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  • Colossians 3:15 November 22, 2017
    “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Phil Engelman

Why People Leave Your Church

Why Do People Leave Your Church?

In my decades as lead pastor one of the things I most struggled with was the loss of people from our church. It was hard not to take each loss personally and to begin asking myself the question, “What could I have done better to keep these sheep?”

I blamed my inferior leadership skills and an inadequate assimilation strategy. Thankfully, not everyone left. In fact I was blessed to see some significant growth in a couple churches. However I experienced enough loss and disappointment to cause me to question my effectiveness as a pastor. Over time, God began to reshape my expectations to a more realistic point of view.

Why do people leave your church? Let me count the ways. Some for good reason, some not so good, and others for tragic reasons.

For good reason: People get called away by job transfers or the call to another field of ministry. That call might even include partnering with another local church, or to be more closely associated with family. Assuming these moves are cases where people have discerned through prayer that this is God’s leading we release them with our blessing.

Some attend for a while and recognize their theology or philosophy of ministry is not in line with your church and see another community as a more suitable match. Again, we release them with our blessing knowing that unity in the body of Christ is paramount. With a gracious spirit we understand Christ’s kingdom is broader than our particular theological viewpoint or style of ministry.

For reasons not so good: Into this category I put those who drop out with no explanation or clear reason for leaving. These are those who resist your efforts to follow up. You’re left with no communication so you never really know the reason. It’s also true that those who do let you know, present a reason that is not always the real reason. “I’m just not being fed” is a common one.

I also put into this category those who were never sufficiently sold on or committed to the vision of your church. These have been influenced by the consumerism of the day so that the church is seen as a place to receive more than a place to give of themselves. Problems, needs and challenges that surface in every ministry frighten these people. Rather than hanging in and being part of the solution they move on to another church that has better programs. There are some in this category you could never please, and after all, ultimately we’re not in the people pleasing business.

Sometimes people have failed to find a personal connection with the community and relationships that matter within the church. Some of this falls on us, but not all of it. These hurt when you’ve poured your heart and soul into ministering to them and they suddenly leave as though your relationship never really mattered. I’ve counseled individuals or couples in my pastoral role and lost them simply because I knew too many of their problems and it was hard for them not to think I was preaching at them. Thankfully, many go the other way with this, grow in Christ, and feel even more committed to the church.

For tragic reasons: Church splits go here. Innocent people can be deeply wounded and just want to run. When you as the pastor are lied about or misunderstood and a false accusation takes root in the community, these are the most painful losses of all.

Here we also place those whose departure signals a loss of their faith. They’ve come under the influence of a cult or damaging teaching that erodes their ability to trust God and believe His word is reliable and true. These days, there are some subtle and dangerous doctrines filtering into the evangelical church that have led people down a wrong path or turned them into cynics about the church in general. This naturally results in their neglecting the assembly of believers which harms them.

Let me remind you of two realities that changed my perspective as a pastor. They really have to do with adjusting our expectations:

The example of Jesus – Jesus taught us to expect betrayal, rejection and opposition. In fact he taught us that this would be our cross. No pastor can go through his ministry unscathed by pain and rejection. Jesus suffered these and he calls us to expect them as well. We can resent it and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can count it a privilege to suffer along with him.

Jesus also showed us that our words will not always be favorably received. Remember the parable of the farmer who planted seed. In that parable it was only one of the four soils that ultimately produced a positive outcome.

Finally, remember that Jesus shows us by his example that growing the multitude was the least of his priorities. When many he taught were offended and left, he turned to his disciples and said, “Do you want to go too?”

The example of Paul – In 2 Timothy 4:9-18, Paul was suffering the loneliness and isolation of prison without the support of friends. Demas fell prey to a love for the present world and deserted Paul. Others like Titus and Crescens left for good reason to minister elsewhere, but he was feeling the effects of the loneliness that can come into the life of a pastor. Alexander actually did Paul great harm turning on him and publicly opposing his ministry which also hurt him deeply.

Final Words: If you’re suffering losses in spite of all your best efforts and intentions and you’ve grown tired and weary, if you’ve prayed and sought the Lord for better outcomes with what feels like little effect, be encouraged. You’re in good company. Adjust your expectations to match those Paul and Jesus modelled.

