What or Why?

I just attended a very good conference, called “Best Practices,” that shared a multitude of good, even great, ideas of what to do for making disciples. If you are like me, I walk away with a list of ideas I want to do. I am excited and hopeful for the results. I implement them only to find out they didn’t work, or didn’t work the same for me. I assume it is me, our leaders, bad timing, or just a bad idea.

It is easy to get focused on the what to do in ministry. Ministry leaders are always asking, “What is working?” “What should I do next?” There is nothing wrong with those questions. They are good questions. So why do some whats work, while others don’t?

The answer is, “Why?” You see, every what is created with a why. By why, I mean with a specific purpose of that congregation. Not all whats fit our context or even our purpose. Too many times, the new flashy what gets our attention and energy but it doesn’t fit our why/purpose of our ministry.

Before you get excited about a what, take time to clarify your why. Why does your church or ministry exist? A why is your purpose. A purpose is never ending, and it gives direction. Once you clarify your why, it will lead to the what and then how. When you have the why, you will have the motivation for you and others. When you know your why, you will have better discernment to what you should do or not. Many churches and businesses are busy doing a lot of good that has no connection to their why, and it results in them not getting good results.

I hope I have piqued your interest in this dynamic. To go deeper, watch the video below or read the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District

Stop the Small Talk

Most of us have heard a kid say, “I am dumb and I’ll never get it.” We unhesitatingly reply with a big “NO YOU ARE NOT!” Then we add, “Do not say that about yourself. This might not be your strongest subject, but this one thing doesn’t define you.” We would quickly correct the statement because we all know how damaging and dangerous those thoughts are to the child’s self-esteem and the impact it can have on his or her future. The child will automatically conclude he or she is a failure and not try anymore. You have seen and, most likely, have experienced that in your life.

And yet, we do it in the church all the time and it has become acceptable. We do not dare say we are dumb, but we say, “We are a small church….” Those words immediately excuse us from attempting new ministries, new approaches, or anything. These words are damaging and dangerous. In all due respect, we need to STOP the small talk. As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (truth), and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

This thought of being a small church is a stronghold in the church. It is dangerous. I am not suggesting small is bad and we all should be big. I am proposing we have allowed this thought to create a stronghold in the church. It is holding the church hostage from following Jesus and giving our best to Him. This thought has become the new death sentence of the church. It is a lie of Satan. The bible is filled with small churches that have faithfully shared the Word of God. Forty-six percent of American Churches are under 100. Small churches are needed and a blessing.

Being small has its advantages. Relationships, ownership, and the ability to mobilize come naturally. Small is simpler, and it is easier for people to connect. These are challenges for a large church. A large church constantly has to work at these attributes that many of us in small churches take for granted. Therefore, the reverse is true. A large church can make a big impact because it is already large. It comes naturally. For a small church, a large impact doesn’t come naturally. It takes constant effort and focus. It starts by stopping the small talk and believing God has a calling for this faithful church to fill in the community.

Michael Jordan was cut from the middle school basketball team. He didn’t start in high school, but he became one of the greatest players. Why? Because he didn’t let his current situation define him, and he dedicated himself to the work of basketball. We need to renew our minds in the power of Christ and dedicate our best to His work.

Do not let your size stop you from pursuing Jesus and His kingdom. We have divine power. God that is in you is greater than anything outside of you. You are already victorious in Christ. Let’s live as the champions we are and take on the challenges. Discover the calling and watch God build His church. We have several thriving small churches in the Southern District, and they are all unique. Let’s learn from one another, share with one another, and grow together in Christ. Stop the small talk! Renew our minds in Christ. Let’s share some God talks of what God is doing in His small, wonderful, and influential churches.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District

New Year, New You

I am attracted to the word NEW. When I served in Michigan, I loved to go see the NEW car models at the car show. After all, who doesn’t like that new car smell? I am a sucker for picking something up and look at it in the store when I see the word “new.” I like buying new things. It is no wonder that our culture makes a big deal over what is new, like a new year. The new year still has that excitement that something better is coming in the new year. Somehow, by changing the date, all things will be made better. I will lose weight, be richer, and have better relationships – all because it is a new year. Some will try hard for 30 to 60 days but fall back into “normal.” We all know that change takes intentional modification in a lifestyle which includes habits and how we think about things.

