8 Habits to Nurture Success in Church


Habits for Success in Ministry

Dharmesh Shah is the founder of Hubspot.

If you have an internet ministry you know about Hubspot. Hubspot leads the way in making the internet work. They sell software that turns the internet into a tool that can guide and measure what you are doing—something churches need to do.

Your evangelism team can learn a lot from following Hubspot online. They publish tons of free resources—they advocate blogging!

Shah recently published two posts. He practices what he preaches, you see.

Let’s look at one today and see how his business advice applies to the Church. We’ll save the second one for tomorrow.

Simple Daily Habits of the Delightfully Successful

1. Walk away from gossip.

The Church is often driven by gossip. That gossip often comes from the highest levels of church. It’s hard for underlings to walk away when leaders are gossiping.

But wait a minute. Don’t we Lutherans believe we are all equal — all saint and sinners?

How many church conflicts start with gossip? How many are fueled for years by gossip?

Gossip is a tool of the powerful. Power thrives on no one questioning. Yet, questioning or ignoring gossip, no matter who generates it, are the only ways to keep the Church from imploding.

Shah’s advice: Talk to people, not about them.

2. Spend five minutes in another person’s shoes.

Focus on others. What does this congregation need? What does this pastor need? What do lay members need? We are interdependent in our structure, but how much time do we really spend thinking about how our actions affect others?

We visited one church where ministry was stalled because their educational wing lacked handicapped accessibility. They had the will and the manpower to operate a dayschool, but couldn’t conquer the property issue—at least by themselves. But it was unlikely that anyone would help them. Pity!

What if every church leader made this one question the key part of leadership strategy?

What can I do to help?

Shah says: The best way to build your own long-term success is to help other people succeed.

3. Give one person unexpected praise.

We all need an “attaboy” now and then—especially when the road is rocky and goals are challenging. Shah points out that choosing to find the good in others cost us nothing but brands us “in an awesome way.”

Many a small congregation suffers from low self-esteem. We feel as if our only value to the Church is our ability to support the greater church—and our ability to do that is waning. We don’t get many “attaboys.” We are barely noticed until it is too late. Time to turn that around!

4. Do one thing no one else is willing to do.

Here is where many congregations make a huge mistake. Most congregation strive to do the very same things their neighbors are doing. In fact, we are encouraged to be like everyone else.

There is a reason for that. We look for what unites us, what defines us.

What if we looked for that extra thing that makes us stand out—makes us the leaders in a particular niche.

Redeemer did this on at least two fronts. We reached out to the growing East African population in our region and we started a serious online ministry. Doing this has led us to other niche ministries. An amazing journey!

5. Shine the spotlight on one person.

Find opportunities to publicly praise others. We in the church spend a lot of time praising professional leadership, honoring clergy achievements and milestones. What might happen if the tables were turned and the achievements of congregations were publicly praised? A collective “attaboy”?

Heaven forbid the leadership of laity be celebrated at the regional level!

Sharing the spotlight might just be the spur that laity need. It might make us feel a little less used and useless. It might be motivational. It might be transformational!

6. “Sell” one thing.

Selling, Shah points out, is the ability to explain the reasoning, logic and benefits of a decision or a perspective in order to get buy-in. He adds: Selling is the ability to overcome skepticism or doubt.

Sounds like evangelism! Yet many people in church life—clergy and lay alike—have no sales/evangelism skills. Martin Luther tried to help us. He wrote his catechisms so that any one of us could explain our faith. Reread them! Put them to work! (And read your Bible, too.)

7. Give one person an unexpected hand.

Shah makes a good point. Most people have a very tough time asking for help. It’s hard to face rejection. It is hardest to face rejection when help is most needed.

He advises us to create an atmosphere where people feel they can ask for help. You do this by making it a habit to offer help.

“Offer to help in a way that feels collaborative instead of gratuitous or patronizing. And then actually help.”

8. Admit one failing.

Laugh at yourself. Say you are sorry. Admit you aren’t perfect even as we
strive for perfection.

Shah says there are two reasons to take this approach.

  1. It’s good for us. It helps us improve our weaknesses.
  2. It adds to likability. You’ll like yourself better and so will others.

Who joins a church where they don’t like the people?

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Resurrection: The Goal of Transformation

Transformation Isn’t Built in A Day

We are in the middle of Holy Week at a time in history when the Church longs for a new resurrection. We are ready to celebrate, once again, the Resurrection—the big one. The one with the capital “R”.

