Conflicting Views Arise

I hate conflict, with a passion. I have to admit that I try my best to avoid it at all cost. However, conflict comes to all churches in various ways. If you are the pastor that means you will often be the one to manage conflict. I do not have the perfect answer to all problems, but here are some insights of conflict in a small-town church.

1) All conflict involves everyone.

 

Whether it is a couple going through a divorce, board members in disagreement, or a family dealing with illness bringing conflict from the stress; the conflict affects everyone. It always amazes me that people in a small-town church think their issues and disagreements are private or unknown affairs. The reality is everyone knows something is wrong, and in some way it will have a negative effect on everyone.

2) Most churches live in avoidance, causing small issues to become large issues.

Conflict is considered so evil by most people that any level of disagreement is pushed into the background. Many small issues build until, like a volcano building pressure, things explode. Then people say things they wouldn’t otherwise say and do things they would otherwise not do.

3) The heart of most conflict is an improper view of me, we, and He.

We all are born into sin, and selfishness often rears it’s head and causes us to take up issues that are me verses we issues. When we push our issues against others we forget that in the church, it is supposed to be a we mentality, because we should work in community. Even more important, we forget that in the church it isn’t about me and it isn’t about we because in reality it’s about He. We are not the body of ourselves, our town, our denomination, or our church. We are a part of the Body of Christ, so it is about Him.
Conflict can’t always be avoided, but we can be calmer through conflict if we take a lot more time to pray through issues, and follow the good advice of Matthew 18.

1) Deal with conflict early at the smallest level possible.

Don’t let things build until it explodes. Instead involve only those who need to be. Never drag others into the problem who aren’t involved.

2) Only escalate situations to involve others if necessary.

Jesus said to take a friend if we can’t solve the solution. And, we only involve the leaders if that doesn’t work.

3) If situations come to the point that it can’t be resolved never stop praying.

Jesus says to treat a person lost in their sin, who we have tried to reach as we would other sinners. In history many thought this meant to disown or ignore them. However, when we see how Jesus treated sinners it changes our view. He kept trying to reach them ate with them and gave them dignity. We should never let our conflict keep us from praying and caring for the others we are in conflict with. In the end, if it isn’t about you or me, and it is about Christ we should beware that both sides may be wrong. Praying for others often brings clarity and understanding as the Holy Spirit works on our hearts.

4) Pray, Pray, Pray:

We can never underestimate the power of prayer to change our hearts and to overcome the greatest conflicts. We must pray and take time away from the situation to gain better perspective and direction in all situations. The Holy Spirit can change things in us and in situations that nothing we do can ever overcome. So, it should be our first, continual, and last step in dealing with any level of conflict. Trust God’s Spirit to guide you through.
May God Bless you in your leadership journey.

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Finding Balance

By Duane Cragun
In the ministry we tend to be extremely busy people no matter what the size of the church in which we serve, and I think that in a smaller church setting it can be even more so. I know that in my last church setting after being there ten years, the people decided that the mid-week teachers all told me they could no longer teach these classes, and no new teacher would step up to take their place. Our Worship leader was unable to continue do to health issues and our pianist left. So guess who took over their duties? You guessed it, my wife and I. She taught Junior Church every Sunday morning, I taught the Adult Sunday School, Preached both morning and evening Worship services, and I taught the Youth and adults on Wednesday night one right after the other, and then I taught the youth on Thursday night. I also ran a small group study in Tuesday nights and my wife and I also cleaned the church and took over the duties of song leaders, as well as taking care of the canned music and video projector. I discovered something out of all of this, the more I did, the less I achieved, the more I did, the weaker my family life became, the more I did, the less my son enjoyed being a pastors kid. So what’s the answer?

