Eric Geiger - a Husband, Father, Author, Vice-President of LifeWay Church Resources

06.19.2014

A New Role? Consider the Push and the Pull

When leaders ask me about pursuing or considering a new ministry role, I ask them about the “push” and the “pull.”

The “push” is those things that cause you to want to leave the role you are currently in.

The “pull” is what excites you about the new opportunity.

Lessons I have learned about the “push” and the “pull”:

  • God may use some things in your current context to push you—to cause you to be open to a new role.
  • But be careful here. There will always be something you don’t like about your current context. There will always be challenges and difficult days. If you bolt every time there is a “push,” you will never plant deep roots and bear fruit in a context over a sustained period of time.
  • If all you have is a “push,” stay put. Work on your own heart. If there is not a distinct “pull” from the Lord, you are merely running from something and not to something.
  • Do not leave unless there is a strong “pull”—a strong nudge from the Lord. If you don’t have a strong “pull” to look back to, you will quickly discover a new set of “pushes” that will overwhelm you.
  • When you leave, speak about the “pull.” Don’t bring up the “push.” You will come off as bitter, lose credibility, and possibly hurt the people who are involved in the ministry or organization you are leaving.

A mentor of mine describes the brevity of our lives this way: “Your ministry is like a Snickers bar. You have four or five good bites and then it is over.” His point is that most of us have only a few “runs” in us, and then we are gone. Our life is a vapor, so we should want to make the most of the brief time that we have. And part of that is living with a sense of holy mission where we are, not spending our lives running from one “set of pushes” to another.

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06.05.2014

What happens when your discipleship pastor goes missing?

Leaders and organizations make decisions all the time. They choose a direction, allocate resources, and execute. Often there are unintended implications, sometimes good and sometimes bad. The unintended implications don’t necessarily reveal themselves immediately but are often more understood as time passes.

In the last 6-8 years, the role of “minister of education” or “discipleship pastor” has been diminishing in many churches. For those unfamiliar with the role, for many years, in churches of 200 or more, a minister of education/discipleship pastor was often hired to lead all the “education” or discipleship ministries of the church. The staff member typically provided direction to the adult groups either directly or through a team and led staff and leaders assigned to other age groups. So in those churches, a kids ministry director/pastor and student ministry director/pastor reported to the minister of education.

Depending on the context, there may be multiple reasons why churches moved away from the role. One, of course, was financial. Some churches and church leaders viewed the “minister of education” as middle management. And we know what happens to middle management in a financial crisis. Instead of leading through the minister of education/discipleship pastor, senior pastors/executive pastors decided they would lead the kids, students, and adult teams directly.

In some churches, the move has worked well. Senior pastors/executive pastors have stepped in and effectively filled the need that the minister of education was addressing. But in many churches, three unintended consequences have emerged.

1) The emergence of ministry silos

The discipleship pastor/minister of education met weekly with the discipleship staff. In healthy environments, the team cared for one another, read and prayed together, and looked to work together. At a minimum, each ministry leader had visibility into the other areas of ministry. With that team no longer meeting under a strong leader’s direction and no longer seeing the bigger picture together, ministry silos developed or were solidified in many churches. Instead of the church feeling like one church moving in the same direction, it feels like several different churches sharing space and officing down the hall from one another.

2) Loss of philosophical harmony

A strong discipleship pastor/minister of education works hard to ensure the discipleship team is on the same page in thinking about ministry (ministry philosophy). The discipleship pastor invests in the team, provides insight and encouragement, and facilitates discussions about the theology and ministry philosophy underneath all the ministry activities. With that ripped out of some staff teams, ministry activity without a coherent and consistent ministry philosophy increased. In other words, without a harmony around ministry philosophy, kids ministries may function with a completely different ministry philosophy than the student ministry or the adult ministry.

3) Loss of continuity

A strong discipleship pastor helps the team think through how people develop at different stages of life, how a child progresses from the kids ministry to the student ministry, and how the family is served along the way. Without philosophical harmony and with ministry silos, transitions from one ministry area to another are more difficult. After all, the ministries within the church are so radically different that it feels like a completely different church.

Surely we can agree that ministry silos foster disunity and that it’s wise for a church to be aligned in their ministry philosophy. Whether a church has a dedicated staff member that fully leads this endeavor or not, churches are wise to invest heavily in the discipleship ministries of the church.

