5 Things the Lazy Pastor Does Not Know (and is about to find out)

What is the number one complaint I hear from church members about their pastors?

Brother Joe, what do you suggest be done about a lazy preacher? Our pastor preaches two times a week, and is trying to turn the Sunday night sermon over to someone else. He’s quit doing Wednesday night church, and he refuses to hold staff meetings. We ask him to make a visit to someone and he may or may not do it. No one seems to know what he does with his time.

My suggestion in every case is the same: Each pastor needs an accountability group. Without one, you are asking for trouble. An “accountability group” is two or three or more laymen who meet with him from time to time–not weekly, and maybe not even monthly, but definitely more than annually; perhaps quarterly–as his sounding board, to hear his needs and concerns, and to let him know if there are problems.

Without some kind of mechanism to make his needs known and to hear from the congregation, both the pastor and the members will grow increasingly frustrated until something bad happens: an explosion from one side or the other or both.

As one who is pro-pastor in most disputes shared with me, I reluctantly admit that there are lazy pastors in the ministry. But hopefully, not for long. Either they will be helped by that responsible group of laymen who will build a fire under them, or they will be out of work and looking for another job.

Before addressing the issue with 5 things the lazy pastor does not know, but is about to find out, let’s admit the obvious here: just because someone says he’s lazy does not make it so. Perhaps he does his work at unusual times, there may be extenuating circumstances, and so forth. I once knew a pastor who, for reasons I’ve long since forgotten, slept all day and worked all night. Really. Pastor Dan Scott of First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. A great guy. And if there was dissatisfaction–after the congregation made adjustments in their expectations!–I never heard it.

All right then. Here is my list.

The lazy pastor is about to find out….

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Before You Terminate the Pastor

The phone call last night was unnerving.

“Brother Joe,” the young pastor on the other end said, “the deacons voted to ask for my resignation.” They had met that night.

“They’ve given me 30 days to get out of the pastor’s residence.” They had also voted 2 months’ salary. And, if he plays along nicely, nothing will ever be said about his having been terminated.

I said, “Did they give a reason?”

“The chairman asked, ‘Do you have confidence in the pastor’s leadership?’ All six of them said they didn’t. So that sealed it.”

Granted, all I have is one side of this discussion. And I know from long experience with this young pastor he is not perfect. In fact, he told me of difficulties in administration he had experienced that may have brought this on.

But I know also that this pastor is a godly man of great integrity, that he works hard at his preaching, and that he has a servant heart. One could do a lot worse than have such a shepherd, particularly a small town church such as the one in question.

Having had 18 hours to reflect on this situation, and from a half century of observing similar dealings from church leaders, I would like to say a few things to these deacons as well as to other church leaders who are contemplating asking their pastor for his resignation.

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A Veteran Minister’s Regrets (About His Sermons)

I’m a veteran.

A veteran minister. I received the call to preach in April of 1961, which means we have recently passed the half-century mark for that anniversary. I began pastoring in November of 1962, and was ordained on December 2. I served 6 churches as pastor for 39 years and one as a staff minister for 3. Does this qualify me as a veteran?

“Veteran,” at least to me, is a better term than what originally came to mind: “old.”

I’m not nearly through preaching, although, best as I can tell, I’ve pastored my last church. And that’s just fine. I do not miss the day-to-day grind of the pastoral ministry at all. If I never attend another deacons meeting, never preside over a monthly church business meeting, and never sit in on a finance committee meeting, it will suit me just fine. The preaching part, I love.

So, as the Lord wills and host pastors continue to issue invitations, I’ll keep preaching wherever He sends me.

The other thing we retired veterans do–in addition to trying to stay active and useful–is to look back and rethink what we did. We reflect on what we wish we had done. Not, hopefully, in a morbid sense. No one wants to do an autopsy on himself, to second-guess every decision he ever made. To do so would fill today with all of yesterday’s pains.

But there is value to thinking of the ministry behind. And wondering what we could have done better.

For the purposes of this article, let’s not make this a Joe-confessional. Let’s raise the question and confine ourselves to: what sermons most of us veterans wish we had done differently “way back when.”

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The 5 Most Frustrating Things Pastors Do

I’m pro-pastor, but I’m not blind.

These men (in our denomination, pastors are men) are called of God and assigned some of the most difficult work in the universe, and for the most part they labor well and long and you never hear a complaint out of them. They are my heroes.

Most of them.

The typical pastor in our denomination serves a church running 100 or fewer in attendance, which tells you the offerings are insufficient to provide much of a living for him. In some cases he holds down a second job or his wife works. Or both. Or, most amazing of all, he manages to live on what they pay him.

I believe in these guys. They are my brothers and my admiration of them knows no bounds.

Most of them.

But there are times when some of these ministers do the most self-defeating things. Not all of them, thankfully. But enough to warrant our addressing the issue as a caution to the rest of the Lord’s stable of shepherds.

