping a church to health, and there are other issues to address as well. But be sure that your deacons and all your key lay leaders demonstrate their commitment to Christ’s mission with their hands and feet.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 6

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). And last time we saw the first of two steps the two must take together–find your engine.

The final piece of the puzzle is the second joint effort between pastor and people–aim outward.

Inward focus is the bane of the declining church. Like the natural pull of gravity, inward focus is where congregations drift unless they are intentional otherwise. We get focused on ourselves, what ministers to us, what we enjoy, how we get help for our problems…the list goes on and on. Little wonder that after walking a mile or two down this path, we get self-focused.

Congregations that lose their sense of mission have little left to do but look at each other. And after awhile, it’s not hard to start picking at each other and finding flaws in one another. Conflict, broken relationships, and general weariness of each other is quite common in the latter stages of the church’s life cycle. The more inward focused we become, the less healthy the church will be.

Aim outward. The best way to do this is to take the engine (what we developed in the previous step) and aim that engine into the community. If the church’s engine is loving people, then find ways to show love to them out there. If the church has excellent teaching gifts, start aiming those gifts into the needs of the community. If musical talent fills the church, take it to the city park–stop limiting that ability to Sunday mornings inside your walls.

The best things happen when a church is aimed outward. Such moments give the people purpose, create potential for growth, and get us as close as we’ll ever be to living God’s intent for us. Remember, CHURCH ISN’T ABOUT US! It’s about HIM and THEM! When we get that focus, good things can happen.

Of course, God cares for our needs and wants to use His Church to minister to us. But He does that best when we focus on HIM and THEM. “Seek first the kingdom…” Remember?

I’ve yet to be in a growing church that wasn’t focused on those outside their church. Through friendship, ministry effort, and clear passion those churches see a harvest field and often abandon their own comfort to get out there.

At the same time, I rarely see such a church not growing. But it’s a partnership. I’ve met pastors who were driven to reach the lost, but their people weren’t on board. I’ve even encountered one or two scenarios where the passion was limited to the people, and the pastor was blocking the path. The point is that this must be done together.

Take your best efforts outward. Do the things you can do well in ways that your community can benefit. Figure out the engines of your church and drive yourselves beyond your church walls.

An outward focused church is the only church that fulfills Christ’s passion.


Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 5

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). So what’s left?

There are two steps that the pastor and people must take together.

The first of these is to “discover the engine.” Okay, that seems a bit unclear at first blush, but every has an “engine” that can generate momentum and drive it forward. There is something that your church was made to do. Baseball players speak of a “wheelhouse,” a place where the hitters strength meets the pitch and maximizes his capacity. A pitcher wants to avoid a hitter’s “wheelhouse” because that’s where the hitter is at his best. For golfers, the idea is the “sweet spot”–that place on the golf club that makes a perfect connection, allowing the golfer to hit the ball where he intended, making his best possible shot.

Okay, maybe the sports analogies don’t clear this up for you, but there is something that fits. There is a focus, an effort, a ministry priority that every pastor is made for. Likewise, there are certain things a church can do very well. When you find these, you find the church at its most effective best.

The “engine” is a merger of three key components. First, is the leader’s passion. Not long ago, I visited with a pastor of a small struggling congregation. He was frustrated to say the least, so I asked him what he was truly passionate about. I figured talking about that passion might lift his spirit a bit. He begin telling me how badly he wanted to bring hope to broken people. His own story of brokenness and the love a church family had brought helped me see how this passion had developed. To see that same thing happen for others was the very reason he felt called to ministry. “I want to see broken people healed,” he tearfully exclaimed.

I instantly concluded that this was an “engine” he could drive forward. So I asked him, “Do you think your congregation could help you do this?” You see, the second component of the “engine” is the people’s abilities. What can we be good at? In most struggling churches, there’s a long list of things we’re not very good at, and when we spend a lot of time doing what we’re not good at, well, frustration is guaranteed (so is lack of growth). No one enjoys watching us try to maneuver our weaknesses.

He said, “Yes!” He knew that his people cared deeply for broken people and he’d seen them respond in love again and again.

The final element is community need. I guessed that such an engine could connect powerfully with many people in his community. So we begin talking about how to shape the ministry of his church around this vision–healing broken people. It seemed to be the perfect merger of leader passion, congregation ability, and community need.