Find your own specific calling and be faithful to fulfill it according to the gifts and talents God has given you. In other words, find the niche your church alone can address, leaving the outcome to God with confidence in him. If you’re not already meeting in a John 17:23 Pastors support group, seek one out or allow us to help you find other pastors in your community who love Jesus and love his word. You’ll be blessed to connect with them and discover you’re all facing very similar challenges.

Ministry Update as of 4-30-2017

April has been another month of God’s favor and blessing. Since our update a month ago, the grading work on the property has been finished. The photos below show the main road leading to and from the first completed timber bridge. Off the main road (not visible in the photos,) three beautifully set cottage sites have been cleared and are awaiting the Lord’s provision to break ground. This, of course, after He supplies what remains for the infrastructure (second and larger timber bridge and water line – estimated cost $40,000.)

      

We knew from the outset this was a God-size task. We’ve been committed to waiting on His supply. Your prayer support has played a huge role in the progress made so far and we thank You for it!

Now, please pray for some divine appointments – that God would put us in touch with people of means who catch the vision to pour into the lives of pastors and ministry leaders and who will invest in this aspect of the work of Christ’s kingdom. At 6:30 pm on Sunday, May 7th, we will have the opportunity to present the work of Grace Valley Ministries to a community wide gathering of churches at New Life Church in Holly Springs, GA. The main purpose of the evening will be to draw God’s people together in worship and prayer for our community, nation and world, but we’ve been selected to be the recipient of the evening’s offering and to thus make a brief presentation informing those in attendance what we are doing. Please pray that God gives us one or more significant connections that evening.

On Tuesday, Ken Stumbo and I met with an architect to walk the property, and discuss our vision for the cottages. Pray for this relationship to continue in a positive direction if he is to be the one we use for the project.

John 17:23 Pastors Groups – I had a significant lunch appointment with a pastor in Roswell this Thursday. He may be key to helping us start a new group in that community. This is, after all, one of three target areas we are asking God to work to expand the movement of “every pastor in a group.” I’m also seeking to follow up with a pastor who’s similarly interested in Smyrna. And finally, I need to follow up with a pastor in Marietta who may be a significant partner. Please pray that I will have wisdom, guidance, and God’s blessing as I seek to further God’s kingdom in this way.

Thanks so much for your partnership with us in this ministry.  You’re doing that through your prayers and through your giving!  God bless you!

Ministry Update as of 2-28-2017

Here’s an example of where Grace Valley Ministries can make a difference.

An associate pastor writes:
“We were let go on a Friday, abruptly, and suddenly, almost without warning, by the deacons and the brand new pastor. They informed the congregation at the last Sunday service two days later. We served this church for many years and were loved and cherished by the people. We were obviously hurt, and sadly, the people at the church were very hurt and shocked by this as well. This has wounded us more deeply than we’ve realized. We didn’t know how tired we were until we were released from the church, so I’m using this “in-between time” intentionally to seek healing & rest in the Lord. We are, by God’s grace, trying to put it behind us and to press forward to what God may have for us in the future.”

Sadly experiences like this happen more often than you may know. Pray for this couple as they will be coming to the Oasis for a few days and receiving some counsel and rest. We look forward to having our first cottage built so we can even more effectively meet the needs of pastors like this.

Meanwhile, some volunteers came this month to help us install the silt fencing necessary for the roadwork and grading on our property. More remains to be done and we look forward to continued progress. Pray for Ken Stumbo as he heads up these efforts and as he works with our contractor. And pray for God’s provision. We are praying to be able to break ground on the first cabin sometime this year.

A pastor from one of our John 17:23 pastors groups who has spearheaded large area-wide National Day of Prayer gatherings in two other cities where he ministered previously now wants to do the same in our area. He is currently serving as the group leader for our Holly Springs group and hosts that group in his church. We anticipate filling his 500 seat worship center on Sunday evening, March 7th with participants from various churches across our area taking part in the service. It will be a night of worship and prayer alone. Meanwhile, this pastor felt led to give the offering for the evening to Grace Valley Ministries. Even better, we’ll be given the opportunity to do a brief presentation of our work just before that offering. Pray for divine appointments that evening and that God will raise up additional ministry partners who catch the vision for the difference we can make in the lives of pastors and ministry leaders.