Here is my personal list of the 5 most frustrating things pastors do.

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Boredom: It Ain’t All Bad

When I’m flying somewhere, I pray for a boring flight.

The last thing I want at 30,000 feet is excitement, which would usually involve turbulence or storms, equipment malfunction or a passenger problem. None for me, thanks.

“Mom, I’m bored.”

Sound familiar? The harried mama will be tempted to do something to interrupt this state of affairs in the life of her child. Most of her choices, I venture to say, are not good ones and involve the television.

“Good, honey. I’m so glad you are bored. Now, sit here and enjoy it.”

No parent says such a thing. But it’s not a bad idea. There’s a lot to be said for boredom.

Boredom at home can be good.

As a bored five-year-old, I was pestering my mom and bugging my little sister. That’s when Lois Jane Kilgore McKeever did something for which I have been grateful ever since: she sat Carolyn and me down at the kitchen table, gave us pencil and paper, and told us to “Draw!”

I discovered that I love to draw. I’m now 71 years old and still drawing. Cartooning is not what my life is all about, I’m glad to report. But it’s one aspect of my life. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s an outlet for a lot of things, it’s a great way to bless people, entertain children, connect with strangers, and communication spiritual truths.

Boredom at church is another matter. Or is it?

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Jesus the Liberal

Be careful of those categories, Christian. Take the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance.

Liberal is a bad, bad word these days, in politics as well as in religion in this country. But it has a noble tradition and needs to be salvaged. Conservative is the “in” word, at least in the portion of the world where I live. But the news about it is not all positive.

The scripture can throw some light on the matter of liberals and conservatives:

On another sabbath, He went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:6-11).

There is no place in the work of the Lord for cowards and wimps. To follow the Lord Jesus means to take risks, to stay focused, to confront evildoers–no matter how highly placed–and to bless people, no matter the personal cost.

Sometimes in the Scriptures, I am struck by how the Lord’s most blistering messages were directed toward the religious. I’m religious. That tells me I must be very careful. There is something about religion that captures the very people it claims to liberate. Captures and binds and enslaves. It burdens down, wears away, and blinds the eyes.

We religious people must always be on our guard lest our faith turn us into professional nay-sayers, the kind of people who put doctrine ahead of obedience to the Lord, our convictions ahead of compassion, our way ahead of the Lord’s way.

I remember the first time I became aware that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were theological conservatives. I’m a theological conservative. It pained me to realize the most blistering sermon of Jesus–that would be Matthew 23–was directed toward the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were the greatest stumblingblock to Jesus’ ministry, instigators of the charges against Him, and collaborators with the scribes and Sanhedrin to have Him arrested and crucified and neutralized.

Those of us who call ourselves theological conservatives must be on constant patrol, alert to those forces that would turn us into enemies of the Savior, obstacles to the Spirit, pawns of the devil himself.

In no way do I claim to have the last word on this subject of theological liberalism and conservatism. I don’t even have the fourth or fifth word. What I do have, I hope you will agree, is the opening thought.

If being liberal means the liberty to live freely for Christ, cooperating with the Holy Spirit in whatever enterprise He is engaged in today, without first consulting the ruling elite to see what is kosher, then I am a liberal. If it means putting obedience ahead of my personal convictions, putting people above my stubborn prejudices, and putting the Lord above everything and everyone, then I hope to always be a liberal. Like Jesus.

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Please Send Us a Pastor With Enthusiasm

My friend Gene Brock and I have been reminiscing.

We were classmates in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1960s, graduating the same year, ’67, and both went forth to pastor churches, he to SW Georgia and me to the MS Delta. These days, he’s serving sweet Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church outside Thomasville, Georgia, and this week I’m his revival preacherl.

We’re catching up on old times.

Gene and I agree that a revival we did for his church in Edison, Georgia, in the late 1960s is one of the best we’ve ever experienced. The funny part is how Gene invited me in the first place.

The mail that morning in Greenville, MS, brought a letter from Gene. His inviting me to preach a revival for him was most unusual, since we’d never been especially close during seminary, just classmates. But it was how he began the letter that we still joke about.

Dear Joe: If you are still as enthusiastic as you were in seminary, I’d like to invite you to preach a revival for my church.

I wrote back and said, “Sorry. Not as enthusiastic. Try someone else.”

Not.

I did not do that. No way was I going to admit to having dampened my enthusiasm for the Lord, for life, or for the Lord’s work.

I am enthusiastic about life, the Lord, and ministry to this day. I hope you are. But if not, it needs to be addressed.

That’s what this is about.

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Should I Tell That Joke at the Start of My Sermon?

I must have forty or fifty books on preaching. Some of them deal with humor–a little, not much–but as far as I’ve been able to tell, none answer the great question of the hour that is bugging the h–k out of a large number of preachers on this Friday morning, two days before the moment of truth:

Should I or should I not tell that joke when I get up to preach?