This Easter, the greater Church is struggling with resurrection.

From our distant vantage point, the Resurrection seems to have happened so very quickly—three years of wandering the byways of Judea with a little escalating trouble here and there. Suddenly, the faithful are standing at the foot of the cross and then—voila!—Christ rises from the dead. We compress the entire story in our minds. We concentrate on the three days. Alleluia!

We are in a hurry with our modern short attention spans, so we gloss over the Old Testament build up. The Jews waited centuries for that day—generations born and buried! Some modern scholars are now making the case that Jesus ministry, traditionally encapsulated into three years, probably lasted at least two decades.

The process of nurturing is slow and tedious. It is not steady. Mistakes and failures are rungs in the ladder to success. It is no place for leaders looking for the quick turnaround, especially today.

Today, we are building on decades of neglect—inadequate ministry. The corporate approach to church leadership was to provide as much ministry as a community could afford—at salary levels that were outpacing those of the people being served. Investing in new methods or outreach was not considered.

We did not believe our own message.

When things weren’t so dire, we pinched pennies. We played it safe. We camouflaged our neglect with terminology that seemed kind—caretaker ministries—stewardship.

Caretaker ministries have only one outcome—failure. Any pennies spent on these ministries are pennies squandered.

Neglect is neglect.

Caretaker ministries are all about protecting assets—and not for the ministries that provided the assets. Greed enters the picture. Feelings of superiority justify the coveting of others property. Stories are invented (gossip) to justify the feelings of superiority. The devil is creative!

This leads to more caretaking and more intentional neglect.

Don’t waste resources on congregations that are going to die in 30 years.

That’s the advice of church consultants who are now experiencing their own endangered status.

Transformation is a slow process. Progress is incremental. Churches are not going to resurrect ministry in three days or three years. But they can be nurtured back to life. That used to be the job of ministry.

Redeemer, with its wealth of experience over the last two decades, had been following the incremental path toward transformation. We were making great progress when church leadership decided they might be missing their opportunity to get their hands on our property and endowments. Their intentional neglect wasn’t working the way they thought it would.

They tried for 20 years—incorporating escalating tactics of neglect. At last they got their way —not based on the law or their own governance but based on the separation of church and state. The secular courts can’t stop them. The law requires them to police their own behavior. That requires more fortitude than the modern church can muster.

But Redeemer soldiers on. We continued to tweak our ministry even with our unwelcome—even persecuted, nonexistent status in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

We learned a lot. We’ve been sharing what we learn and will continue.

We’ve reached 30,000 readers in the last three months. More than any other congregation that voted to destroy our ministry!

Our transformation has been slow and productive. Time for our resurrection.

Redeemer lives.

Here’s an interesting TED talk on the process of transformation.

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Pakistani Christians March on Palm Sunday

It was a rough year for Christians in Pakistan. Hundreds were killed and injured in terrorist bombings only months ago (September). Their presence in the streets on Palm Sunday is all the more remarkable knowing that their witness is not made without risk.

The risk of discipleship is part of the Passion story we will live this week.

Thanks for sharing with us, Pakistan. Lift high the cross.


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A Remarkable Palm Sunday

10246426_10202895967336001_2754904152152544148_n 10176055_10202895967576007_4888172750327810463_nCongregation celebrates Palm Sunday history

A member of Redeemer was honored this Palm Sunday. Pastor Luther Gotwald helped to lead St. David’s commemorative Palm Sunday Parade in Davidsville, Pa. Pastor Gotwald (my dad) was St. David’s pastor for 20 years.

St. David’s was a small neighborhood congregation that was divided in 1965 when he accepted their call. They had a building with an educational addition within walking distance of most of the village.

Half of the congregation wanted to continue ministry in the existing building. The other half wanted to build a new building at the edge of town.

Many pastors might turn down such a challenge. These days, the prevailing wisdom is to assign interim pastors to work out problems so “called” pastors don’t have to.

Pastor Gotwald knew that controversy dealt with, not ignored, can lead to good things.

During his first year in Davidsville, Pastor Gotwald visited every member of the congregation. He did little but listen. “I never told anyone which way to vote. I just made sure every voice was heard.”

The congregation decided to build a new building. On Palm Sunday, 1966, the congregation marched from the old building to the new site, singing hymns all the way. Young people led the parade that day, carrying the altar cross and chancel accoutrements.