That’s where you find your engine. I attend a church where that engine is “life-change.” Everything is driven by this single priority. I pastored a church where “belonging” was the driving force. I’ve seen others where “investing in the next generation” or “passionately teaching truth” fire them up. Every church needs to find its wheelhouse or sweet spot–the central focus that can become their very best effort of ministry.

So together–pastor and congregation–the search for its “engine” becomes paramount. In church life, many books or assessment surveys try to tell you that addressing your weaknesses will get you where you want to go. But remember this: Momentum and growth flow from maximizing your strengths. Endurance is achieved by addressing your weaknesses.

Find the engine, but do it together. Both pastor and people have to bring their contributions to the same table. When you find the spot where the leader’s passion, congregation’s abilities, and community’s needs merge, you will find the path that can bring the momentum you crave.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the second step for this pastor/people partnership.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 4

February 12, 2018 1 comment

We’ve already seen the two steps every pastor must take toward a healthy church–grow yourself and build a team. Now let’s continue our look at the two steps only the people of the congregation can take. Last time, we saw the first of these–face reality. Today, Part 4 of our discussion calls for the people to create an embracing environment.

I’ve been in many plateaued and declining churches, usually as a guest. I pastored a couple of these, but more recently, I’ve been the guy that the fella at the door doesn’t recognize. And usually…it shows. Now, first of all, I’m glad when there’s someone at the door because that’s not always the case. But a few weeks ago, a tall man held the door for me but didn’t say a word as he pressed the bulletin in my hand. Then I walked through a foreign hallway, flowing with the traffic toward my apparent destination. No one spoke to me, welcomed me, or said a word in my direction, until the pastor instructed such a moment in the service and the old couple in front of me obeyed.

Now, I’m a church kid. I have so much experience walking into churches that I seldom feel confused or uncertain as to what to do. But I’m the exception. The extremely rare exception. In fact, I’m the dinosaur of church life. People like me just don’t exist anymore. Instead, an entire culture drifts into a worship service with absolutely no knowledge of what to do or what will happen. And if we treat them the way many churches have treated me, well…

As a guest, I can tell whether or not the people of the church want me there, have any interest in knowing me, or could ever care about my life. I can make that judgment in minutes. Now that may not seem fair, but that’s what your guests do every week. Where are the people who love people? Where are friendly folks who have a hope that their church might grow? Is the pastor the only guy hoping for that?

Each week, the people of the church create an atmosphere for the guest experience. I’m not talking about making sure the greeters all showed up or have their cues down pat. If welcoming new people is someone else’s job, then my church is failing at it. Now I’m all for trained greeters and the systems we put in place to extend a good first impression, but friendly people–genuinely friendly people–create the best environment.

Sadly, in many struggling churches, the members come in each week more concerned about themselves than their church. They wonder if they’ll see their friend or if someone will notice their new outfit, or if the pastor’s sermon will be what they need. And they wonder why the pastor isn’t growing their church. Maybe he’s just not doing a good job.

In the church I pastored, we did a little experiment. I asked 40 people to commit to a six-month challenge. Each week, when they attended the weekend service of their choice, I asked them to MEET someone they had never met, PRAY for someone or promise to pray for them when they heard or saw a need, and HELP someone in even the simplest way (carry a diaper bag, point out restrooms, etc). We called it MPH and thought such an effort would help us “pick up speed” in becoming the church we wanted to be. We even filled out cards each week, listing the names of those we met, prayed for, and helped.

The impact was unbelievable. During those six months, the church became one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. I never saw a guest by themselves. New people were making friends faster than they could have hoped. In fact, a year later (we tracked it) our visitor retention rate more than doubled. 48% of those who visited are church in that 6-month period were actively attending and involved in the life of the church one year later.

A deacon’s wife remarked, “Pastor, I’m starting to think that seeing our church grow is more about what we’re doing than even what you’re doing.” I wanted to jump up and down in agreement. When we are intentionally friendly, good things happen. People want to be in those places where they feel cared about and see the potential for friendships.

If there was a guest at your church last week, and you didn’t meet them…you dropped the ball!

Does that seem harsh? I’m not trying to offend you, but if a family came to your house for dinner and you didn’t speak to them, you’re wife would be furious at you! Why is that someone else’s job when that same family comes to your church?