On another front, we now have two Resident Barnabas’ identified and ready to go into action. Both of these will oversee two or three of the current groups we’ve established which will help relieve me to reach out further into other surrounding communities. One of those RBs is longtime friend, former pastor, and GVM board member, Mike Teston. Mike, who also has a ministry of family counseling and individual coaching is excited about the vision. Our goal with Barnabas Ministries is that no pastor is without a group, so our current 13 groups barely scratch the surface of the need that exists. Continue to pray for the expanding influence of these groups of pastors meeting together.

Thanks for faithfully holding us up as we minister to pastors and ministry leaders both locally and those he brings to us. You have no idea what a difference your prayers and financial investments are making!

Ministry Update as of January 2, 2017

What an exciting month this has been!   A month ago, we were offered a $10,000 matching challenge by an anonymous donor. God honored both His Name and the faith of that donor! By the last day of the year we had received $10,058.26! We are thrilled to see how God has provided and we are humbled and grateful to the Lord for it all.

One of the greatest blessings has been the response of several pastors who have been helped by belonging to a John 17:23 Pastors Support Group. Their giving alone has provided $3,000 of what we’ve received. That speaks volumes to the difference this ministry is making in their lives. And I know they too are looking forward to the day when the retreat center is up and running and able to meet their needs and the needs of other pastors.

This fund raising effort will enable us to clear the cottage sites, carve the road and move the earth to meet the recently completed bridge, create the retention ponds and put in the silt fencing necessary to continue progress on our site plan.

Prayer Requests:
1. Pray for the Lord’s provision to complete our matching challenge for the project.
2. Pray for our trip to Florida mid January. It will include a reunion Sunday and my preaching at Crystal Cove Community Church in Palm Harbor, the church we founded 20 years ago.
3. Pray for a group leader training we have scheduled for January 24th. We’re asking God to use this training to strengthen our groups and raise up new leaders for future group’s.
4. Pray as Sue and I begin to expand our personal support base in January. I’ve come to realize that in all my efforts to raise funds for Grace Valley Ministries we’ve neglected our own financial support. Pray that God will raise up additional partners who believe in what we’re doing and desire to invest in us for the sake of the kingdom.

Again, we thank you so much for standing with us in prayer through it all.

Exciting Update as of 11/20/2016

For those of you who have been following our progress with Grace Valley Ministries as we’re building a retreat center for pastors and ministry leaders, I have some great news!  A donor has just stepped up and offered to match any gifts given by the end of 2016 up to ten thousand dollars!  Now the big figure of 185 thousand finishes the roadwork, infrastructure and the first complete cottage with furnishings. That seems like an overwhelming figure, but we’re taking this one step at a time as the Lord provides. So if you’ve been thinking about helping us out, now would be a great time. Just visit gracevalleyministries.org or the Grace Valley Ministries Facebook page to send a gift.

Let me tell you why this effort matters. Every now and then we hear about a high profile pastor burning out and quitting, or experiencing personal or moral failure. And while we hear about those, the numbers are just as great in the more humble places we don’t hear about. Is there anything we can do to help? Yes. Is there anything you can do to help your own pastor? Yes. You can help this vision become a reality by investing in the project.

We have a two pronged approach to helping prevent ministry failure.
1. Providing periods of rest and retreat which is why this project is so important.
2. Connecting them in small groups where they have peer-to-peer safe relationships for support and encouragement.  So far 13 have been established in Cherokee, Pickens and Cobb county.

We also want to be here for those who have already hit a wall and are in need of intervention. So the ministry works both ways.

But if you care about the health and resilience of pastors and ministry leaders, especially your own pastor, would you join us in this effort?   You can see us online at gracevalleyministries.org or on our Facebook page.

Are You Afraid of Rest

My wife and I recently attended the annual Caregivers Forum that was held this year at the YMCA of the Rockies. What a blessing it was to see the wild elk wandering the property against the backdrop of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, and to fellowship with other caregivers from around the country in that breathtaking environment.

