Roger Spitler

About Roger Spitler

Roger's Blog
Roger is a Lead Pastor, with a youth pastor's heart, following the unconventional path Jesus has him on. He wrestles with his boys, "defeats" his wife at board games, and loves all things Star Wars.



4 Things to Do at Your New Church

It was my first day. I fumbled with the keys. My office was surrounded boxes of unpacked books and journals. There was a computer to which I didn’t know the password. It was a blank slate; a fresh start. I also knew that it was Monday- and Sunday was coming. (It’s always coming.)

There was a feeling of dread that came over me. It was my first day as a Lead Pastor. Any staff that the church had was all part-time, and most of them recently had left before I was hired for more hours at another church. I was alone in the building- minus the day care. There were lots of kids- which didn’t bother me- but I knew that they would not be giving me any direction.

It is possible you come from a tradition where denominational leaders will come in and help with the transition. I am not in that tradition. What do you do? If you were like me, you had dreams of growth, making the church healthy, preaching great sermons, and leading people to Jesus. It all sounds great- but how do I start?

4 Things to Do at Your New Church

A year out now, I go every day with a plan. I am not into GTD- I just know kind of what my week already looks like- appointments, sermon prep, meetings, events. I know the routine.

But that first day- there is no routine; there are no plans; there are no appointments or events. Staring at my desk, not knowing what to do next or even if that thing is important and worth my time caused me to feel dread. I take a breath and then remember I’m not stuck. Here are three things that I do every time I have started at a new church, whether as an intern, some kind of associate pastor, or as a Senior Pastor. It is absolutely not an exhaustive list- it is a list designed to get you going!

 

1. Start with Something Easy

I hate cliches but there is some truth in them: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” God may have laid a vision on your heart for the ways He wants you to move, change, and grow in your new church. But where do you start? I suggest start with something easy.

I’m talking really easy. I finally found that missing password to my computer, so the first thing I did when I started was unpack my books and install all the necessary computer applications I use daily (Logos, Chrome, Evernote). You may scoff- but I knew that I would need a few of those commentary volumes in sermon prep. I knew I couldn’t type the sermon or research the way I want to without those apps.

Yes, I could use others ones like Word or something, but that isn’t the point. The point is that when everything so overwhelming and I didn’t know where to go, I started with something small to make me feel like I accomplished something. Odds are, day one, you may have a lot of visitors too, trying to meet the new pastor. Installing apps and shelving books were easy to put down. Sermon prep, for me, is not something easy to put down.

It also made me feel comfortable- like this was now my office, a huge step in feeling more secure at your new church. It helped get the ball rolling- which let me begin to tackle other things and feel more confident. If I can install Evernote, I can take on the world!

 

2. Invest in the Staff/Leaders

Honestly, this isn’t a day one, week one, or maybe even month one kind of step. It is a step you should definitely have figured out by the end of the first year though. It doesn’t matter how big your city or church is- people are going to want your time and attention when you are new.

My advice is start with your staff: other pastors, secretary, custodian, a daycare director (at least in my context). If your church is small and you are the only staff member, I bet that you have people that lead some of these areas. Someone helps with the bulletin; someone helps vacuum or clean; or you have an elder or leadership board. If you are a youth or children’s pastor, you probably have a volunteer team or core- aside from your senior pastor and other pastors on staff, I’d start here with those volunteers. Invest in staff and leaders!

Invest is a loaded word these days that can mean a lot of things. I’d start by checking in with them as often as you see them. Tell me about your kids, your hobbies- just generally talk to them and go out of your way to do it. Go out to lunch. After you’ve unpacked, invite them over for dinner either as individuals, families, or in groups. You could also do something fun together! We like to play board games with a few of our staff members.

As time goes on, you are going to want these leaders to help you build and grow that vision God planted in you. You want them to be on your team- not a person forced to work with you because of proximity. Let them in on the vision, challenge them to grow with you, and lead them. Eventually, you will have the ability and sway to say- let’s do a Bible study; let’s do a book study; let’s go to a conference.