Creating an embracing environment is one step that the people of the congregation can take to demonstrate their desire to see their church grow. It’s their most powerful step. So get some people together and start figuring out how to do it.

When we face the reality of our declining church, most of us immediately want to know what to do. Well, here it is…create an embracing environment in your church. The two churches I pastored, experienced remarkable turnarounds and growth. I’m convinced this was the single most important step in both situations.


Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 3

February 5, 2018 Leave a comment

So how can there be a Part 3 if there’s only two steps to a healthy Church?

We have already seen the two steps a pastor must take to help his congregation get stronger–grow himself and build a team. But there are also two steps the people of the church must take to contribute to the same journey. Many congregants know the frustration of a revolving door of pastors with their unique visions, ideas, and strategies. Just when things seem to be coming into focus, something causes a pastoral change and we feel like we’re “back to square one” with someone new.

A frequent change in pastors can lead the congregation to forget that they have some responsibility for what their church is becoming. Frankly, it’s easier to sit back and wait for the new pastor to prove himself or to come up with the right plan that can lead us forward. But churches that move toward health have discovered that the people must get involved and contribute to the new day, often just as much as the pastor.

There are two things that only the people can bring to this equation. The first is the readiness to face reality. Well over half of America’s churches have plateaued or are in decline and the moral drift of our culture is away from the influence of the church more and more each year. Things simply aren’t going to get better at our church unless some intentional steps are taken.

Leadership gurus call it urgency–the “what” that motivates us to see the need for change in our church if we are going to succeed in ways we aren’t succeeding now. Most have heard insanity’s definition–doing what you’ve always done and expecting different results. But, sadly, many congregations seem content to maintain failing ministries and practices that no longer connect with their community. Perhaps like nowhere else in our culture, failure is acceptable at church as long as the remaining members are happy.

I often speak of four questions a church must say “yes” to before a new day can emerge: 1) Do we know we need to change?, 2) Are we willing to change?, 3) Do we know how to change?, and 4) Are we willing to do that? I am always amazed at how unwilling a declining church can be to say “yes” to those first two. Honestly, having the right answer to #3 doesn’t matter if you can’t get a “yes” to the first two.

Yes, we like our church and we like the way things are done at our church. That’s a big part of why we find ourselves attending our church. But if the way we do things isn’t helping us fulfill our mission of reaching people for Christ, are we willing to face that reality? Many aren’t. Even the most amazing pastors can’t help a church get healthy if the people won’t look clearly at the need.

Now, facing reality doesn’t have to mean we take on a “doom and gloom” spirit. Instead, ours should be a determination to fulfill our mission, one that is willing to shift gears if necessary to get back up that hill. Jesus established His Church not to simply be about us, but to be a vehicle through which we can be about the “them” currently outside our walls.

Pastors will often try to call their people to change and new expressions of ministry that can bring a better future, but that pastor often lacks the influence he needs to lead change until he’s been around at leas five years. Since the average tenure of a pastor is typically a but less than that…well, you can see why the people must take responsibility for this attitude toward change.

At the current rate in the Assemblies of God, we will close nearly twenty percent of today’s 13,000 churches in the next ten years. That’s the future unless congregation members are willing to step up and face a reality that can lead to change.

Next week, we’ll consider the second step congregation members must make toward a healthy future for their church.


Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 2

January 29, 2018 Leave a comment

In our last blog, we took a look at the first of two things a pastor can do to begin moving his church toward health–grow yourself. In Part 2, consider step two for the pastor.

To build a healthy church, every pastor needs a strong team. And to have one, the pastor needs to start building that team now! A strong leadership team gives the church and the pastor the people resources to begin expanding healthy ministry. Also, a strong team provides the support and encouragement a pastor needs to be able to do his part effectively.

Perhaps the two most common ways pastors resist this idea are these: First, the pastor says, “I already have a good team.” First, that’s good to hear! But there’s a difference between having a good team and building a strong one. Are you growing your team? Do you have a plan for increasing their capacity through discipleship and leadership training. Are the members of your team growing because they are on your team?

Taking this step starts with planning learning time into every team meeting. If your team is a pastoral staff or group of deacons, spend the first 30 minutes of every staff or deacon meeting in learning mode. One way to do this is to read a book together. Give each team member a copy of an important book and spend those thirty minutes discussing a chapter each month. Or perhaps you can watch a video series together. Don’t preach another message at them, but be sure to engage them in learning through discussion.

