Navigating Life>>Navigating Through Tough Times

Ministries go through tough times. Here are some solutions your fellow grads have found.

Take Steps Toward Change // Tony Umber (’96, ’97) //

After eight years of pastoring, Tony Umber says he finally came to the end of his rope.

“I knew what God had spoken to my heart about our church being an influence in Flint,” he says, “but when I looked around, it wasn’t happening. I felt frustrated and defeated. Something had to change.”

Tony says he began dissecting everything, from the parking lot to the pulpit. “We asked, ‘Why do we do church this way?’ And we found that sometimes we were just doing things the way we had seen church done.

“I believe one of the biggest pitfalls for a pastor is to think, ‘If we build it, they will come,’ ” says Tony. “Second is to think, ‘If we pray long and hard enough for revival, God will just bring the increase.’ But if we’re not seeing what we want, then doing more of the same won’t produce a different result.”

Tony reports that within 16 months of making changes, his church quadrupled in size and they’re now having multiple Sunday morning services. “We gained new momentum,” he says.

Some of Dean’s most recent favorite books are:

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne
First Impressions by Mark L. Waltz
Fusion by Nelson Searcy
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Launch by Nelson Searcy & Kerrick Thomas
No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke

Tips for making some changes

Start with yourself. “I had to look in the mirror and admit the common denominator was me. Before, I only prayed and studied for sermons and ministry, not for personal growth or development. And
because the church wasn’t succeeding, it sucked the life out of me. Then it was easier to just be discouraged and go to bed early than it was to stay up and pray.

“If you want to see something different, you have to do something different. I always understood the vitality of what prayer offered; I just didn’t do it. Now I prioritize, and I make the time to maintain my relationship with God. Here’s the reality: If I pray, I’ll succeed. If I don’t pray, I’ll fail.”

Examine your services.
“We asked our core volunteers, ‘Is our church a place you want to bring a visitor?’ The answer was a startling no. The biggest reason was, they didn’t know what would take place in a service, or how long it would go. I thought everyone was hungry for the Word, so I’d preach up to an hour, really ministering to believers only. But the truth is, church needs to develop and disciple believers as well as reach the lost.

“So we became intentional about growing church, instead of just letting church happen. Now on Sunday mornings, we’re reaching out to the unbeliever and ministering to the saints. We do more discipling through our Life Group meetings during the week. Rather than saying, ‘We’re just gonna preach the Word,’ we put more time into planning services. We’ve taken the fluff out.”

Lead on purpose. “Probably the greatest thing that has changed the course of our church is that I became a student of leadership,” says Tony. “Before, I didn’t do anything to develop as a leader. Now I observe ministers who are successful. How and why do they do what they do? I read books, listen to CDs, and go to conferences. I eat the hay and leave the sticks, using the principles that apply to us, both spiritual and natural.

“In the past I pastored from week to week. Maybe I would prepare two weeks ahead. Now I say, ‘Holy Spirit, You can help me prepare months and even years ahead,’ and it’s just as much inspired by the Holy Spirit as being up late Saturday night preparing a dynamic word. Now I let the Holy Spirit help me plan out my year. The further ahead I prepare, the more we can plan and make it a success from the natural side.”

Adapt Your Style, Expand Your Influence // Joe Cameneti (’82, ’83) //

Joe Cameneti and his wife, Gina (’82, ’83), have pastored Believers Christian Fellowship in Warren, Ohio, for 27 years.

When Joe Cameneti’s church first started, it grew. But when growth began to plateau, Joe had to ask why. “God began to challenge my thinking and pushed me out of my comfort zone so we could expand our influence,” he says.

“In my community there were only so many people looking for a doctrine-based teaching style,” says Joe. “I had already pulled those in, and then the church stopped growing. When growth stops happening, it’s time to start questioning.”

Joe discovered that his preaching style and message length were no longer culturally relevant. So he started listening to ministers who taught the Bible from a life-experience perspective.

Connections says: Kenneth E. Hagin was a master at using life experiences in his teaching. He constantly used real-life stories to illustrate his points, which helped listeners apply the principles to everyday life.

“It was difficult to imagine teaching with that style,” Joe says, “but I knew God was opening my heart to the much-needed shift. He helped me see that the message was never to change, but the method had to be constantly evolving.”

Joe put a team together to help him make the changes, and the results have been good (see TIPS box below). “We now average 200 people a year going through membership classes,” he says. “We’re drawing people into our services and turning them toward God. That’s what we’re after!