 

3. Meet with Community Leaders

I got some great advice when I started that I will pass along to you: meet with your community leaders. Meet the police chief; the sheriff; the school principal; fire chief; key businesses; other churches near you. Can you identify those important structures and leaders in the areas you serve? Especially in small towns or rural settings- I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

It helped me is that I began to see the small town I live in with eyes of people who have lived there for years. Many of our church members live outside of town, but where we were growing was those from in town. To be honest, in many circles there is a bit of negative stigma for those that live in our town. When I met the leaders, you could see the hope and love of a small town that trying to clean up and grow.

The other thing that it did for me was see areas of need. There was already a food pantry- so we don’t need to start our own.

There was already a church giving out cheap/free clothes, so there is no need for us to do that. There was a great need for more activities for kids. Our building, our staff, our daycare- we didn’t realize it but we are in a great position to meet that need whereas some of our other churches in town who are older, aren’t equipped for that right now. We are just now beginning to see the blessings of the gifts God has given us.

 

4. Listen to everyone

The last thing I’d recommend is that anytime someone tells a story: drop what you are doing and listen. You are going to learn a lot about the church, its history, the history of its people, successes and failures of the last person who had your position. Some of these stories are boring and pointless, but you can learn so much about your people in that first year.

In my current context, they had been without a pastor for almost a year as they searched and cadidated for a new one. I never asked: what are the major problems of the church, but through conversations with staff, with my board, and with members I found one root of a lot of problems:  communication. At some point, either under the last pastor or between pastors, communication fell off, conflict grew, and there were some hurt feelings.

Our communication issue wasn’t something that I figured out day one- I followed the steps above- starting small, starting with my staff. Communication is much better today in all areas: we have staff meetings (never had before); our daycare works with the church, instead of against it; we are now emailing and texting information to our members during the week; we increased social media presence.

Changing our communication strategy took time. It was 11 months and 3 weeks into my first year before we implemented it. So far, we have had good feedback and people are enjoying knowing what’s going on or coming up, especially if someone misses a Sunday.

Where we are as a church today is that all those big vision ideas I had, we are gearing up to start tackling because my staff is working together- we’re a team- and we are listening, and we tackled small things that led to a communication shift. Our town now sees our church more positively; we want to be a part of the community- not just a building in it. All these small steps led to the big thing I wanted to do at the beginning, but didn’t know how to start.

By | 2018-05-25T03:09:23+00:00 June 2nd, 2018|

6 Types of Things Pastors Should be Learning

Pastor and author Karl Vaters said on a recent podcast I listened to:  “The pastor has to be a learning pastor…” (Productive Pastor, Episode 96, 36:5-37:12)

I don’t know about you, but my anxiety goes up. More learning?! Between sermon prep, denominational demands, leading a staff, preparing Bible Studies, and attempting to keep up with my kids and wife at home, my brain literally cannot take in any more information.

While I was trying to do some research for this article, everything I saw was about more education, reading more books, and improving your Biblical languages. Right now, those things are just not in the cards for me- or maybe ever again. I am not the fastest book reader- so I’ll never be that “smart pastor” that reads 50 books a year or a book a week or anything like that.

6 Types of Things Pastors Should be Learning

Learning doesn’t have to be a stresser. I am not suggesting you read more books or go back to school, though that could be certainly included! Listen to a podcast; read a magazine or a blog post; watch a Youtube video; watch a documentary or a currently running sitcom; talk or work with someone in your community or context. Do not limit learning to schools, books, and your normal avenues.  

You can do many of these things in your normal routines during the commute, over lunch, or in the regular rhythms of life. The following list is different types of things I believe we should be learning as pastors- all pastors, bi-vocational, part-time, or full-time; good readers, bad readers; highly educated or just high school diploma. Hopefully this list will help get your mind going and learning in some areas you maybe hadn’t thought of before.

 

1. Learn From Your Own Faith Tradition

You belong to some kind of “tribe”: Reformed, Wesleyan, Catholic, Baptist, Holiness Movement. These are just a few examples, but whether you belong to a denomination or some broader faith tradition, I am going to bet that your “tribe” is putting out some kind of resources. Get a hold of these.