As we said last time, if you’re growing, everything around you can grow too. The same is true for the members of your team. Because they are connected to you, they should be growing in ways that affect their entire lives. Invest in them and your influence as a leader in their lives will grow. And as you do, their capacity will increase.

The second point of resistance comes from the pastor who says, “I don’t have anyone to work with.” Then start small. Choose two or three individuals that support you and start growing them. Meet over a book for coffee or lunch. Start growing someone as you grow yourself. If you don’t have a team, don’t wait any longer to start building one. This effort will impact your church’s health more than any program you can establish or sermon series you’ll preach.

A few years ago, I met a pastor who is building a team of teenagers. These are the people he has to work with so he’s not letting their age keep him from growing their leadership capacity. No matter where you are, you can start somewhere. Find a few to invest in. That’s what Jesus did, and through sacrifice and much effort, He built a team that became world-changers.

The pastor has two steps only he can take in establishing a healthy church–growing himself and building a strong team. In our next blog, we’ll look at two steps that only the people of the congregation can take.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 1

January 22, 2018 Leave a comment

With thousands of churches plateaued or in decline, many of which are aging with the future growing more ominous each day, I’ve been searching for simple and powerful steps in a new direction. Many struggling churches are overwhelmed by a culture of “can’t.” They hear the ideas that turn around other congregations, but find most of these beyond their current abilities, resources, and people. There has to be a “can” out there with every church’s name on it.

There is!

Suppose there were just two things that everyone in the church could do that would make all the difference. Would that interest you? I am convinced that those two things exist. In fact, here’s how it works–there are two things the pastor must do; and two things the people of the congregation must do; and two things the pastor and people can do together that will create momentum in a new direction.

Let’s start with the pastor’s two things…

First, the pastor must commit to grow himself. One of the truths I learned as a pastor is that if you don’t have a strategy for growing yourself, no one will bring you one. Fact is, nobody will grow you but you. So every pastor must create a strategy for developing himself to be more effective and knowledgeable about the work of ministry.

Many years ago when I was settling into my first full-time ministry role, a deacon stopped by my office with a challenge. He encouraged me to commit to read one book a week. Now, I love to read so the challenge resonated with me. I said “yes” and told him I would report to him each Sunday with the title of the book I had read that week. He said, “no.” He told me that he would be able to tell if I was reading by listening to me preach and watching my ministry. I realize now how profound that was. Since that day in 1986, I have read at least 50 books each year and believe my life has been greatly enhanced by that man’s recommendation.

Now, not everyone is a reader or wants to read at that kind of pace, but each of us can take charge of our development. Video learning is available to the visual learner. Books and magazines can help the reader. Podcasts are the way the auditory person makes it work. Even enrolling in a class can help me grow and provides some good accountability. Somehow…build a strategy for learning and growing yourself.

I have scheduled three learning times in my day–morning, afternoon, and evening. Typically I have a different book waiting for me every time I can steal a few minutes during these parts of the day. Most days, I get to the office 30 minutes early for my morning growth, take an hour in the afternoon when my mind needs recharging to open my afternoon book, and keep a book handy in the evenings. I’ve found that “vegging out” with a book is far better than the TV. Of course, every day doesn’t allow me to spend time with all three such moments, but having a plan means I get there more often than not.

Here’s the bottom-line. If you’re growing, what you touch will grow too. I learned early on that the people who are following my leadership can’t grow past me. If they do, they won’t be following me anymore. I also learned that when I’m growing, the world around me looks and smells better. Fact is, a growing leader more naturally grows the people around him/her. I’ve been at this ministry leadership thing for nearly three decades now and I am fully convinced that nothing affects my ministry effort nearly as much as my own personal growth.

Build a plan and do it today! If you’re not sure where to start, contact a trusted friend or mentor and gain their help. If you don’t make time to grow, you’re church will never have time to be healthy. If you want to discuss this topic with me, I’ll be glad to share more about the steps I’ve taken toward this critical priority. (Email me at

So, for the pastor, that’s the first of two things you must do. Next week, I’ll unveil the other key ingredient a pastor must pursue in order to have a healthy church.