Great Preparation for Ministry: A Strong Curiosity

I came by it honestly. My dad, a coal miner with a 7th grade education, was interested in everything. He read and learned and talked to us of all kinds of subjects.

In college, I changed my major from science (physics) to history because the professors in the science building were focusing more and more on tinier and tinier segments of the universe. But history deals with it all, every person who ever lived, every civilization, every lesson learned. Nothing is off limits to history.

That did it for me.

As I write–on a Saturday morning–I’m reflecting on the week just ended. Last Monday afternoon, I was among a busload of preachers and spouses from across Europe who spent several hours touring the ruins of Pompeii, the Italian city devastated by the eruption of Vesuvius in August of A.D. 79. It was truly unforgettable. So much so, that….

After my arrival home in New Orleans Tuesday night, the next afternoon I was in our public library reading up on Pompeii. I checked out a Robert Harris novel titled “Pompeii,” and finished it last night.

I feel like I’ve been living in Pompeii this week.

In my next trip to the library, I plan to see what is available on the Roman aqueducts, which was a major theme of the novel.

Why? Of what possible use is this in my ministry?

Answer: I have no idea. Maybe no use at all, maybe a lot.

A great curiosity is a wonderful thing for any Christian to have, but particularly for preachers. Why?

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“Lord, Help Me!”

My mother’s Alzheimer’s has taught me something about prayer.

As a young pastor visiting local nursing homes, I would sometimes hear patients calling out, “Help me! Would somebody help me?” as I walked down the hall.

“What’s wrong with the staff here?” I wondered. “Why aren’t they helping this poor soul?”

Since my mom, almost 96 years old now, came down with Alzheimer’s or one of its relatives (senility, dementia) over the past few months, our family has been trying to take care of her in her own home. Recently, I spent a long weekend there contributing what I could to her care.

“Help me,” she calls out repeatedly. Even when she’s feeling fine and seems to have no needs at all, she repeats this. If you ask, “What do you want, mom?” she doesn’t have an answer. She seems to have been unaware she was saying that.

On one occasion, as I awakened from a brief afternoon nap, I heard mom in the next room chanting that mantra. “Help me. Help me.” I walked in and said brightly, “Mom, would you like some ice cream?” She stopped chanting abruptly and said, “Yes, I think I would.” I had to laugh at the speed of that transition.

A few days later, on the way to church, I sent up a quick prayer to the Heavenly Father. “Lord, help me please.” And just as clearly I heard His answer.

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Pastor, Get on the Internet

And I don’t just mean buy a computer and start doing email. Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere the last decade, you’re already doing that.

I mean, start a blog. Your own.

This morning, less than a half-hour ago, while sitting at the breakfast table talking with Margaret about this day, my phone rang. The screen said, “Unknown.” When I answered, a lady with a British accent announced she was looking for me, and then identified herself as with the BBC in London. She is doing research for a program they are airing during the noon hour today on the Pope’s statements that the Cuban blockade should be lifted.

Why ask for my thoughts?

She had found an article on my website saying the church needs to stay out of politics, that we have more important matters on our agenda. So, did I think that about the Pope speaking out concerning Cuba? (I wasn’t much help. The Vatican is recognized as a state, the Pope is the head of that state as well as the head of the Catholic religion, thus he addresses both kinds of issues. I said, “So, if you’re looking for someone to take an adversarial position, I won’t be of much help to you.”)

I gave her the name of another minister she could call, and we ended the call.

One more example of the wide scope of the internet.

Two nights ago, I returned from ministering in Italy. It was the result of an American pastor serving in the northern part of that country reading an article I’d written–I have no memory of which one–and going to my website, seeing I was also a cartoonist, and feeling led to invite me to speak at the annual Leadership Conference of pastors and spouses of the International Baptist Convention on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget.

Thanks be to God. Thanks for the internet.

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Redundancy: Locking in Your Church Members

A rope of three strands is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

The last church I pastored went through a massive breakdown when a new pastor arrived and quickly announced a moral indiscretion in his background. Two groups exiting the church began new congregations, one group spread into the community and joined other churches, a fourth group went home and haven’t been to church since, and, after the pastor was terminated, I became the pastor of the remaining members.

That’s not a church split; explosion is more like it.

In analyzing the reasons for a great church’s near-complete self-destruction, one thing became clear: the members were united by one thing, the pulpit. And when the pulpit failed, they abandoned ship.

The line from Ecclesiastes assuring us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” gives us a clue on locking in our members so that a failure of one “cord” will not break the rope and destroy the whole system.

It’s all about redundancy–safeguarding the makeup of the church in more than one way. Three ways, to be exact.