Everyone there was involved in a ministry to strengthen the Lord’s servants, namely pastors and ministry leaders. The attendees ran the gambit from a simple “mom and pop” homestead available to those in ministry needing rest, to counselors helping pastors who have suffered moral failure, all the way to highly sophisticated, multi-service ministries like Marble Retreat in Colorado.

The theme for the week would be “Rest.” Ironically, everyone one of us there would check the box saying we are convinced of the value of rest for the servants of God. It would be a common emphasis in all of our ministries, the need for rest, for margin, for self-care. We are all committed to helping pastors rest, and we all know it’s the lack of rest that often leads to burnout and worse. And yet, I was there desperately in need of rest myself.

I entered the conference having already established a firm day off on my calendar each week. It’s Friday for me, but my day off had evolved into something less than a true day of rest. I’ve known this for a while now, but like most problems in our lives, I had allowed a sort of creeping anxiety to rob me of my pursuit of peace and my centeredness in Jesus. I have a commitment to doing only those things which the Father intends for me, just as Jesus modeled, but the reality is I’m doing some things people intend for me that may not be of the Father at all. And that spirit had invaded my Fridays. God used the conference to help me recover my personal priority to this principle of rest. My first Friday back felt more refreshing than Fridays had in quite a while.

There were several highlights that stood out to me from the conference speakers. When a pastor was asked if he observed a weekly day off and answered no, the speaker asked why not? He said, “Because the devil doesn’t take a day off.” To which the speaker replied, “Don’t you think you need a new role model?” When another pastor was in a group participating in a guided time of silence and solitude, he objected to the request to turn off his cell phone. When asked the reason he said “I’m committed to being always available to my people.” The leader replied “Jesus wasn’t.”

Robyn Coffman of 10:10 Ministries spoke in a session addressing “The Fear of Rest.” She identified five fears related to rest and asked us to identify the two most problematic for each of us. I was able to relate to most all of those fears, not the least of which is related to appearance. How would I look to others if I take time to rest? Would I be seen as lazy or unproductive? Another fear is related to performance. What won’t get done if I rest? It’s tantamount to believing I’m indispensable, and that everything depends on me. Another fear is financial. If I rest I won’t earn as much, and can I afford that? All of these fears are rooted in unbelief and a lack of faith in God’s power to provide and bless what flows out of rest. God used that talk to bring me to repentance.

Perhaps the most sobering concept came out of another talk. I had never before considered the fact that the first full day Adam experienced after his creation on day six was a day of rest. His work tending the garden would then flow out of that day of rest. Often we view rest as the reward for hard labor, and we adopt the “as soon as” philosophy. This leads us to say: “I will rest as soon as I complete such and such a task.” The problem with this approach is that the enemy can always throw another “as soon as” in front of us the moment we complete the first task, so we never quite feel free to let go and relax.

While the original Sabbath was a Saturday, the New Testament church began observing Sunday as the day for rest and worship. Obviously, this was rooted in the day of Christ’s resurrection, the first day of the week. But it may also have been rooted in the idea that the finished work of Christ provides a basis out of which our entire work week flows. After all, God’s Word makes it clear that “there is a rest that remains for the people of God,” and that rest flows out of the finished work of Christ. This opposes the view of the culture that sees the weekend as the reward for work rather than the fuel for productivity in the work days that follow. What’s more, the Jewish Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. It makes the first part of the day the rest period and the remainder of the day the period for productivity.

All of this got my wheels turning. I’m hoping it will do the same for you. Pastors, more than anything we need to examine our hearts and our schedules to make sure we have adequate rest from which God can do His finest work through us. This is my prayer for all of us. May all of our work flow from a peaceful place of rest as we trust in the sufficiency of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now Is The Time

Guess what! We got word on Tuesday, July 26th, that Cherokee County, GA has approved our site plan!   Thanks for your prayers! Now it’s time to break ground as soon as we are able. Our desire to provide a quiet place for pastors and ministry leaders that will enable them to experience spiritual renewal and refreshment is what drives us forward in this quest.

We know the Lord will use Grace Valley Ministries at strategic points in the lives of many of God’s servants who take advantage of the cottages God enables us to build. If we are used by God to strengthen the spiritual life of a single pastor, we know we are making a kingdom impact on the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others who are under their influence.