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05.28.2014

Avoiding a Moral Fall

Every year dozens of pastors fall, and it’s almost always because of a moral failure. Not an ethical one, not a doctrinal one – a moral one. Why?

Mike Minter shares why this happens – pastors “get used to the dark.” That is, pastors become accustomed to the lower moral standards of the culture. Minter explains why this is so dangerous and calls pastors to a high moral standard then teaches some particular ways to maintain this.

Learn more about Ministry Grid and how it can help your church flexibly and effectively train volunteers.

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05.01.2014

4 Practices That Reduce Distractions in Worship Services

In his biography on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray writes about the seriousness and attentiveness that surrounded the preaching at Westminster Chapel in London during Lloyd-Jones’ ministry:

Silence prevailed in the large congregation. The stillness generally deepened as the service proceeded… There were certain arrangements designed to encourage quietness. For the first part of the service ushers always stood at the doors and no one was allowed to enter while prayer or the reading of Scripture was in progress. A crèche was provided for babies and infants. From about the age of three, children were usually in the church for the whole service, but if they could not be quiet the parent and child were expected to remove speedily to a rear hall where the service could be heard by relay. Any failure to depart could earn an intimidating look from the pulpit!

Some preachers are really good at preaching through distractions, while others really struggle to keep focus. Sadly, I am clearly in the second category and have many times struggled through portions of a sermon due to distractions in the congregation. In those moments, I hate that about myself and pray for grace—but I have not yet been delivered from the struggle.

Some of the more extreme distractions have been being told there is a woman in the balcony who has taken her shirt off (just before stepping on stage), seeing someone pass out in the middle of an aisle, a self-proclaimed prophetess standing up and debating a point of mine, a Spanish soap opera suddenly playing on the screens behind me, a man with a megaphone outside predicting a tsunami would strike Miami, and the sound system making sounds that can only be compared to someone passing gas. It is hard to plan for those. And policies should not be developed around the extreme.

The most common distractions are crying kids, cell phones ringing, and people moving around—particularly people moving in and out of the front sections.

Of course, distractions do not merely impact the one speaking. They also pull people’s attention away from the message at a critical moment and may disrupt the focus on the Word. Because it takes time for attention to be regained, even small distractions are not a small matter.

I have noticed, as I have spoken in different places, that some churches, like Westminster Chapel, do a great job of creating a culture or an expectation of listening and focus and thus minimizing distractions. As the speaker/preacher, the difference is quite noticeable. Here are four common practices I have observed in those churches:

1) Ushers seat people after the sermon begins

After the message begins, people can’t just walk in at any moment and to any part of the congregation. Ushers seat people in a specific location—particularly the back of the room so that there is less movement to distract the people.

2)People who need to leave are seated in the back when they return

Sometimes people need to leave during the sermon. The nursery sends a text to the mother. The bathroom calls. It happens. But when the people return, they don’t walk all the way to the front or to the center; they quietly take a seat in the rear of the room.

3) Provisions are made for babies

Churches who create the expectation of focus and listening know and can communicate how they handle crying babies. Some churches have rooms, as Lloyd-Jones did, where the sermon can be viewed so that parents with a small child can still watch the message without distracting others. Other churches don’t allow children under a certain age into the worship gathering. In other places, ushers will approach the family if a child begins to make too much noise. Every context is different, and this must be handled gently and with love by graceful and caring people, but it is clear which churches have a plan.

4) A culture is created where cell phones seem to go off less

In some church services people are asked to silence their phones. In others there are instructions given on slides or signs. But I can’t say that happens in each church that has a sense of attentiveness during the sermon because that is not the case. I have just noticed that in some congregations cell phones seem to ring much less compared to other congregations. I think it is about the overall culture created. If people sense that “this church really takes this moment seriously,” they are much more likely to quiet their cell phones.

My wife and I recently went to the musical Wicked. In a crowd of 2,000 people I did not hear one cell phone ring. Was it because of the signage or announcements? Those were present, but they may have merely helped to reinforce the mind-set that “this is an environment where people listen and pay attention.” I am embarrassed to say that we were a few minutes late for the performance. Ushers held us from entering and waited until a particular moment in the show to guide us to our seats. They didn’t want distractions to take away from the musical. The moment was protected because it was deemed sacred and significant. The preaching of God’s Word is much more so.

