Pastors minister in Ferguson unrest

The continued unrest in Ferguson, MO which have featured protests, violence, and racial tensions, have the country waiting for new news of peace. The conflict revolves around Michael Brown’s murder by the hands of a police officer. Conflicting information from police sparked riots, protests, and demonstration. Local police responded with riot gear only for other departments to be dispatched to try to keep peace.

In the midst of this unrest, pastors and clergy have responded. Ministers in the middle of the Ferguson crisis have sought to provide comfort, direction, and peace. Perhaps under reported are the stories of pastors ministering to protesters, police, and local officials:

Here are some notable stories:

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Robin Williams and the church

robin williams As most everyone has heard, Robin Williams died on Tuesday from an apparent suicide. The reaction on Facebook and Twitter was one of shock. How could someone who brought so much joy and humor to the world be so troubled? Robin Williams brought us a diversity of characters in his movies and television shows.

I remember as a child watching reruns of “Mork and Mindy” and wondering, “Who is this guy? He’s so funny!” His films such as “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Good Will Hunting”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, and “Hook” are now classics running regularly on TV. His long filmography on IMDb yields several scrolls from the mouse. As reports surfaced of his drug and alcohol abuse, we began to learn of a troubled man. Robin Williams apparent depression most likely led him down the path of suicide.

Unfortunately, some have made hurtful comments. Fox News anchor, Shepherd Smith gave his own unhelpful perspective of the nature of suicide:

“One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight. Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression… You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you… And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.

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Church sign responds to border crisis

As thousands of people stream into the United States from Mexico, people have spoken out against the government’s handling of the border crisis. Children are coming into the United States from Mexico and looking for a better life. Some have criticized the Christian response, or lack there of.

What are Christians supposed to say about this problem?

Some are holding public prayer events. Like this one in Texas:

The collective prayer marked the beginning of “For His Children,” a charity initiative that seeks to provide undocumented migrants with both physical and spiritual support. The event, according to ABP news, was organized by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and three other charitable organizations.

More than 50 Hispanic pastors prayed at the facility where the undocumented children are processed upon arrival, at the Border Patrol station, and at Sacred Heart — a Catholic church where volunteers have set up a temporary shelter where families can rest before setting out to meet relatives across the United States.

One church took a rather pointed position on the crisis with their church sign. Thinking about would Jesus would not say, College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA posted this sign:

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The case for the 45 credit seminary degree

The Atlantic ran a disturbing article on the state of middle class clergy carrying a seminary degree: high debt, low wages, vanishing churches, and part-time pastor positions. The piece profiles Justin Barringer, a recent seminary grad who like many before him graduated the call to pastoral ministry. His story is not unlike thousands of other ministers:

Justin Barringer would seem to have the perfect résumé. He’s a seminary grad, an author and book editor, and a former missionary to China and Greece. But despite applying to nearly a hundred jobs over the course of two years, Barringer, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, could not secure a full-time, salaried church position.

So he splits his time among three jobs, working as a freelance editor, an employee at a nonprofit for the homeless, and a part-time assistant pastor at a United Methodist Church. “I am not mad at the church,” Barringer says. “However, I wish someone had advised me against taking on so much debt in order to be trained for ministry.”

Here is the reality: high debt and scarcity of full-time paying pastor positions.

The traditional mainline church track for full-time pastors followed like this: 4-years of college, 3-years of graduate seminary education, and ordination. This process launched a generation of pastors into their ministry in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The traditional 90-credit seminary degree, the master of divinity, became the mark of an intellectual, professional, and full-time pastor. Churches had the people and money to support such a model. The pastor typical could raise a family and even buy a house (if one was not provided).

Now, because of cost of graduate education, seminary graduates are saddled with debt. In the $40,000 to $60,000 range (on top of college debt). The pace of the rise of the cost of education has exceeded the rate of inflation: to the tune of 500% since 1985.  Usually, when a professional incurs such a debt, their boss gives them a raise because of their higher degree. Not the case with pastors. Many pastors have the same credit hours as school administrators, but paid much less.