You’ve likely had some training, been to seminary, or read the famous authors’ books or sermons. I don’t say you should keep up with your own tradition because you don’t know it but because it is continually good to refresh yourself on the ideas, beliefs, positions, and teachings of your “tribe.” I don’t spend the majority of my time here, but we need to be reminded of who we are as I suggest below some of the other kinds of learning.

 

2.  Learn from Christian Traditions Different From You

I think that this is a really important one. Why? I believe that other Christian faith traditions have a lot to offer, and it often gets neglected and left of reading lists. When I go to denominational retreats or when I was at seminary, many of fellow pastors read the same authors and types of books. When I ask an opinion on a matter- often times there can be a repetition of thought because we all read and study the same things.

By reading a variety of Christian traditions you are going to be able to pull the best things out of those traditions. I am not suggesting you suddenly believe the same as a Catholic or a Disciple of Christ, but can they not teach us something about proper reverence towards the Lord’s Supper? Can a Wesleyan or a Reformed believer learn something about the holiness of God from the other tradition? Absolutely- either by adding some new wrinkle that you had never considered or even to strengthen your own position wherever you disagree.

I don’t believe any one tradition, one tribe, one author can fully encapsulate in a book or teaching who God is. As J.I. Packer wrote, “A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God).

Learn from the work in your brothers and sisters in Christ! They have something to offer, too, and shouldn’t be cast aside because they have the wrong label.

 

3. Learn Something From a Nonbeliever

Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Secularism. It is a brief listing of different beliefs you will run into on a regular basis. What does the Hindu say of creation or how things came to be? What does the Muslim believe about who Moses was? Why do Buddhists meditate?  Are there insights into how these individuals, religions, or groups of people see the world that could either help me as a pastor be a better Christian, leader, or even evangelist?

Nonbelievers have a lot to teach us- even if we don’t agree with every position. Paul said that he became different things to different people in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Why? “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:23). We cannot speak to an atheist to tell them of the Gospel if we do not understand even a little bit of their own position.

We should not fake it; we should not pretend; nor should we become these things and abandon our faith! We should be able to understand them enough to have an intelligible conversation that could lead to positively sharing the Gospel.

The example I use with my church all the time is basektball. I am not the greatest player, by far. I just enjoy and have been playing on playgrounds and gyms since around 5th grade (in my 30s now). Basketball has it’s own language; it’s own traditions; its own culture- which in my experience transcends ethnic groups, races, and languages.

One of the things my church does in its currently is have an open gym time at our church where few from the church play (including me), but many different people from the community come and play, usually between 17-25 years old.

Because I speak the “language of basketball” with all of its trash talk, cursing, acting tough, etc- it is much easier for me to speak into that group of people in that context than just standing on a corner trying to tell them to love Jesus. It does not mean that I do those things (though I am no stranger to a little friendly trash talk), it makes everyone feel comfortable that on the court we all speak the same language despite me being older. It has led to some cool conversations off the court.

One of the other ways that I find regularly reading things that are even anti-Christian is that I like to see how others perceive me. I regularly listen to an Atheist podcast whose soul mission is to talk faith and politics- which usually means a lot of Christian bashing. The people in your pews may not see your church this way, but it is possible that through belief or through hurt, people in your community may see your church negatively.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know some of our faults, acknowledge them, and attempt to grow from them? How can we learn where those faults are?

 

4. Learn Something With Your Hands

A lot of pastors spend time reading, praying, teaching, speaking, and visiting people. It doesn’t leave a lot of physical activity in your life. Give your mind a breather and try something physical.

I’ve served in fairly rural settings. Education, degrees, and reading books (my natural inclinations) aren’t always as highly valued in these regions as others. Hunting, fishing, and working with your hands is highly valued! By learning how to do something with your hands, you can open yourself up to new conversations with people in town who share the skill, members of your own congregation who value fixing cars, and in one case it even led to a husband being more involved in the church!