The extreme and uncommon distractions will take place. They make for great stories one day… even the guy with the megaphone warning about the tsunami that never struck. But the common distractions can be planned for. And church leaders are wise to get on the same page about how to handle the common distractions that threaten to disrupt the listening to God’s Word.

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04.15.2014

2 Key Words for Pastors This Easter

As your Easter services are quickly approaching, I thought I would share a few thoughts for church leaders around two key words: assimilation and transformation. Though one does not necessarily lead to the other, they are both important.

Assimilation

As you encourage your church members to bring friends to church this weekend, think as much about the Monday morning after Easter. You will hopefully have a list of all the guests who attended for the first time. By God’s grace, you will have a list of people who expressed a desire to know Christ personally. What will you do with these people? What will you have invited the people to do next?

I encourage you to have one “next step” that you clearly communicate to the people who come to your Easter services. Instead of bombarding people during your announcement time with a plethora of things to do, offer them one opportunity to get more connected. You may choose to promo the teaching series you launch or to lovingly nudge people to a “newcomers luncheon.” Whatever the next step is, align all leaders and teams around it. Ensure your first-impression people know this one thing, as well as those who check in the kids and those who interact with guests. Craft your letter or e-mail to guests in a way that points to this one thing. Focus your assimilation energy in one direction for the greatest impact.

Second, and more importantly—transformation.

Transformation

Assimilation and transformation are not the same thing. They are both important, but don’t confuse the two. Don’t get so focused on the important details of assimilation that you forget about transformation. Transformation will not occur because you unveil a great opening illustration or fresh bulletin design. There is nothing wrong with those things, but transformation only occurs through Christ.

Ironically, there is a temptation on Easter weekend, of all weekends, to declare or preach something other than the risen Christ. Many pastors feel this pressure to say something new, something different on Easter. Some have told me, “I feel like I am preaching the same message every Easter and that I need to say something different.”

This would be a devastating mistake.

Back in the day, when the church I served in Miami (Christ Fellowship) still offered “The South Florida Easter Pageant,” an elaborate presentation depicting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, a couple approached me with concerns about “the performance.” They wanted to know if “the show was going to be different.” I was not sure what they meant, so I asked for clarification.

“Well,” they continued, “we have been Christians for a long time, and the last few years it has been the same show, and we were hoping it would be, well, you know…um, different.”

I said, “He still rises from the dead. I hope that does not disappoint you.”

The couple wrongly viewed the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as elementary, as something they graduated from years ago. In their minds, they needed something more, something new and fresh, something “different.” The last thing the couple needed was a different story. To the contrary, they needed to better understand the Story they inadvertently had dismissed as no longer applicable to their lives.

The apostle Paul reminded believers in Corinth about the importance of the gospel:

Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

The gospel is most important. It is what your people need, not only the new people who come to church this weekend. As you prepare for this weekend, don’t succumb to the temptation to say “something different and new.” Stand firm on the gospel. Preach it with passion and conviction, knowing that it is powerful for transformation (Rom. 1:16). Only Jesus has the power to melt our hearts; thus, there is no transformation apart from the truth of the gospel.

As you prepare for Easter, think both “assimilation” and “transformation,” but don’t confuse the two.

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04.01.2014

How the Bible Defines Shepherd

“Shepherding” is an unusual term in our modern society. Most of us have only encountered sheep at a petting zoo. But shepherding is a term the Bible uses often in referring to leaders. Shepherds were a normal, common part of the culture in the Ancient Near East, and people who heard this term in Jesus’ day would have understood immediately what it meant and why it mattered.  Aaron Ivey, the worship pastor at The Austin Stone Church, explains what the Bible means by this term and why it’s crucial to understand in our modern, western context.

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02.18.2014

3 Advantages of “Non-Traditional” (Formal) Theological Education

Young leaders often ask me questions related to pursuing formal theological education, attending seminary, and the different ways one can do so in our modern age.

I am extremely grateful for how the Lord used seminary in my life. I found the disciplined and systematic approach helpful. I met and studied alongside lifelong friends who continue to sharpen and encourage me. And the last decade of my ministry can be directly traced to relationships formed in seminary (from my time as executive pastor at Christ Fellowship to vice-president at LifeWay).