With this current reality of shrinking churches, downsized church budgets, less full-time pastor positions, and need for a generation of clergy to lead churches into a new culture, a shorter more focused seminary degree is needed. An online distance modified 45-credit degree could shake up this bleak future for pastors and churches. Here’s what the 45-credit seminary degree could look like:

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Learning church growth trends in England


As American churches slowly declined, we watched our European neighbors over the pond decline even faster. The “Death of Christianity” was forecasted to spread from England, Germany, and Norway to  around the world.  Surprisingly, a new study has revealed church growth trends in Europe. The death of Christianity story is greatly exaggerated.

What can we attribute to this growth? Hipper churches? Better social media? Flasher worship bands?

No… none of the above were found to produce long term church growth and revitalization.

The church growth movement in England has discovered deeper trends that can help American churches. A 10 year study was completed by the Church Growth Research Programme to study British churches. The study found that 18% of churches in Britain grew over a 10-year period. The study aimed to uncover what was different about those churches. The findings were reported by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership:

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Don’t fall for this scam

Scam, scam, scams. Internet scams are nothing new. You may have received a scam request for $1000 to be sent to some guy in Asia with a promise of a huge reward. These scams are getting more involved and more creative.

From time to time, I’m asked to speak at conferences, seminars, or denomination gatherings. It is not usual for me to receive an email about a speaking opportunity from someone I do not know. This morning, I received a rather usual email: A “invitation” to speak at an event in England.

Great, right? However, there were several red flags:

Poor wording/spelling/grammar I’m not a super self editor, but when you invite someone to speak, the invite is free of errors. They didn’t spell Baptist right. The email is riddled with errors.

Broken website If you click the website, the webpage is “frozen”. If there’s a conference, then there’s a website.

Use of CAPS No one uses capitalization in an email unless they are YELLING.

They want money No speaking conference is going to ask for money upfront. I learned that this scam is common and the next email is about money. This guy fell for it.

Use of Gmail If a large or small conference invites you, it’s not going to come from a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo account. That’s bogus.

Bottom line, if anyone wants your identity information, passport information, or money – do not give it out! Below is the invite: [Read more…]

5 Counterintuitive leadership habits


Leaders often struggle with questions of “Am I effective?” or “Why isn’t this working?” in the course of their leadership. Organizational leaders and pastors are often plagued with such questions because unlike their for-profit counterparts, non-profit leaders often work with very limited resources of people and money.

Forbes gives business leaders “5 Counterintuitive Habits Of Truly Authentic Leaders” that transfer easily to congregations. Maseena Zieglar writes:

We live in an era in which increasingly, leaders who are authentic, and who translate this into shared value for their people, whether shareholders or stakeholders, employees, customers or constituents, are the ones who have true and lasting impact – ultimately making the world a better place to live in. Striving for authenticity in leadership is the new kind of success to aspire to, and may well one day be the measure by which some aspects of performance are evaluated.

Zieglar states that the following five qualities are effective for authentic leaders:

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The Israel news story you will never hear

Since May 20, 2014 there’s a news story coming out of Israel you will never hear. This story did not make any of the major news stations or papers. This story is not about bombings or war, but it is a story of waging peace. Only a few minor news outlets or blogs have covered this story.

This story is about a farm called “Tent of Nations” in Israel. Back in 2012, I visited the Tent of Nations. The Tent of Nations, an organization that brings all people together to live and work on land that is disputed. Daoud Nassar, a Christian, is the owner of the disputed land. It was his grandfather’s land. However, his grandfather did something unusual. He received deeds from all the occupying powers that invaded Palestine: the Ottomans and then the British. However, since last 12 years, the Israeli government is trying to prove it is public land.

Last month, the Tent of Nations posted this message on their Facebook page:

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Beware of the Backfire Effect


“Daddy long-leg spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders but their fangs are too short to bite humans.” “All vaccines are deadly to all children.”  You may heard those statements, but those statements are not true. Despite facts that disprove popular myths, some folks dig in further into their beliefs. That is called the Backfire Effect.