I was able to have really cool conversations with farmers, welders, mechanics, carpenters, and other skilled laborers at my last church in Iowa. I also found a passion for composting. How? I admitted to someone with those skills that I didn’t know how to do it and I wanted to learn.

“Would you come to my house and teach me?” Pastors, if you are having trouble reaching that one guy for your book study, wouldn’t you love to spend 2-3 hours talking with him? You can really reach that one guy in your church that is good with cars but refuses your Bible study by spending 3 hours under your car and talking (i.e. discipleship). You will also value him and his contributions at the same time. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

I’m not saying you need to be a gearhead, be able to build a house, etc. I wish I knew how to fix cars because I would love to be able to share that gift with other people in the community who can’t afford a good mechanic for basic repairs. I wish I knew how to hang drywall who I could help a parishioner finish that remodel before the baby gets here. I wish I could hunt so I can give free quality meat to families that are struggling to buy groceries.

Your church and community have a lot of needs- not all of them can be met by a pastor. What does your community value in terms of manual labor? Hunting? Farming? Cars? Building? It is amazing the discipleship opportunities or chances to spread the Gospel that can come from learning more about using our hands. I’m excited to learn how to use a crossbow this summer from a guy in our church!

 

5. Learn Something that Has Nothing to do with Religion

It is easy to spend all of our time reading books about church: theology, church growth, discipleship, trends, conferences- there is always something to listen to or read! My “to-read” pile never seems to shrink. My advice: mix in something that you are passionate about or something you wish you knew better.

Sometimes on my drive home from church, I’ll listen to an NBA podcast. I love basketball, as I’ve said. I also love history- so I’ll watch a documentary one night on the American Revolution. What is a fun hobby? What do you just enjoy knowing more about?

The number one benefit I have found from this is that my sermons became more interesting. I have more resources to draw on, more illustrations to draw, new vocabulary to explain a complex topic, and honestly I have found more people engaged in what I am saying. If you could use some help becoming more interesting or having better sermons, could I suggest you broaden what you learning? Find a new podcast, movie, blog, or book! One of my favorites is the Art of Maniless– which I have used in several memorable sermons last year!

 

6. Learn Something About Yourself

I left this one as last on purpose- not because it is the least important but because hopefully it will stay in your mind longer after you finish reading. You could be a great pastor- but if you are a bad parent or a bad spouse, if you lose your temper quickly on your staff, if you don’t know how your mind ticks, and if you don’t know your natural inclinations are you will not be nearly as effective.

God is in control, and I realize that He can do anything with nothing. But why not put yourself in a better position to succeed? We recently hired a new youth pastor at my church. It my first hire as a Lead Pastor, and I wanted it to be a good fit. The most important criteria I had: I needed an extrovert that was good relationally with people (especially teens).

Why? I am an introvert (well, severely introverted). I do not want more of me around. I know what I can do as an introvert and what is more difficult. I’m not a good greeter; visiting people in their homes or inviting them to mine isn’t a forte. I need to be around people who push me to do those things by their presence and those who will fill in the gaps of our church’s ministry that I can’t possible fill.

 

Concluding Thoughts

I’ll end by saying again: I am not asking you to read more, abandon your beliefs, or go back to school. We can learn from these different sources by watching a tv show, listening to a podcast, reading a blog or a book, being in nature, or interacting with others. The danger, in my opinion, is that we get too hyper focused, too pigeonholed, in one area (i.e. our faith and “tribe” as pastors), and we forget how to meaningfully talk to and lead others who are drastically different than us:

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” -1 Corinthians 9:19-23

By | 2018-05-25T02:51:47+00:00 May 28th, 2018|

You are Uniquely Called

Spring is here. Summer is coming, and it won’t be too long until Fall is knocking on our door. Looking at my calendar that means one thing: conferences.

Conferences are great right? They teach you a lot of big, arching principles about ministry, being a pastor, church growth, being healthy, or even just for the fellowship of it all. I was just at a conference last week in central Illinois for small town pastors. As I looked around, there were pastors talking and laughing together, there were some following the leaders around asking questions, others walking around with huge piles of books they just bought, and then there is the cake. There was a lot of cake.