The answer is to find balance in our ministry and family pursuits. But how? Let me suggest a few things, first of all, evaluate what we are doing. All these classes Connie, my wife and I were teaching, did we need them all if no one was willing to lead them? In fact I did close Sunday School the last year that I was there simply because it went down to 5 people attending, but what I did was try to get more people to come in that time slot by having a fellowship time with coffee and donuts, that the people started taking turns in bring in. What this did was two things, (1) it brought more people into that time slot and (2) it started redeveloping leaders to take charge of bring the donuts and things. Another aspect pf evaluation is, it causes us to let things go that are not building the Lords Kingdom and gives us more time to attend to the things that do build the Kingdom. We get so busy doing ministry, that we don’t minister to the people as we should, this includes our families, that are also our parishioners, they need us to be there pastors and also their fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives. They need us to take vacations, be available for school programs and in short be there for them, not just as a tired pastor but as family as well. 

Another aspect is leadership development. This is a must, the cause of Christ needs these people to reach out and lead the flock set before them. If a class isn’t reaching anyone, why do it for the sake of just doing it, instead let’s look for new avenues to minister in and develop people to take an interest in leading these endeavors. 

In short, a tired overburdened pastor does very little good at all. Be healthy and pray for wisdom and please take time to be with your families, and your selves, God loves you and so do I

Blessings

Distribution Principle in Ministry

Some of you are already worried that we are getting into math or algebra, I can see the worry on your faces.  However, I’m not talking about mathematical equations.  I’m talking about ministry distribution.

Over the years I have listened to various speakers who share on issues of distributing the work of ministry over to others.  I have also witnessed and experienced when ministry isn’t distributed well among the people.  It can wear down the person or the few persons who are in charge.

In a recent training session I was with a group of our leaders and sharing about this idea of distributing the work of discipleship. I first asked, ‘how many people can one person on average handle caring and deeply ministering too?’  The answer from one person was “Eleven,” and from another it was  “Three.”  I encouraged from my education and experience that we could go in the middle somewhere.  I know there are rare cases, like Jesus, when people are capable of pouring themselves out to more than ten people.  However, for most of the average followers of Jesus I would say it is likely that they are equipped to handle about five people.

Going off of my suggested number of one person deeply influencing five others I made a web on the board to show how more people could be reached by this method of sharing ministry than by one person trying to meet everyone’s needs.  One of the leaders in the study then pointed out that since the church is built on the concept of encouraging one another that also means that, ‘no one is alone.  All of us, even the leaders have five or six others to turn to.  We should never be going to one person for all our needs.’

So, my question to you is this: are you working within your limits and strengths?  We don’t like to see ourselves as limited.  Yet, when we recognize how our lives truly work we will become far more effective.  If you can handle seven or eight others to pour your life into, then pick some people who have the potential to grow.  Then as they grow they can take on ministry within the church as well.

The more people you have covering needs such as teaching, hospitality, greeting, follow-up visitation, visiting and prayer for sick or shut-ins the more people the church can touch strongly with the love of Jesus Christ.  The more people involved the more we can feel like we are not alone.  The more people involved the stronger the Church will be.

Take some time to evaluate what your doing.  Where can you invite others to join you in the work of Christ this week?  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the way to involve others more.

 

(Photo Courtesy of Pixaby.com , Public Domain)

Surrender, Never Quit

By R. Duane Cragun

I was raised by a former US Marine who served in Korea, in fact even though I knew he was wounded during that war I never know until he passed that he had been given two Purple Heart medals (I only know this after reading his discharge papers.) I tell you this because he had a saying that he would repeat often, “never surrender, never quit.” He would say this to my brother and I every time things got tough, in fact he would mumble this to himself when time’s were difficult for him as well.

I know that any role in the Ministry of Jesus the Christ can indeed be tough and I think it may even be truer for those of us that serve in smaller church settings. Often when hard times come we feel alone, we have no staff people to talk to, maybe no close fellow pastors to discuss the situation with. It can be daunting to say the least. We can’t let the congregation down, and let us not forget that we are also our families pastor, we have to be strong for them as well. “Never surrender, never quit.” This become a way of life for us even though it may be tearing us apart inside. But I have something that I hope you will consider, what if we change this old saying to something a little more biblically true. How about saying “I’ll only surrender to the Lord, then I will never give up.” What will this do for our sense of being in this alone? After all it’s not our church, but His, so if He has called us, then we are never really alone are we.