I think many would say I went through seminary the “non-traditional” way. Though I have a master’s and a doctorate from a seminary, I never lived on campus (never even lived in the same city as the seminary during seminary) and always had a full-time church staff position while taking classes. In other words, seminary was what I did on the side. After I graduated college, I took a full-time staff position at a church. I made Mondays my “day-off” so I could drive two hours to an extension of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. When I moved to Cincinnati to serve a church there, I transferred to Southern Seminary and still drove two hours on my “day off.” My doctoral coursework involved a lot of distance learning and only traveling to Southern’s campus several times a year.

So my perspective about seminary is through that lens, and I know it is becoming more and more the norm. Today, I will offer three advantages of pursuing theological education while serving in a local church ministry and not moving to a seminary campus or town to dive more exclusively into your theological education. And then on Thursday, I will offer three disadvantages, or three things I perhaps missed by not going the more traditional route.

1)    A constant reminder of the “why”

With all the benefits of theological education, a danger exists if ministry training is subtly divorced from the church. If the acquisition of knowledge becomes the chief goal and not the edification of the church, a student’s heart has drifted. Serving at a church while also attending seminary provided me with a constant reminder that I was not just learning to study and to teach the Bible but I was learning to teach it to people—real people with struggles, doubts, questions, and pain. Serving in a church during seminary helped me to avoid the ivory tower syndrome where folks only study for the sake of study, where the end result is a euphoric state of just knowing more.

2)    A practical filter

Serving while studying also provides a practical filter. It forces you immediately to think about how to translate what you are learning into ministry practice. I remember getting in my truck on Monday nights around 9:00 pm for the long drive home, my mind spinning from a class with a genius like Dr. Gentry. I would be wrestling with some profound truth. And then I would check my voicemail on the way home to learn some student’s parents were splitting up, a parent was upset because her kid heard a curse word from another student at church, or a student led another student to the Lord. It could be anything. Some of it was awesome. Some of it was frustrating and disappointing. But in those moments, you start to think critically about how all you are learning applies to a ministry context. It does apply. Theology is very practical. And a community of faith helps you make that connection quickly.

3)    A working lab

Serving while studying gives you great opportunities to practice what you are studying. You have an immediate outlet. I remember several occasions when, through the lectures and the reading, the Lord convicted me about a change I needed to make in a ministry I was responsible for. The deep learning, however, comes when you implement, not just when you write down “what you will one day do.”

The good news is that every seminary student can get plugged into a local church. If you are going to go the route of a more focused seminary experience, with more time dedicated to seminary, then by all means get deeply plugged into a local church. Serve there. Throw yourself into the ministry of that church.

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01.21.2014

Breaking Up with the Groups/Discipleship Pastor

One of my mentors, Brad Waggoner, recently told me that he noticed a major shift in church ministry in the early ’90s when “senior pastors of churches broke up with their discipleship pastors/ministers of education and ran off with the worship pastor.”

Of course, a senior pastor does not need to choose between the two. Both the worship ministry and the discipleship ministry of a church are vitally important to the health of the church and the maturation of believers.

But in many cases, the senior pastor has left the groups/discipleship pastor. In many contexts, love for the discipleship ministries of the church has grown cold. The big gathering, with her flashing lights and carefully designed stage, has been a seductress to some.

And this is tragic. It is tragic because God matures His people in biblical community. It is tragic because the ministry of a church must be much more than a gathering on Sunday.

How do you know if your heart has left the discipleship ministries of your church? Perhaps these questions will help:

  • Do you spend disproportionately more time in conversations about the weekend worship service than about the discipleship process at your church?
  • Do you know what is being taught in your groups or classes?
  • Do you treat the teaching your people receive outside of Sunday—teaching done by others—with the same concern you view “the weekend”?
  • Is it enough to “have groups” or do you want your groups built on the solid foundation of the Word?

A church exists to make disciples. Clearly this mission includes the worship gatherings, and it definitely goes beyond them.

Please note I am not suggesting “the weekend gatherings are not important” or advocating senior pastors “break up with their worship leaders.” Nor am I saying that discipleship does not occur in worship gatherings as the Word is taught and people are brought into the presence of Jesus. I am, however, saying that it is tragically unhealthy when the discipleship ministries of a church are minimized and neglected.

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