Now is the time, if you’ve been considering investing in the work to make the dream come true. We are waiting on the Lord to supply all that is needed from this day forward so that we can complete each infrastructure requirement and the building of the first cottage. Would you pray with us for the necessary provision in a timely way? And, if you’re willing, pray too about what part God may be leading you to have in it. We’ll keep you posted.

Ministry Update – January 2016

Here’s the latest update. Thanks for your continued prayers.

Blessings and Answers to Prayer:
1. The Lord provided us with the $4,000 needed for our next immediate goal – the final payment to the engineer for the completed and approved site plan. He’s expected to finish his work and present it to the county in the next few weeks.

2. A large local church has made Grace Valley Ministries part of their compassion week effort in March. They will be sending a group of volunteers to help us clear a path for our prayer walk along the creek. In addition, the plan includes mulching the path and building benches that can be used around the property for quiet contemplation. They also want to provide materials necessary as they are able. Ken Stumbo, who has already started clearing this prayer path, has found a bench plan and is building a model to be duplicated by the volunteers.

3. Pastors groups have gotten off to a strong start for 2016. See the attached document for a listing of days and times when the groups meet, especially if you desire to hold these up regularly in prayer.

Prayer Requests:
1. Pray for the God-sized provision we need for the infrastructure and first cottage. We are seeking the Lord for His wisdom and direction regarding our best fund raising strategy. Right now we’re working on a simple brochure to present the need when we speak to individuals or host events.

2. Pray the engineer finishes his work soon and that the final county is achieved without any complications.

3. Pray for the volunteer week in March that the details will come together and be a blessing to all who participate.

4. Pray for our plans to host an on-campus event to help raise awareness of the vision among local pastors and churches.

5. As always, pray for hurting pastors we encounter. I met with a man this week whose story of trauma equals any I’ve heard before. Pray for miracles of healing in the hearts and lives of pastors, their spouses and families

6. Pray for the movement of developing pastors groups to continue forward unabated, for the raising up of other regions and other pastors who desire not only to participate by belonging to a group, but will take on the task of initiating groups and reaching out to pastors who surround them.

7. On a personal note, pray for Sue and me as there are times when life and ministry can feel overwhelming. We need wisdom with Sue’s business and the headache of tax preparation. Sue’s health is better but is always a concern for both of us. We need to know what to say no to and what to say yes to (don’t we all?)

Again, I reiterate, we are so blessed to have your prayers and financial support. Thank you so much!

Crucial Crossroads

More than likely every one of us can identify somewhere in our life or ministry where we are facing a crucial crossroad. Perhaps it’s a decision, a need for direction, or maybe we stand in a place of great need and we can’t go forward without God’s provision. What we do in these moments will define us.

This question is fresh on my mind because our local ministry is facing just such a crossroad. We’ve come to a place where we are in need of God-sized resources to achieve the ministry vision. Having finally determined a solid cost estimate for the next phase, it was time for our next board meeting. I envisioned the meeting going something like this. We would spend some time in listening prayer, and then hear from each board member what our next steps should look like. I envisioned we would be brainstorming various fund raising ideas.

Instead, what came out of our listening prayer was a strong impression that we were not to make any decisions about fund raising strategies until we had all completed a 40 Day Prayer Challenge. One board member had been blessed by reading Mark Batterson’s “Draw the Circle” which provides just such a 40 day challenge. The readings for each day reflect the truths of God’s willingness to answer prayer and some amazing examples of such prayers being answered. It was a consensus. We would all purchase the book and engage in the experience. A week later, we all had our books in hand and began the journey. As I write this we are on day 13.

Already I sense God stirring my heart as I’m walking through this process. I sense my faith growing stronger and more vibrant as I anticipate the things God is going to do in us through this journey. Will we have the necessary funds by the time we finish the challenge? That’s not our expectation, but I do believe we will hear from God and know how He wants us to proceed. I believe we will also see God doing greater things in each of our lives and answering many of our personal prayers along the way.