I have mentioned that I served in my past small church assignment for 10 years, some were very good years and some not, and I felt very much as if I were alone during the bad times, that was until I came to understand this point of view that I’ll only surrender to the Lord, then I will never quit. This understanding allowed me to do a few things. (1) I found an accountability partner. We need someone to open up to and also to hold us accountable to our calling. (2) It drove home that fact that the Lord go’s before me, after me and beside me. I am never alone, never left hanging and I am never out of his protection. (3) It gave me confidence to do what he has told me to do. I listen to wise counsel and gave matters much prayer, but when I sensed he will, I discovered that I had a new confidence to go forward in His name and power.

So, what does this mean for you? The same is it does for me. I am nobody special, just a man set free from his sins through the grace and blood of Christ, and called to ministry, but I offer this to you. Call upon Him, trust in Him, and He will be with you, he won’t take away the trouble all the time, but he will go through the problem with you! I offer my ear and my prayers to you if you need to talk to someone, and I know that my friend and editor of this blog will do the same, you can contact him or me at robertcragun@frontier.com if you need someone. You’re not alone my friends, the Lord is with you and so are we. Its one big team and we all belong to Him and each other.

God bless

Duane Cragun

 

(Photo via <a href=”https://www.goodfreephotos.com/”>Good Free Photos</a>)

Planning in Ministry: 3 Considerations

by D.G. Shipton

We are in the early day’s of a New Year, and it is a fresh start for us all.  It is a good time to reflect back on what you have been doing, with God’s help.  It is also a great time to think about what is to come in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

In the past several years I have been learning more and more to plan my busy schedule, because in the Small-Town ministry it is easy to get caught up in many different demands that can derail the main purpose of our service to God.  Most of my sermon schedules have grown from planning series, to planning an entire year, at least last year.  Many of the churches activities and ministries have plans that must be made, so that letters, notes, and promotions can be made up and distributed in timely manner.

Planning in ministry will keep you on track in those days when you wonder if you are really making an impact, and whether the effort is worth it.  When you have a plan, it can keep you focused even through these tough times.

Planning in ministry helps to keep others informed.  If you have to promote events planning is essential, so that you can get promotions out ahead of time.  Since most of our events in the Small-Town setting are carried out with volunteers, planning helps to keep those involved informed and up to date with changes and needs.  You will also be able to seek out the advice or ideas of others for projects, teaching, preaching or other ministry when they are included in the plan.

Planning in ministry helps to create clarity and variety in ministry.  Clarity of information and teaching or preaching grows stronger as you plan ahead.  It gives time to get needed research so that you can present a clearer understanding of the subject.  It helps with variety, since you are less likely to repeat the same stories or even the same songs as often if you have a plan to follow.

The challenge for you is to take some time in these early days of the year to give thanks to God for what he has allowed you to help with in the past year.  Then take some time in prayer and thought to plan what God may want to do in the coming year in your ministry.  May God help you as you plan ahead in the ministry you have been given.

 

                         ( Photo via <a href=”https://www.goodfreephotos.com/”>Good Free Photos</a> )

Advice for the Small Town Pastor, By a Small Town Pastor (part 3) “Putting it All Together”

By R. Duane Cragun,

 

Over the past two weeks we have discussed listing and learning from our congregation members and the community, and evaluating your situation for ministry. Now today is when we starting putting things together.

The think that I discovered when I started putting all the information and materials together was that I need help! For some reason we, as both ministers and people, tend to think it’s me against the world sometimes, but this simply isn’t the case. If we look at the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus the Christ, He certainly was in a, me against the world situation, yet look what he chose to do. Jesus picked 12 men to come along side of Him in His ministry of Salvation. Jesus the “Son of God”, the “King of kings”, the” Great I am,” the one who had all authority chose to have a “leadership team” on board and serving with Him. Yes Jesus had divine understanding but what about us, how do I a simple humans do this within our own church settings? Here what I learned.

Once we see a need that we are lead to address, and we have discerned what will be needed and how to obtain what we may not have access to as of yet, how do we build up a team of helpers?