“Taking steps toward change can be a difficult, uncomfortable, and downright painful process,” says Joe. “But it’s worth it!”

Joe Says:

I actually pray and research now more than ever. Incorporating life-experience illustrations has probably doubled or tripled my study time. It’s challenged me to trim the fat and get to the point as I present an uncompromised message.

No matter what we do to enhance the service, without the power of the Holy Spirit and the life of God in a service, there will be no life changes in the people.

Now that I’ve seen the results, I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

Tips for relevant messages

Get creative help. “I assembled a creative team (most in their early 20s, and none with much ministry experience) to help me prepare my messages. Talk about awkward! It felt so weird to sit there as they helped me decide on message titles, illustrations, and anything else that would enhance the experience. I was humbled, butit made a huge difference! I was amazed at the wisdom and ideas that poured out from these people—the majority of whom were volunteers.”

Make a plan. “We asked, ‘What does the church need to hear?’ I would give the group a baseline to run on, and they would share their thoughts on each idea. This helped us set up the year in a very precise way. We knew where we were going! To develop a series I would bring the team a subject with bullet points of what I wanted to cover. Then the madness would begin! I would never compromise Scripture or content, but I always opened myself up to different ways to present the Scripture and content.”

An example. “One year I designed an eight-week series on evangelism to culminate in a ‘Big Day’—its purpose was to mobilize our congregation to reach their friends and family. I brought the team my message outline, which had the super-edgy title ‘How to Witness,’ with lesson titles like intercession, lifestyle evangelism, Holy Spirit conviction, etc. My creativity astounded them (not!). We began to overhaul the name and titles, creating a graphic feel, and the series took on a life of its own! The title was changed to ‘Go! A Simple Way to Share Your Faith.’ The lesson titles were changed to Catch, Go, Pray, Power, Be, You, Tell, and Family. These titles gave me a great structure to build content for the series. My video team created an incredible intro for the series and several videos to drive home the main points. “Go!” led perfectly into our Big Day, and our church brought 500 first-time visitors, with 180 responding to the altar call. The series was so powerful that it inspired a book with the same title and content (see page 19).”

Use a System // Jim Dumont ('80, '81) //

Jim Dumont and his wife, Pam, pastor Erie Christian Fellowship in Erie, Pennsylvania.

When Jim Dumont’s church wasn’t going the way he wanted, he decided to hire an outside consultant.

When you ask him why, his answer is simple. “Pain!” he says, laughing. “We finally came to the point where we realized we needed help. Most of us keep going through the same cycles until we realize there’s got to be a better way to do things.”

It started when a pastor friend of Jim’s hired a consultant. “This pastor told us that if he hadn’t gotten help, he would have run his church into the ground,” he says. “So he let me and my team sit in on one of the meetings, and it’s the best thing we ever did.”

According to Jim, the most important thing it did for his church was give them a system to follow.

“A lot of times as ministers, we’re just shooting from the hip and chasing after good ideas,” says Jim. “But not every idea is something that needs to be turned into a goal for your particular church. If you don’t establish your own focus, plan, and process to get there, you can waste a lot of time going down rabbit trails that steal time, energy, and momentum.”

The system they put in place addresses these points: Direction, Organization, Cash, Tracking, Overview, and Refinement. “It impacts everything,” says Jim. “How we hire, what we spend money on, what events we have. Now everybody’s on the same page, we all know the process, and there are no surprises.”

Tips : Benefits of a System

Empowerment. “This system allows other people to be involved in the process. Before we hired a consultant, I was too involved in the day-to-day operation of our church. My focus now is to lead our organization, raise other leaders, and preach well. It’s given my administrative assistant more leeway to take the reins in organizing everything. It empowers people. We all know how to make better choices.”

Momentum. “It’s allowed us to have momentum. When you have momentum you can feel it, and you know things are going in the right direction. You still have issues, but you know you’re making forward progress. That’s what we’re feeling now.”

Unity. “There’s a spirit of camaraderie, more peace. Now we plan things at least a year in advance, almost two. That’s so helpful for all your helps ministry teams. We don’t conflict when we schedule things, our events build upon each other, and we collaborate. Now everyone’s playing from the same sheet of music.”

Review Church Finances // Tony McKinnon ('88, '89) //

Tony McKinnon and his wife, Kimberly, pastor Family Worship Center in Williamstown, Kentucky.

According to Tony McKinnon, most pastors enter the ministry because they love God, love people, and love to preach and teach. But that’s not all there is to running a church.