In the past 50 years (20 of them under Pastor Gotwald’s leadership) St. David’s has grown to be one of the largest congregations in the Allegheny Synod.

With development, the new building, opposed in part because it was on the outskirts of town, now sits once again in the middle of the village.

On this occasion, I asked my dad about each of the four churches he served.

He spent seven years serving a two-point charge in Northumberland County, Pa. Two small churches shared his time in ministry. Trinity, he said, didn’t grow while he was there, but he added that the church was filled every week. Grace doubled in size during his tenure.

He then accepted a call to another small neighborhood church in Emigsville, near York, Pa. The tiny church was bustling with activity. The church was located on a back street of the village. Pastor Gotwald led the church in considering relocating—an obvious need if the congregation was to change with the neighborhood. A plot of land had been donated. Plans were drawn. The Synod looked over the plans and nixed them. They wanted the church on a major road. The donated land was just off a major road, situated prominently on a hill, visible from the main road.

The lack of synod support doomed plans for growth. St. Mark’s is still a small congregation on a back street of a village that has now been swallowed up by York. Major businesses relocated nearby as did one of York’s major high schools.

That donated lot that could have been the new church home is now in the middle of all the development. Its steeple, had it ever been built, would dominate the view from the main thoroughfare.

Church “experts,” who had to have things their way, squandered a congregation’s best chance at growth.

In his retirement years, Luther Gotwald actively advocates for Redeemer. He joined the congregation in 2009 when his congregation in western Pennsylvania voted to leave the ELCA. He supported Redeemer’s mission plan. He knew something about growing churches and uniting congregations in mission.

When he joined Redeemer, he asked to have his clergy roster status transferred from the Allegheny Synod to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. SEPA’s Bishop Claire Burkat denied his request.

No independent thinkers need apply.

Sadder things were to come. When Bishop Claire Burkat decided to remove Redeemer from the SEPA roster of congregations without consulting with the congregation, the congregation opposed her actions—as is their right. Bishop Burkat chose to sue the congregation and individual lay members (including me). Luther Gotwald sent letters pointing pastors to the Articles of Incorporation and constitutions, which forbid these actions. He was publicly ignored but sharply ridiculed behind the scenes. Go home, Yankee.

With nothing more mission-minded to do, the Synod Council of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (elected to represent congregations) wrote to the Bishop Gregory Pile of the Allegheny Synod. They were upset that Luther Gotwald was addressing an issue they were all avoiding—the treatment of Redeemer, East Falls. Most, if not all, signed a letter requesting Bishop Pile to officially censor Pastor Gotwald.

This is the Lutheran church, the denomination that grew from dissent. We used to be proud of that.

They might have looked into things a bit before taking such embarrassing action on behalf of all the churches in SEPA Synod.

Pastor Gotwald left St. David’s to serve as the only assistant to the bishop of the newly formed Allegheny Synod, where part of his job was making sure constitutions were followed. He had also served for many years as the parliamentarian at Synod conventions. He knows church rules.

SEPA Synod Council probably didn’t know Bishop Pile succeeded Pastor Gotwald in service to St. David’s. He also succeeded the bishop Pastor Gotwald had worked with. These men have high regard for one another.

Bishop Pile was not pulled into SEPA’s hateful vendetta.

In the photo below, Bishop Pile is in the center and Luther Gotwald is on the right. Pastor Gotwald is still respected as a faithful, loving pastor, who occasionally takes an unpopular stand based on his experience, knowledge of church history, and ELCA constitutional structure.

The Church needs more pastors like him.

Great day in Davidsville, Pa. Congratulations, St. David’s—and you, too, Dad.


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Thou Shalt Not Steal—Think Again!

mouseIt’s OK! We have permission. The great thinker of the modern business world, Seth Godin, has said it . . . and published it.

We can steal.

He’s talking about building on the work of those who went before us. It’s OK to use the systems devised by others to run efficient businesses. As long as a payroll, assembly line, website platform and tools developed by someone else work—use them. Don’t waste time and money reinventing.

Instead, put your energy into developing new ideas and products.

This is the dilemma that the Church faces today.

The structure of mainline Church, developed in America over the last 200 years, built upon the structure of the church in Europe, created over turbulent centuries. We thought we corrected a few things. We grew out of the Reformation and many of our ancestors, including my own, fled Europe for a fresh religious start.

None of this works anymore.