I was in a church that was a good bunch of people, but they had no vision, yet I understood that I needed them to help me, so when I saw an area to work in I gathered all the info I could in that area and all that we had or could gain access to use in this effort, then I went before the leadership of the church and presented them what I saw as a need to be addressed, the reasons why I saw this area at this time, and what I saw as the best way to work in this said need, then I did something that may surprise some of you, I asked them what they thought about all that I had presented to them. I did this in this fashion so that we would all be looking at the need in the same light. This brought about two vital things in the kingdom grown we were seeking to address.

First, by asking them, I was inviting them to take ownership of this particular avenue in the ministry of the church. It went from being what the pastor wants to do to something I also would like to do.

Second, this empowered the leadership of the church, before the pastor would come in and do his thing until they would live in two to four years, now they were being encouraged to be involved in what we, not I saw as an area of need in the churches ministry efforts. This is developing leaders with in the body.

Here’s the great thing about all of this, during my ten years at this church, I was only told we don’t think we need to work in that area 1 time, everything else I was given vison to be involved in was something the church leadership partnered with me on.

In short, treat your leaders as part of the team, a leader with no followers is doing very little, but a leader with a team around him can change the world they live in, just look what Jesus and His apostles did.

Blessing to you and your ministry.

Robert Duane Cragun

Advice for the Small-Town Pastor, from a Small-Town Pastor (Part 2) : Evaluation & Prayer

By R. Duane Cragun

In last week’s article I spoke about the need for a small town pastor, (or any pastor for that matter,) to listen and learn from the people, to understand what it is that they see as a need and areas to be addressed in the church and in the community as a whole. This week we are going to go a step beyond learning and move to the next phase, Evaluation.

 

Once we have discovered areas to address in the church and its ministry then we need move on to the task of Evaluation.  In this stage of Evaluation, we start doing two things, both equally important.  We pray for guidance in evaluating our ability to meet said needs, and then we pray for His provision to make it a reality.

My pastor friend I mentioned last week was going through some difficult times trying to do everything he had been taught.  Yet, when I talked to him he seemed unaware of ether some basic needs of his church or community, or what resources he had or did not have to try to meet those needs. Listening was something he had not developed, so I asked him to do this for a month and then get back with me.  When he called back he was better informed about his situation, but was still unsure about how to work towards meeting these needs.  In his situation, a major need was developing a stronger and larger youth group. He said “What can I do, I don’t have a gym?” Guess what, neither did I.   When I tried to address getting kids off the streets, I also thought about structured activities, so I evaluated what I did and did not have. What I did not have was a Gym or large space, our little town did not even have a park in it. What we did have were several people that also saw this as a major need in our community, many of whom offered to help me in this cause. We also had a school with a playground which was to be used only for school activities.

So what did this evaluation lead us to? I took this the discovered need and facts about the high levels of young people getting into trouble in the community, and I shared these findings with the local School board, the American Legions and the local Sheriff’s Department.  What came out of this were the following things.

The School decided to partner with us in two ways: (1) They allowed us to rent the school’s gym and playground areas during the warmer weather, for a very small fee, and listed it as community involvement. They even waved the normal insurance user fees for us.   (2) They helped me advertise this once every two-week activity night within the school’s system.

The American Legion decided to help fund some of the cost for our community youth activities.

The local Sheriff’s Department would sometimes send an officer by, simply to work on building relationships with these kids that only saw them as the bad guys.

We had such a large positive impact that the local community store started donating soda pop to be given to the young people.

Members of the church came down and assisted at our activity nights.

Finally, the people went from being groups of people that happened to live in the same area, to a group building a community.

How did all happen? By evaluating both the need and how to best address that need.

No church can do everything, but with a great deal of prayer and evaluating the situation we can decide what we need to focus our efforts on and how to attempt meet that need. Like a very good friend, Dr. Jim Dunn used to tell me, “Keep the gold and get rid of the dirt.”  Discover what is needed and how to achieve the goals that the Lord gives you.  Through His grace, you can make a difference!