The term Backfire Effect was first used and documented by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They sought to study the interaction of people’s false benefits with counter credible evidence, which in turn further solidifies their misguided belief.  Nyhan and Reifler tracked how corrections to false beliefs actually increase misconceptions among the group or person in question.

Often, the Backfire Effect is studied in the field of politics, but the Backfire Effect happens in the churches. Leadership in the local church need to be able to identify and respond to the Backfire Effect.

Churches experience the Backfire Effect when congregants assume facts or completely ignore the reality of a situation. In turn they label others as “wrong” or “right”. This in turn can create a culture of “us” versus “them”.

It is easy for church folk to assume nothing is happening in “this” committee or “that” ministry project is not moving in the right direction. This can enable that disgruntled congregant, who usually complains about everything, to slide further into their emotional hang-up concerning the church. When a leader sits down with the disgruntled congregant and calmly addresses their concerns with corrective facts, the Backfire Effect can occur: the disgruntled congregant rejects the facts and keeps believing that he/she is in the “right”.

Pastors and leaders need to understand where emotional opinions come from. There will always been those persons in the church who throw their hands up and say, “They don’t do evangelism” or “They don’t really care about people”. When in fact, those statements are not true. Such harsh comments usually come from some deep drama or past history that has not been addressed. People with anger management problems or prone to outbursts sometimes provide the worst Backfire Effect. 

Still, churches must create spaces and times for people to express their concerns. It is important to not let the Backfire Effect dominate a meeting or discussion. It is best to give the facts, listen and move on. Later, a one-one meeting will be necessarily.

The more you communicate the reality or correct message to your organization or church audience the better. The more people who have the correct information the better. Spend time planning how to best communicate the truth: word of mouth, print, digital, or all of the above. Finally, frequent reminders of information is helpful. Such practices can help reduce the Backfire Effect.

Limiting blog trolls


After blogging for over 5 years, I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments. I’ve found there are two types of negative blog commentator: productive criticism and blog trolls.

Blog trolls, like their mythical archetypes, lurk in the dark waiting for an unsuspecting blog author or other commentator. Blog trolls wait to unleash their irrational, ranting, and ugly comments on anyone who gets in their ideological way.  I used to have a pretty liberal policy with comments on my blogs. I’d let about anything go in the name of free speech. However, I quickly learned that the blog trolls were keeping other people from commenting.

The Washington Post highlights the problem of blog troll (or their cousin the “news troll”) in an article explaining the rise and problem of the blog troll:

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Stewardship: Raising more with less stress


Stewardship does not have to be the hardest thing you do at church. Pastors and leaders often lament pledge drives or stewardship campaigns. Fundraising in the church is difficult.

There is an alternative to non-stop fundraising, convincing people to give more – or simply cutting the budget. It’s what you bring to stewardship that you already have and not about learning the latest technique.

Register for this FREE webinar for Monday, May 5th @ 3:30 PM EST and you will be able to:

  • become more thoughtful about the financial challenges you and you church face
  • see money – and the process of stewardship– from a different perspective
  • bring more calm and creativity to recurring and unexpected problems in funding ministry
  • concentrate on long-term ministry goals and strategic persistence to get financial support for those goals.
  • focus on yourself and what you can impact directly rather than trying harder to convince others to give more
  • enjoy the stewardship process rather than dreading it each year

Leading this webinar is Rev. Margaret Marcuson works with churches who want to create a ministry that lasts and clergy who want to have more impact on the people they serve best. She speaks and writes on leadership and works with church leaders nationally as a consultant and coach. Margaret is the author of 111 Tips to Survive Pastoral Ministry, Leaders who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and Money and Your Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance (just released). Margaret is an American Baptist minister and was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts, for 13 years. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Karl, and belongs to First Baptist Church of Portland.

Spots are limited for this webinar! Sign up today.