You are Uniquely Called

I have my backpack, my snacks, and my notebook ready to go though! I have everything that I need. What will I be taking back with me though?

 

The Good

The good part about conferences is all the tips and tricks you can take home. We all have issues that we are struggling through in our churches that need more experienced answers. As a small town pastor, there aren’t a lot of people in my area to turn to for advice. It is nice to know that I can go and learn from other pastors who have been there, done that, and can give me some advice along the way.

At my recent conference, I was talking to one of the workshop leaders about small groups. It seems like no matter how many times I went to a conference, everyone says small groups. Small groups seem to be the holy grail of churches now. All of my problems will be solved with small groups! In my experiences, leading in rural, small town settings, small groups never seem to catch on the way that the conferences do.

By asking, I learned that it doesn’t work as well in small towns because Johnny and Steve have known each other their entire lives. The idea of sitting together, confessing sins, and sharing struggles together isn’t appealing. In many cases, those sins and struggles may already be known! Word travels faster than I ever thought possible in small towns. So why sit down and rehash it because the pastor said so?

 

The Difficult

Small groups have always been an issue for me as a leader- not because I don’t value them or don’t know how to start one. The buy in is always so low! Why am I even pushing it? Why do I believe small groups (only by way of example) are the greatest thing? I think it has to do with the fact that we buy into what our celebrity pastors, leaders, and current leading thinkers tell us. I have this idea of what a small group should be and it matches what I see in a larger, more urban church.

I am in rural church of less than 200. We are anything but a large, urban church.

I don’t want this to come out wrong- but the last three conferences I have attended, all of the speakers seem like they were cut from the same cloth. It is like they have similar barbers, the same style of clothes, sometimes even similar speaking styles. But I don’t look like them. I definitely don’t wear skinny jeans.

I’ve already said this, but I am a small town, rural pastor in a smaller church. Conferences don’t have speakers like me- which makes sense and isn’t wrong. The normal pastor or leader at this conference is from larger ministries, urban areas. Our small groups, our children’s ministry, our youth ministry, coffee before service, even our worship will look and be different.

Our church is still small enough that we know every kid, every face, and all the parents naturally. The idea of having complex check-in system, especially ones reliant on technology doesn’t work for us (not everyone has internet or a computer at home).

So I am not that pastor. I don’t fit the models they are telling me. What is wrong with me? I don’t know about you- but often times I can bring home a lot of disappoint and feeling defeated that my small groups don’t look like theirs. I must be doing something wrong. I must be wrong.

 

Be You!

So how do you take all this information and new ideas from conferences, blogs, websites, speakers, books- and use it? I find that I have too keep reminding myself of two things:

You have to remember who you are: you were uniquely, fearfully, and wonderfully made.

Because you were uniquely made, you have a unique calling to a unique church.

I am an introvert. I love to teach, preach, and spend time with our youth and children. These are all strengths- all of them. I know then that am not going to be great at saying hello to every single person or the best at visitations. However, I can be the pastor that has a good relationship with parents and families, can help disciple a young youth pastor with my own youth/children’s ministry experience. It turns out- my church currently has some great people at hospitality and we have a youth ministry in need of some work.

I am uniquely made. I am uniquely called.

You can likely make a list about yourself as well- your strengths and personality. Can you leverage that into effective ministry? Take the big, helpful principles that you learn at conferences. Read everything you possibly can and learn all that is available to learn. As pastors, we have to learn to filter all of these ideas, fads, trends, and principals through a filter:

 

You are uniquely made. You were uniquely called.

If God wanted, he could call John Piper or Andy Stanley to your church, no matter its size or location. God chose you, unique as you are, to a place that He desired for you to minister.

Your church, your community doesn’t need me, it doesn’t need a different pastor. Your church and your community needs you to be who you were uniquely created to be and to uniquely pastor as the person God called you to be.

By | 2018-04-28T04:54:53+00:00 May 9th, 2018|

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