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What to See in New Orleans

(This is a second attempt to write on this subject, with some areas repeated and some new ones added.)

So, you’re headed down to the Crescent City? Good. We’ll be glad to welcome you.

What, you wonder, should you see?

All you know about New Orleans is the French Quarter, and you’re not sure you want to venture there. Perhaps you are staying downtown, near Canal Street, the main boulevard that dissects this city and splits the French Quarter (on the downriver side) from the CBD (Central Business District) on the upriver side. Bear in mind that terms like north and south or east and west can be confusing here since the river takes some nasty turns right where this city was located. We still call the downtown area (including Metairie and Kenner) “The East Bank” and when you cross the river going south “The West Bank,” even though it’s all north and south.

I’ve lived here a total of 25 years, and do not begin to be an authority on the city, its cuisine, history, culture, people, or anything else. However, I love the city and treasure its people. That, I might add, took some doing and also took a few years.

All right. That said, here are Places You Must See in New Orleans.

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What Are You Waiting On?

May I ask you a personal question?

Do you ever plan to humble yourself before Almighty God and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If you do, could I ask one more?

What are you waiting for?

What’s keeping you from turning to Him today and giving Him yourself (as much as you know, as fully as you can) right this minute?

People say to me, “Well, I’m going to do that. One of these days.”

One of these days.

I have three things to say about that.

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The Romans 12 Blueprint for Christ’s Church

Think of this chapter as a template, a form (or pattern or framework) which may be laid over the entire 21 verses, and which depict a healthy church.

The word “church” is not used in Romans 12. In fact, it’s found only 5 times in the entire Epistle and all are in the final chapter. Yet, there is no question that the Apostle Paul is writing to all the Lord’s churches in general and His church at Rome in particular.

Likewise, there is not a single reference to Romans 12 being a pattern for a healthy church. Some things are so obvious it’s not necessary to spell them out. The healthy church description of this chapter is one such.

Why does this matter?

The health of the Lord’s churches in this 21st century is a major concern for everyone called to shepherd God’s people. So many churches that were once healthy and strong, vibrant in their witness and effective in their mission, have fallen onto hard times. Some came under the influence of corrupt leaders, some were hijacked by carnal power-brokers, and some grew discouraged and surrendered to the world.

The typical young adult called into the ministry today has never seen a healthy and strong church. He goes forth to fulfill a mission in the faith that there must be such a church out there somewhere and if not, he is to build one from scratch.

Here is a snapshot of such a healthy church

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Three Tough Church Situations

…and what to do about them.

I am not a professional counselor, not an adviser of churches or denominations or pastors as such, and not an expert on problem-solving or conflict management. What I am is a retired preacher and a blogger who sometimes gets asked, “What is your take on this? What do you recommend we do about that?”

Out of that experience, and spurred on by the two most recent situations–one by phone last night and the other from an email this morning–here are three “case studies” or problem scenarios that occur with alarming frequency in our churches. And my suggestions on what the leadership should do in handling them.

As always, I do not claim to have the last word on any of this. But if it turns out this is the first word, something that gets readers to thinking deeply and acting courageously, it will have been worth the effort.

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Solve 90% of Church Problems Before They Ever Exist

The number one reason most church problems do so much damage is that the people in the know, those charged with leadership, have not anticipated these things and done the hard work necessary to head them off.

Good preparation will end most church problems before they arise.

Here are 10 rules–principles, suggestions, guideposts, lifelines, call them whatever you wish (except “laws”)–which, if implemented, can stop the next church split in its tracks and allow this healthy church to go chugging on down the tracks while the devil sits there scratching his head, wondering, “Wha’ happened?” (Old comic book image there)

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Some Churches Need to Quit Doing Evangelism

Evangelism and spiritual harvesting are not for everyone calling themselves followers of Jesus.

Fruitbearing is for the obedient.

Believers aiming to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-10) should not miss one huge fact: No one not living as a faithful disciple himself can make someone else a disciple of Jesus Christ. Only disciples make disciples. Only the faithful can bear fruit.

Put another way: No one can teach others to “obey all the things I have commanded you” who is not obeying those things himself.

The church which is rebellious or wayward or chronically immature or systemically sick has no business trying to convert outsiders to what they are doing and how they are living. (Note: “Systemically” is not “systematically.” When the sickness is throughout the body, we say it is “systemic.” The problem is not with one person or two, but throughout the body.)

The sick church should get well first and then it will be able to help others.

Here are several churches that have no business sending soulwinning/visitation teams into their community or hosting evangelistic crusades.

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