Advice for the Small-Town Pastor, From a Small-Town Pastor (Part 1)

By R. Duane Cragun

 

Today I had lunch with a fellow pastor of a larger church. During our conversation he asked me if I had ever been asked advice from another pastor in my type of setting, I responded “yes, I have.” Then he surprised me by telling me he was going on a mission trip and one place he would be stopping was a church of only nine people, then he said, “What do I do?”  This took me back to a friend that called me and asked the same question about six years ago, he was trained like most of us by different pastor’s and profs, that had served in a larger church setting. Nothing he had been told seemed to work, he had no staff, little funds, no space, and the people seemed to resist any changes that he wanted to bring to the church.  I pondered my response to him, and I have decided to write a three-part blog about what I have learned over the years I have served in a small church setting.

Part 1. Learn:

This may sound odd to you, but the greatest thing we can do when serving ether in a larger congregation or a smaller one is to learn from our people.  We learn by listening to what they say, and looking for areas that seem to be of concern to them. Remember, many smaller churches have a history of changing pastors every two to four years, they have not really had a chance to every develop a vision for their church ministry. In my own experience, I went to a church that was 115 years old and I was the 84th Pastor, you do the math.  The fact is that they would often say to me, “We are a good place for starting pastors.” When I asked about their missional vision, they had no idea of what the vision was. So, I spent the first two years learning about them, which also allowed them to learn about me.

I didn’t just look at old glory day records, I talked with people that remembered them.  I also conversed with them about why those days had ended. This does not mean that I am not a progressive pastor, I am, but I also know that people will resist change that seems to exclude their wishes and likes. Many of the prior pastors where young, just out of college.  They were pastors that wanted to make the next mega church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it cannot be done by excluding the current church body. So, I took some time to learn my congregation.

I also learned about the social needs within our community. Here are some of my findings see if they reflect any in your situation. I found a high divorce rate, high unemployment, high drug and alcohol consumption, and a high school level or less for the average education of the people. Learning this helped me to understand how to speak to needs within the community and how to better communicate to the people.

I became involved in the community watch program as this town was so small it did not even have a police officer. I started volunteering in the local school system to learn what the younger members of our community saw as important within the church. In all of these things, I learned about the people of the community in which I served.

I learned very quickly that the members the congregation did not want two things to happen, (1) they did not want any “big church pastor to tell them what to do in their small church.”  It was not that they didn’t like the larger church.  They just did not like be treated, or what they saw a being treated, like dumb people by those in a larger church. (2)  They didn’t want the pastor making big plans and then leave them with the continuation or problems.

When you are called to a smaller church setting, be prepared to commit to seeing it through. I stayed ten years at my last church assignment, and many changes were made.  This included me teaching them to stop saying “we are a good place for starting pastors.” Instead they began saying “we are a good place to pastor.” But it all has to start by being still and listing.

A Living Part of Our Communities

I walk down the halls of the local school, and I think of the kids and families of my community.  We are not unique, but an average Mid-American rural community.  Yet, the people are important to me.

  My wife an I have lived just under ten years.  We have watched children grow up from elementary through college, and some we have known since they we a few hours old.  I substitute  in the local nd help our local Youth For Christ leader, and it is great to see how young people are comfortable with me many time.

I learned long ago in ministry that I have a much more interaction with my community, by simply laying aside so called planned evangelistic outreach, and living life with the people of my community.  It is my community, and that is a key to small town and rural ministry, it may take time but when you really become a part of the community ministry takes a Kore comfortable and open place.

I encourage any pastor moving into a small town to get with other ministers for support.  However, to minister to people you have to become a true part of the community.  You have to work and play with them in the everyday, and in time you will hopefully be able to show them Jesus in all you do.

          Blessings on your ministry journey

Taking the Risk of Openness and Vulnerability in Ministry

miners castle Pictured Rocks Fall 2015

We live in a time when we are encouraged to be more open and even show vulnerability than when I first began my ministry journey. Most ministers I have met, and I myself have built up walls of protection over time. We are very cautious over who we let into the most intimate parts of our life. It can be very scary to open up about our weak areas or the greatest failures that we might have. We may fear judgment or worse yet that someone might use our pain against us in some way.