“Part of the skill set necessary to pastor successfully is the ability to steward resources well,” says Tony, “especially in challenging economic times.”

Finances are the one constant need in ministry. “Even though God is our supply, it’s our faith, vision, and drive that will often keep us on the edge financially,” he says. “Faith can never be a substitute for wisdom. Wisdom says if we have $1.00, we don’t spend $1.10. To a large degree we can’t control what comes in, but we can absolutely control what we spend.”

Sometimes when times are good, churches can overspend. Tony’s years as a farmer taught him that there are always going to be seasons of plenty and seasons of scarcity.

“It’s important to apply wisdom when there’s plenty,” he says. “During good times we should put money away for the inevitable rainy day and pay down debt. For example, our church experienced five years of steady increase until recently. So we aggressively paid down debt, including paying off the mortgage on our building 10 years early. That immediately freed up monthly cash and saved us interest down the road. So as things have tightened up a bit, we’re already better prepared to weather the season.”

Tips for Examining Church Finances

Look at regular expenses such as phone, Internet, and insurance. Are there any better rate plans, etc., that would cut costs?

Do simple things like turn off the lights, adjust thermostats, and turn off computers to save on the electric bill.

Take on no new debt for the short term.

Work to pay down remaining debt as soon as possible.

Cut back on convenience/luxury expenditures such as meals and refreshments for staff meetings, small groups, and other gatherings.

Cut back on travel to conferences and so forth.

Choose only what feeds and refreshes you best.

Major purchases: Is it absolutely necessary? Can an item be repaired rather than replaced?

Return on investment: Where are we getting the most bang for our buck with outreaches, events,
and advertisement? Cut out or trim low-return areas.

Examine building usage. It costs every time you open the doors. Are office hours optimal? Can events and/or services be combined so that multiple things are going on at once? (This also helps your people maximize their fuel spending.)

Each department should examine its own spending requests. Is it necessary?

Can we be more creative with what we have instead of purchasing something new?

Depending on the degree to which income is down, missions, benevolences, and so forth have to be examined. You can’t give beyond your ability, and you can sow yourself into the poorhouse if you don’t use wisdom.

Trim anything that doesn’t affect the quality of ministry provided. Salaries would be one of the next items, beginning with mine. As pastor I will always take the first hit.

Tony Says

Trim anything that doesn’t affect the quality of ministry provided. Salaries would be one of the next items, beginning with mine. As pastor I will always take the first hit.

Help People Become Who They're Supposed to Be // John Grunewald (’80) //

John Grunewald and his wife, Michelle (’80), pastor RHEMA Bible Church in Bonn, Germany. They are directors of RHEMA Bible Training Center Germany and International Directors of RMAI.

John Grunewald says that for many years in the ministry, he wasn’t happy with what he saw in the church. “I came into Christianity from a dysfunctional family, and I didn’t like seeing the church dysfunctional also,” he says. “I saw leaders hurting and quitting, I saw people leaving churches, and I had to ask, ‘Why?’ ”

He came to the conclusion that most of the problem was with the leaders. “So I had to be courageous enough to evaluate my own spiritual leadership,” John says. “I had to ask, ‘What would it take for my light to shine as a leader? How do I do my job so I’m not hurting people but helping them become who they’re supposed to be?’ I felt very inadequate.”

It took him quite a few years, but John says he finally got a clear picture of his job description as a spiritual leader (see TIPS box below) and his main goal: to make disciples (Matt. 28:19–20).

Making Disciples

“I used to think I knew something about discipleship, but I didn’t,” says John, “and it’s the job of the Church! I think Ephesians 4:11–16 is an outline of the discipleship process: ‘The equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, to the building up of the Body of Christ,’ and so on.

“So how do we do that? Is it just a class called Discipleship? Is there a systematic way to help people become disciples? Yes.

But if we as spiritual leaders don’t know that’s our job, then we’re in trouble.”

John says many Christians sit in church and think, ‘What am I called to do?’ But rather than emphasizing their ‘calling,’ now he focuses more on plugging them into the Body of Christ so they can be discipled.

“How about if we’re all just ‘called’ to help build the church, no matter what our function is in the body?” he says. “We’ve had a lot of teaching on gifts and callings—and there’s a time for that—but it’s not early on in a Christian’s life. That comes later.”

So John tells people as part of their discipleship training to find a place to plug in. “Or just ask me!” he says. “We’ll find you a place where you can plug in and be faithful, and we’ll even move you around some so you can become more knowledgeable and well-rounded. Then the day will come when your specific gifts and callings can help you get into the right place.”