The failure of the prestigious Alban Institute—the gurus of church leadership—is proof that we are consistently returning to a tainted well. All those high-paid church consultants couldn’t keep their own boat afloat—yet they were at the ready to tell us what we are doing wrong!

Rest easy. They are still available as private consultants.

Prediction: congregations that can still afford their services will keep turning to them for help. It doesn’t matter if their advice no longer works. It is still “gold” within the church.

Perhaps we need to be more selective and find some new places to practice our thievery.

The Church in Europe is suffering perhaps more than in the New World. There, standing in silent witness, are thousands of beautiful sanctuaries that exist for tourist, historical, cultural and ceremonial purposes. They may still function as worshiping communities, but the deep rows of pews are often empty. The beautiful art and architecture is witness to a passion, now faded.

The Church is not dying from religious wars. We haven’t been conquered by an opposing faith system.

We are withering in the hearts of people. The world changed. The Church didn’t. People joined the world.

Those who remain follow the same systems—the same structures—the same thinking. They have faith in the past.

Redeemer Ambassadors have visited a couple of congregations that are thriving—neither of them Lutheran. They ARE gathering young people and energizing them. The two we visited have no building of their own. They rent space — and fill it. Between two and three hundred members between 25 and 40 in worship every week! The very demographic absent in the mainline denominations.

Does the mainline Church learn from these newer, more successful models? Are we able to apply what these movements are learning to our own ministries?

No. We tend to look at their efforts to find fault.

  • We look for problems in their methods.
    Like we don’t have these problems.
  • We look for problems in theology.
    Like we don’t have these problems.
  • We look for problems in sustaining the model.
    Like we don’t have these problems.
  • We look at budgets we can only dream of making and suspect unethical stewardship.

Sour grapes?

But now we have permission. It’s OK to steal.

The mainline Church needs to seriously look at objectives and consider that the structure in which we have invested our future may no longer support our mission.

Time to steal another system.


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5 Important Reasons to Get Members to Camp

familycampThe Best Investment A Small Church Can Make

Many denominations have invested in land and the infrastructure to provide summer camps for their congregations. Often this is considered to be something for the kids — fun in the great outdoors with a little spiritual enrichment around the campfire at night. A summer break for the parents!

Church camps are a greatly overlooked resource for all church members—especially small churches.

Church camping is hands down the best investment in the future a small church can make, yet many churches do little to promote involvement.

At Redeemer, we encouraged our families to attend family camp—growing the skills of adults while creating important bonding opportunities for families and church members.

Church camp is an investment in your congregation’s future—and your ability to achieve those lofty missions!

Here’s why.

1. Camp actively nurtures spirituality.

Clergy often do not recognize just how scary spirituality is for lay people.

Lay people live in the secular world. We are expected to keep our spirituality to ourselves.

Clergy live in a culture where society expects them to talk in terms of God and faith. They won’t be criticized in public for speaking from a Christian point of view.

Lay people are encouraged in our faith on Sunday and discouraged the other five days of the week. We risk being labeled—“the church lady,” “the Jesus freak.” The labels CAN hold us back from promotion in our world.

This affects lay Christians’ spiritual confidence.

While society lures us away, camp can pull us back. For five or six days, in the company of other spiritual seekers—each on our own faith journey—we lay people can charge our spiritual batteries without fear of judgment.

2. Camp is a process of self-discovery.

Speaking of judgment—church culture can be unintentionally limiting. While most churches encourage involvement it is usually in a vetted way. If your skill set happens to include singing alto, there will be a place for you in the choir. But what if you play the tuba!

The Church may never ask us to do what we are really good at. They may not know us well enough —even after years of involvement. Really, how much can you learn about another person by attending worship and potluck dinners!

Sometimes we, ourselves, have yet to discover our full potential. We are Peters waiting for someone to come along, call us, and give us a chance. Often it never happens.

Church camp gives lay people the opportunity to explore. There will be less structured worship and all kinds of activities—crafts, service, music, acting, sports, challenges, etc.

3. Camp nurtures lay leadership.

Strengthened as individuals, your members will return to your congregation pumped to serve.  One year, three of our boys were so excited with the songs they learned at camp that they just had to stand up in front of the congregation and teach them. This was the first time they led the congregation but it wasn’t the last time!

Adults who have been to camp are equally more likely to step forward and lead. It may not be in worship. They may forge an entirely new direction for your congregation.