As I contemplated this, I wondered how many times in my life and ministry I have faced a crucial crossroad, felt the pressure to do something, and rushed into a strategy of my own design. I know I’ve often succumbed to the pressure to perform even if it was just to avoid embarrassment. It has happened most often when I feel personally responsible for the outcome. But if what I’m doing is God’s idea the pressure’s off. I can rest in the fact that what He ordains He will maintain. If it’s His vision He will provide the wisdom, funding, manpower or whatever resource it takes to get the job done. Any other way of living is exhausting. We all know this. “Even the young will grow weary and faint and fall down exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength…” (Isaiah 40:30-31) We know this in principle. It’s clear in our heads. When will it reach our hearts?

People pleasing plays a role here. I’ve found myself driven to perform just to avoid disappointing others. When that drive surpasses my desire to hear from God, and do only those things He asks, I easily succumb to ministry in my own strength which is similar to a kind of frenzy. Instead of peace I experience anxiety. Sure, checking items off my to-do list gives me a buzz, but it doesn’t really advance the kingdom if it isn’t in step with the Spirit. And isn’t it true that anything God expects us to give He has already given to us?

It goes without saying that if Jesus spent time in the wilderness before launching his public ministry, a night in prayer before selecting his disciples, and an agonizing night in the garden before the cross, we need to do the same at crucial crossroads in our own lives.

I see this as a significant need among us who are responsible to lead the church and shepherd God’s flock. Maybe the greatest need we have as pastors is to hear from God. And we both know this will never come without quieting our hearts before Him with a hunger to hear so strong that it drowns out the other voices.

If I had to identify the greatest danger we face as pastors it would be the danger of feeling adequate. If our gifting enables us to cruise through the challenges of ministry without a strong sense of dependence on God, we will miss the mark. I want to be more like Gideon who was well aware of his weakness and even more when God further reduced his army. Or more like David, who didn’t advance confidently toward Goliath because of his strength, but because of the quiet days he experienced tending the sheep.

This paradoxical combination of an awareness of our weakness along with a confidence in God’s power and direction will keep us moving forward in the race until we see Jesus face to face. What is the crucial crossroad you’re facing?

Ministry Update for August 2015

Dear Prayer Partners,
I want to communicate as clearly as possible what we’re doing here through Grace Valley Ministries. Did you know thousands of pastors leave the ministry every year? They are leaving due to burnout, discouragement, conflict, forced termination, moral failure and any number of other reasons.

We minister grace to those who minister by helping them stay refreshed and encouraged in their work. We do this in three ways:
1. Providing getaways in peaceful settings
2. Offering counseling when needed
3. Connecting them in small groups so they have a safe place to do life and ministry together.

On the getaway front: I’m recognizing that I need to hone my skills as a leader for a nonprofit like this. My online coaching with Ministry Ventures is helping. Soon we’ll be taking significant steps toward the completion of our first phase – our first cottage. God supplied the $3,000 we needed to contract the engineer. He then already provided the $4,000 we needed for the down payment on the two timber bridges to cross the flood plain. We are praising God for His faithfulness in providing for these.

But additional funding needs are on the horizon. We are now in need of another $4,000 to get the overall site plan finalized with the county. The bridgework itself will cost an additional $38,000 when complete. All of this will open the property to full use. Soon, we should have solid figures on the construction cost of the first cottage. Clearly, we are gearing up for a significant fundraising effort. Please pray that God will grant us wisdom and bless us with significant partnerships to see this vision realized. We have a video in the making that we will be able to use to bring a greater awareness and we are working on a full fund raising plan. Pray for the staff and board as we will be seeking the Lord’s wisdom in all of this, especially in light of our next board meeting in October.

On the pastors groups: As of September we will have grown from 8 to 10 functioning John 17:23 pastoral support groups. I just returned from an inspiring week of meetings and training in New England with Barnabas Ministries, Inc. BMI, under the leadership of Dick Germaine and others, has been a tremendous help to me in this area of our ministry. We see the evidence of God’s blessing on a daily basis. Continue to pray the Lord will grant me wisdom to engage the help of others so that this aspect of our work continues to grow. One local pastor wants to help, and I need to iron out the details of how to best utilize him.

We continue to see God’s faithfulness demonstrated through you who share in this ministry with us. Your prayers and financial support are so appreciated!