John wants to pass on what has taken him years to learn. “As a leader I want young Christians to experience things much earlier than I did. With my help, and with other people’s help, we can watch them and train them.”

Tips – John’ s ‘Job Description for a Spiritual Leader’

Provide direction. Sometimes we say this is “vision.” I’m talking about “here’s where this project needs to go” or “this is the mandate that God has given us.”

Assign and ask. Once I provide clear, concise direction, then I say to my leaders, “You go to your teams and bring me back the plan of how we’re going to fulfill this.” I’d always thought that because I was the leader, I had to answer all the questions—but I found out I’m supposed to be asking the questions, not answering them. So I started asking questions that make people think and help them discover what they’re supposed to do—who they are. Now answers filter their way up through the teams to my team leaders, and then they present those back to me. And almost every time I’m astounded, because it’s way better than I could have come up with on my own. If there’s any tweaking needed, we talk about it, or move on to step three.

Approve, disapprove, or redirect. When a leader brings me back ideas, I do one of these three things. Then I don’t think about it again. It’s a fun process for me now. I have more free time, and more fun, than ever before.

Provide success. When my team members bring something to me, I want to help them succeed. So whatever amount of coaching, training, teaching, or mentoring they need, I give. That’s one of the biggest parts of my job.

Evaluate. We constantly evaluate performance and behavior. We don’t kick people off the team if they don’t measure up—it’s our job to help them grow. It’s a team process, not a “me” process. We’ve had to introduce a different culture—we are always honest with each other and committed to each other. From Michelle and me on down, we don’t let things go if we see a problem. It’s made us all closer and more secure. They know it’s not just my job to accomplish the vision—it’s the responsibility of all of us.

Evaluate to Grow // Mike Kalstrup ('78) //

Mike Kalstrup and his wife, Joan, pastor Fellowship of Faith Christian Center in Oakland, Iowa.

Mike acknowledges that evaluation is not an exact science. “Everyone’s situation is different,” he says. “But reviewing and reevaluating the way you do ministry is important. Regardless of the methods, we must remain true to the Word, our calling, and loving the people to whom we are sent.”
All that evaluating wasn’t easy. “It was a lot of work!” says Mike. “In the end we observed things we were doing well and things we could change and did change. It has made for a healthier church.”
• Relational connections (how people were or were not connecting within the church)• Spiritual growth (of the people)• Helps (how people served within the congregation)• Prayer• Retention percentages (how to close the back door)• Missions outreaches• Events (how and why they were done)• Caregiving (visitation, hospital care, and so forth, practiced toward the congregation)• Assimilation (what happened when people came through the door)
They enlisted the help of their congregation to create task forces that evaluated the following areas:
In 2009 Mike’s church began a process of reevaluating everything they were doing. “We weren’t driven by survival, economics, or competition,” he says. “We just wanted to do a better job. So we asked some simple questions: How can we do ministry better? What can we do to improve our efforts? How can I  improve myself?”

Mike Kalstrup encourages leaders to make changes in good times and bad.

“We should choose to reevaluate our practices and procedures,” says Mike. “Adjustments are normal on the way to a particular destination. We’re always going to have to reevaluate, and make changes as we go.”

According to Mike, if we aren’t purposefully rethinking and changing  things, we often don’t grow. “Sometimes the price for change becomes too high,” he says, “so we settle into a practice that suits us, thinking that things will change without any effort on our part. Nothing could be further from the truth. Growing always costs you something.”

Mike says change requires discipline and work, which often doesn’t happen until we’re forced to those things by external circumstances. But it doesn’t have to be that way, he says. “We can begin to reevaluate our practices for the right reasons by asking ourselves several important questions” (see TIPS box).

Tips for Evaluating

Ask these questions:

A ministry’s mission statement can evolve or grow, but what did God place within my heart?
• Has that mission changed? If so, why? 
• What seven or eight core values do we embrace as a ministry entity?
• Have my own motives for ministry changed for good or bad? If so, what precipitated the change?
• Have the ministerial ethics and stewardship practices of the ministry improved or declined? If so, why?

Keep in mind:

“When we reevaluate the ministry and ourselves, we have to be honest. In other words, we have to face reality. Otherwise, there’s little chance for change. This process is often difficult, because ministers are wounded or in denial, or they want to spiritualize their current circumstances. But there is hope! God’s call upon our life hasn’t changed (Rom. 11:29).”

Renew Your Alumni Account


Click here to renew now