4. Church camp provides a new environment.

This was important to Redeemer. Many of our members were recent immigrants. They knew little about America outside the urban scene. At church camp, they saw a different side of their new home.

Actually, some of our older members were uncomfortable leaving the lit streets of the city. Camp helped them, too.

As a neighborhood church (like most churches) we could get caught up in the local scene. Getting away for even a few days helped us see our church in a different way—as something bigger than ourselves.

The change in environment can be equally important to all congregations. Camp is an opportunity to put aside the cellphones and laptop/pads for a few days, to focus on relationship with God, and break out steer out of our ruts toward the future.

5. Camp is one of the only places where congregations interact.

Denominations sponsor occasional seminars—usually lasting a couple of hours. Relatively few attend. Camp is one place Christians interact for several days. Powerful stuff.

Some congregations go to camp as a congregation, holding retreats for just their community or for just their youth.

The real strength in getting your congregation involved in church camping is the opportunity to interact with members of other congregations—strengthening one another. I suspect that even church camps haven’t fully developed this. There’s a lot more they could be doing with their unique status in church structure. But even so, when your families eat, play, worship and learn together for five or six days with other Christian families, they bring new ideas back to your congregation.

Redeemer’s commitment to church camping helped create a congregation of leaders—which the greater church didn’t know what to do with. We invested in our future wisely by subsidizing getting our families to camp right up until our denomination took all our resources to subsidize themselves!

Talk about squandering!

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Adult Object Lesson: Palm Sunday

bicycle manJesus Enters Jerusalem Riding A Colt

Matthew 11:1-11

Your object today is a model car or vehicle. Your choice should complement the slant of your message.

Today is Palm Sunday. There will be much talk about Jesus finally getting his due. He will be treated like royalty as he approaches Jerusalem.

Some spectators will sacrifice their garments to mark Jesus way.

Others will cut palm branches and use them to line the official route.

Word that Jesus is coming will precede his arrival. People will have eyes on the horizon. Some will climb towers or trees to get a better view.

Crowds will gather near the gate.

And then someone with a sharp eye and a good position will call out.

“Here he comes.”

The crowd is expecting the miracle worker who just raised Lazarus from death. Few will know him by sight. Most will be looking for some sign to set him apart.

Remember, Jesus looked like everyone else. When He is with the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, it will take the betrayer’s kiss to identify him.

Really, he’s not unlike most rulers. If they didn’t wear crowns or robes, we wouldn’t know them from the peasantry. That’s what crowns and sceptres and all the accoutrements of royalty and power are for! Jesus didn’t need them.

So everyone looks to the horizon to see the powerful man who can cure the blind and bring the dead to life. If no one else has crowned him, they just might. And that’s what the crowd watching from the terraces of the government buildings are worried about.

There is a crowd with Jesus. Which one is the miracle worker?

It must be that man in the center who is riding a colt. Not a majestic steed. Not an armor-clad team towing a chariot. There are no body guards, no legions cutting a way for him through the crowd. Just Jesus on a colt—the only record we have of Jesus using anything but shoe leather express!

This Messiah, this anointed one, this Savior is coming to the city in humility.

Now turn to your object—the toy car or vehicle.

Ask your congregation to change the setting of today’s lesson to modern times. Have them describe what the scene might include today.

They might describe a scene like the Oscars, with red carpet, velvet ropes and security holding back the crowd. They might include the paparazzi, elbowing for the best angles. They might include reporters sticking microphones in Jesus face asking about Lazarus. They might describe the media vans parked near the city gate. They might have security shouting at the crowd on bullhorns. The truly imaginative might have a few helicopters hovering overhead.

Then ask them what kind of vehicle might a modern Jesus use to mark his arrival.

Let yout congregation decide. It might be any kind of vehicle—from a Rolls Royce to a limo to a smart car or beetle—or maybe even a bicycle or skateboard! Ask them what message their choice conveys.

If they think they are being asked to overthink this, point out that God had thought this through long ago.

Palm Sunday didn’t just happen. It was planned. Jesus choices were foreshadowed in the Old Testament. It was just as scripted as the Oscars, but scripted in humility.

Then ask them what the people might have thought when they saw Jesus riding a borrowed colt.

They might not have realized at the time that they had already seen the trailer (but Jesus did?)

Zechariah 9:9
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So as king, Jesus requisitioned the donkey and its mother to carry him into the city.

Gentle and humble. Nothing to suggest power and might.

A true lesson in leadership!

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