As pastors, we all want the church to grow, and often we fall into this idea that a new program, staff person, or whatever silver bullet, will grow the church. Jesus grows His church, and if you want to grow, you will have to grow spiritually, mentally, and in your behaviors or leadership.

I am going to give you eleven statements to help ensure a better you and a better year. I encourage you to pick one a month and focus on it each day of that month.

So many leaders have a scarcity mindset. They say things like, “We don’t have enough money, people, etc., so we can’t do anything,” or they hold on to what they have so tightly that they miss opportunities right in front of them. Having a generous mindset doesn’t just apply to money or time, but also to sharing what you know, looking to add value to others.

Reject the power trap that comes with being a leader. Have the heart of a servant. Jesus should have been served for His title/position but, instead, He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. When we fall into the power trap, we become elitists in our thinking and we disconnect ourselves from the people we need or are to serve.

Find things to be thankful for that you normally do not appreciate or that you take for granted. I often tell couples to name ten things they are thankful for in their spouse that they have noticed before. It is amazing how appreciation grows through this. The same is true with leadership relationships. Leadership is not about how you feel, but how you make others feel. Deepen your heart of gratitude and it will affect others around you.

The best leaders know how to focus. They avoid trivial distractions and stay focused on the core values, mission, and vision. When focused, you will do the things that matter most, committing them to your calendar first and foremost.

Being healthy is a choice we make every day. Being healthy applies to physical exercise, sleep, mental rest, spiritual renewal, etc. Make it a priority every day.

As leaders, we are wired with a destination disease – pursuing that light at the end of the tunnel. But we must take time to reflect. Reflection keeps us on the path of our mission.

Leadership has some perks, and it should for what it requires. Yet, many become stagnated because they fall in love with the perks and not the work. Great leaders know how to produce, no matter the circumstances or how they are feeling. As a great leader, they understand their production is essential for the mission.

It is an honor and privilege to have influence over others. Nothing speaks more to this privilege than preaching or being welcomed into the pain of one’s life. Because of that, leaders do not do things that some people do. We live above reproach. Be aware that your actions and what you say are under scrutiny; we are to live differently than non-leaders. It is our responsibility to carry ourselves in a way that understands the position is greater than us.

Never stop learning, especially from others. Be a student every day. We can’t rely on what has worked in the past. Have a healthy curiosity that keeps you motivated to improve.

As a leader, you are not only modeling to others, but you are intentionally mentoring and training others around you in order to inspire them to be all they can be.

Be passionate about serving others. Being a servant leader, you value others around you more than yourself. You focus more on giving than getting from people. You do what needs to be done, even when it is not your job. Jesus washed feet, fed the multitude, etc.

Assign a month for each statement. Spend time defining it or expanding the meaning of the term; let’s see how the Lord grows your leadership and that around you as you become the new you this year.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District

Do You Like or Hate Budget Season?

Budgets can bring out the best and worst of a congregation.

Budget meetings can be a place for conflict especially when money is tight or when one ministry is pegged against another for money. Some ministries take a government approach – If you had $1,000 last year, you automatically need another $1,000 even if you didn’t spend the $1,000. There is fear and a scarcity mindset. Many churches struggle as they have to keep cutting, while others do not even bother with a budget. Just pay as you go is the motto.

However, a budget can be a great statement of faith. A budget puts forth a plan created through faith and prayer for what the ministry will need in the upcoming year. A budget is also a guide that measures our investment in outreach and discipleship. Budgets can be exciting and help give focus and unity to the church’s mission.