It’s a great joke. It’s had me in stitches all week, ever since I heard it at the pastors’ conference last Monday. And furthermore, I’ve figured out how to use it as the introduction to my sermon. Okay, it’s a stretch, but I think I can make it work. But it’s such a great joke, everyone will enjoy it.

Groan. (That’s the reaction of 99.9% of the non-preachers who are reading this. To them, it’s a no-brainer. “No! Do not start a sermon with a joke! The very idea!”)

Only the preacher deals with such temptation. He’s about to do the most serious thing in the world–speak for the living God to people who desperately need a word from Him–and he wants to begin with a funny story!

The first week of August, Greg Woodward and I led a seminary workshop for 45 masters level students on “Worship Leadership.” The actual classes took place that week–morning, afternoon, and an evening or two. Then, there were book reviews to turn in during the rest of this fall semester, and something else you might find interesting.

Each student was charged with visiting three worship services in various types of churches/synagogues and writing a report on each. This week, I’ve been reading those reports and grading them. One thing in particular keeps recurring.

Several of the students made a point of stressing that the preacher/priest/rabbi did not begin his message with a joke. (I think one of the texts had said something about that.)

Finally, after reading for the umpteenth time that the pastor of Buttercup Church did NOT begin his sermon by telling a joke–as though this earns the man accolades–I decided I’d about had enough.

There is a lot to be said for telling a joke at the beginning of a worship service or the start of a sermon.

And–just so you’ll know I haven’t gone completely looney here–there’s more to be said for NOT telling one. Still, there are two sides to this issue.

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The Top 12 Things for a Pastor to Remember Just Before Sunday Morning Worship

This is the moment the preacher has had on his mind and heart all week long. Now, he has done this for years, and by now you would think he’s got it down to a science and he can do this blindfolded–lead worship, read scripture, offer prayers, preach the Word, inspire the congregation–but not so.

This is not like anything else anyone on the planet does.

This man is attempting to speak for God. Not because of egomania. Not from an inflated sense of self. Not even because he wants to.

He was chosen. Hand-picked. Called.

Chosen and called and sent.

Sometimes the preacher tries to bolster his confidence as he enters the sanctuary by remembering the caution God gave Jeremiah at his call: Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them (Jer. 1:17).

God will have no weakling speaking for Him. No coward afraid to be bold, no milquetoast fearing to be strong, no sycophant who cowers before the rich and powerful among the congregation.

Again and again, the Lord told Joshua, Be strong and courageous. That admonition is found in Deuteronomy 31:6-8,23 and Joshua 1:6,9,18. Evidently, Joshua was a lot like us in that some things he had to be told again and again.

All right. Pastor, you’re about to walk into the sanctuary and do what God has told you in the quiet of your study (as well as in the car as you drove, in the neighborhood as you walked, and in bed as you tried but were unable to sleep).

This is the most important hour of your week.

Knowing it could be the most important hour of someone’s life is what intimidates you. God has big plans for this moment. You don’t want to fail Him.

Here are my 12 suggestions for you at this moment, preacher.

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The Missing Element is the Living God

No one but God can do what God alone can do.

That little circular bit of reasoning is intended to say that when the Lord made you and me, He intentionally reserved a few parts of the puzzle for Himself. Nothing is complete until He enters the picture.

He formed you and me with an itch inside us which He alone can scratch. The idea was to boomerang us back to Him.

He installed a hunger inside our hearts which He alone can satisfy. The plan was to bond us with Him in a tight, permanent, and mutually satisfying relationship.

He left an emptiness within us which He alone can fill. The idea was to help us see how He alone is our life.

He made each of us with a need for which He alone is the supply, a question for which He only is the answer, a searching for which He is the Way.

Venturing into this world, you and I will try many things. Day by day, little by little, step by step, we discover that none of the things we encounter in life touch us very deeply. We amass wealth, but all it does is cling to our outsides like so much velcro; it cannot begin to speak to the hungers and needs and spaces of our inner self.

All our fame and notoriety simply draws attention to our emptiness and lostness; it does not come close to meeting a single need of our true self.

We gain possessions to fill the house and recognition for achievements to adorn the walls, but they do nothing to erase the darkness when we are alone, the gloom when we are quiet, the thirsts when we are honest.

God alone is what’s missing.

Our lives minus God are like castles which dot the European countryside: in place, ready, majestic even. But empty. No royalty anywhere to be found. The glory is gone, if it was ever present.

Manny Ramirez was in the news this morning. This ex-baseballer is in court for abusing his wife. Big, tough, macho outfielder who hit all those home runs for the Red Sox and a smattering of other teams afterwards–and he picks on his little wife. What’s wrong with this man?

What’s wrong is he is discovering that without God, no amount of fame or athletic accomplishments, money in the bank or cars in the driveway amount to anything. It’s just so much clutter until the heart is right.

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