Ministry in any capacity is filled with a variety of pressures and problems. The pressure of ministry can cause us to feel like it is hard to keep balance and control in our lives. Ministry sometimes is like being the plate spinner at the circus. Except we are balancing on the high wire in a fifty-mile-an-hour wind, as we try to keep all the plates in balance.

We who minister truly do want to be open and honest with people. We want to show them where God has helped us through difficulties and blessed our lives. However, too much revelation might make it seem like we are encouraging people to go out and commit the very sins we are trying to steer them away from. Some people might even take such deeply personal information to use against us. To be open with others is a real risk.

Sharing in openness and does have risk and vulnerability, but it can draw you deeper with people. You will be more effective by being more authentic as well. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but here are a few things that I have learned with experience and time. The risk is well worth it, but we can be better prepared if we keep a few things in mind.

Three things I Have Learned About being Open and Vulnerable in Ministry

1. We Must Realize That Openness and Vulnerability Will Open us to Pain

You must accept the fact that in ministry journey we are going to experience pain. We will be rejected. We will be hated at times. There will be some who are angry at us with intent, but most people lash out at us out of weakness and brokenness in their own lives.

Jesus warned the disciples of people. He said, “If they hate you, remember thy hated me first”. Jesus was often despised by people when he opened up to them. They also tried using everything they knew about him to destroy his mission. They belittled his family and where he had grown up, to try to discredit his authority.

In my life, it has taken time, for me to grow in becoming more open in ministering to others. I thought I was open to people in the early days of my ministry, and then years ago I was confronted about how unopen and closed off I really was. We had just finished an open survey in the church, in which we ministered, and I was going through the responses. In response to whether I, the pastor, was open and approachable only one person out of many said no. However, that one “no” dug deep into my heart causing me to take some time to think.

It took some time, in fact, it took years, but I began to make changes. I started sharing more of myself and being more open. I admit I started very slowly but the openness with others has changed my whole leadership style and ministry dynamic. It has also allowed me and my wife to develop some very deep friendships, which we never truly had with people before becoming so open and vulnerable. Today I really couldn’t see myself ministering to others without developing close and open relationships with those I serve.

2. Openness in Right Doses

You notice that I said this process took time. I opened up in small ways in personal relationships and small groups. Eventually, I began to show vulnerability in my sermons. It took a few years before I became more comfortable with sharing my heart in more open ways. I am still careful with how far I share depending on the group I am with.

Today’s more open and honest ministry is a wonderful change to pastors who seemed unreal and plastic. However, some in ministry seem to downplay the consequences of poor choices. In an effort to be open it is easy to appear accepting of sin and even to cause a weaker person to stumble.
This is why sharing in right doses is critical. You can share past sins without hearing the details that destroy the witness of God. You can learn to be more open and vulnerable in sharing while still being professional and shedding positive light on the position God has placed you in.

You also need to know the audience and persons with whom you share well enough to know just how open you should be. Relationships take time, and all of us have people in our circles and ministries that we know we need to be more protective with, and other with whom we can be fully open. To know this takes time, and occurs as we live life together working and playing in various ways.

3. Develop Needed Accountability Friendships with Colleagues

In order for us to minister effectively into the lives of those we serve we need others outside to turn to for accountability. They can give us help and can call us out, or up, when we are in need.

I really feel the church is family, and we are to have deep relationships. However, the strongest of families often have parents who have close friendships outside the immediately family. They are there to pray and lift one another through the deep issues, so the family can be stronger. Parents cannot dump all of their issues on their children or it will destroy them. We who lead in God’s family need to keep this in mind too. Instead, we need others to help us bear the burdens of some issues in our own lives.

Find a person or small group of like-minded colleagues or ministers with whom you can bear your heart and deeper needs. Together you will find blessing and strength for your ministry journey. Be sure that you keep an agreement of confidentiality in your group. Also, be willing to make time with these people a priority, so that you can be stronger for the ministry you serve.

God calls us to be open, and vulnerable. To minister deeply requires developing more intimate and honest relationships. It is a risk, but one with both eternal and tempera rewards. I pray that God guides you in wisdom as you seek to lead and minister in His family.

Blessings on the journey with Jesus.