Whether you like them or not, budgets are a necessary and important part of the ministry and need our attention. The top concern for a budget is not the numbers but the spirit and the process. I said budgets bring out the best and the worst. The process reveals strongholds, idols, faith, one’s own stewardship, etc. This is why I say the process is more important than numbers. The budget process gives insight into where our people are spiritually, as well as opportunities for us to equip them. I have found that many people do not budget in their personal lives. They are not equipped to budget. Therefore, they tend to have a scarcity mindset and want to control or decrease spending. They generally have not experienced how God provides beyond what they expect. My point is that you need a process to equip the people and not assume everyone knows how to budget.

You also need to prioritize your ministry plan before you budget. A budget should reflect priorities, not be the place that sets priorities. It is easier to discuss priorities when money is not involved. When a price tag comes, it is easy to shift away from the priority. Some shifting may happen, but that is often a refinement rather than a major change.

The budget process needs to be led by Jesus and the mission He has given to the congregation – not led by the dollars. When we put dollars first, we put Jesus in the back seat. We need Jesus especially in times like now. Some churches have adopted a three-budget approach. They have a plan for if God brings an increase and a plan if God brings a decrease. Planning now will take the stress and high emotions away as you follow Jesus and navigate these times.

If you need help putting together a ministry plan or budgeting, please reach out.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District

Candy Cane Drop

Candy canes are a standard Christmas treat and/or decoration. The church has several children’s talks or devotions around the candy cane. But did you know they are a very useful tool for outreach? You can buy candy canes with a Bible verse or a Christian message attached. On the back of the card, attach a printed sticker with an invitation to Christmas Eve worship.

Please be sure to have a location, time, website (if up to date), and information about your worship service. Send teams out to stores and neighborhoods to hand out candy canes with the invite card attached. Be sure to equip them with a simple script and to pray that the Lord leads their conversations. A simple script has answers to the top questions people normally have about the church. For example: Is there childcare during the service, or are my children welcomed in the main worship space? You are a Lutheran church – What does that mean to you in one sentence? What can I expect? Why do you like this church? What should I wear? What is the music like? Do you have services online?

We like to put the candy canes in stockings, or you could use buckets. Either way, this is a simple way to connect with people, share God’s love in a simple way, and also learn about your community. Listening to people is just as important. We learned our community has biases to mainline denominations. We also learned where they worship and why. Be curious and try to find out the why behind their answers.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District

Why Church Membership?

Church membership is becoming a thing of the past. Many Christians don’t see the value in membership, or they just want to avoid anything that smells like commitment and accountability. Perhaps you are like me and have heard the following: “I am already attending, giving, serving, etc. What difference is membership going to make?” “I am already a member of the Church at large through my baptism, so why should I join this local congregation?” I am sure you have heard some version of this and more, too.

It begs the question: Why be a member of a local church? What is the value of membership? This question also came up in a recent Leverage Network session, while reviewing the system of assimilation. The assimilation system is for helping people move from guest to member. There are many biblical reasons we give for membership, and they are valuable. I also think it is wise to help people understand the practical blessings of membership. This list was created with my elders for our setting. You may have more or less for your setting. The important thing is to identify the blessings and communicate them to the congregation. Please post what you would add.

        1. You are known and loved. You have a place where you belong.
        2. You have an active church family that is there for you to lean on for care, prayer, friendship, celebration, and support.
        3. You have a place to grow spiritually and experience God’s grace through the Word, Sacraments, service, and the fellowship of believers.
        4. You are part of a bigger movement of God and have a potential for greater impact on your local community and world through the work together as a denomination.
        5. You have an elder assigned to you for your spiritual care.
        6. You have the ability to be in the leadership of the church.
        7. You have a voice in major decisions of the church (budget, property, buildings, calling a pastor, etc.).
        8. You can go to your shepherd (pastor) who is well-trained in the Word and knows you, for guidance and care.

by: Rev. Jason Scheler, Mission Executive of the LCMS Southern District