That pettiness we sometimes see in church leaders

This week, as I write, the Baptist Press website is running five cartoons of ours all on the theme of “Pastor Search Committee humor.” The drawing is basically the same for each, although with a little tweaking on each one. But the people are saying different things in each one. (The suggestions as to what a search committee laughs at were made by a long line of Facebook friends in response to our question.)

“This guy lives in Hawaii. I think we should visit his church.”  “This pastor is unemployed. So we could get him cheap.” “This resume’ is from our former pastor. Wonder if he has gotten smarter.”  “This one’s wife has a job, so he could use her health insurance and save the church money.” “This guy says he’s a lot like our former pastor. Yes, but nothing like our next one!”

That sort of thing.

One of the many comments arriving in response to the cartoons said, “This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness.”

I know the lady only on Facebook (which basically means, hardly at all), but sent her a private note asking, “And what denomination did you find where the human element has been taken out? Every religious group on the planet has to deal with people’s ambitions, their littleness, pettiness, carnal thoughts, competitiveness, etc.”

Two hours later she responded. She has joined a large independent church where she admits she sees none of the kind of infighting and littleness she observed in Baptist churches. She noted that the leaders take care of matters.

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When to submit, when to insist

“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

I leaned over to my grandson in church yesterday and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform was the usual dozen or so musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo.  The music was great.

What I thought was, “What if we had given in to the critics? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse–now the dean of the Warren Angell School of Fine Arts at Oklahoma Baptist University–and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

Knowing “what time it is” is the hard part.  For God’s children, that’s a function of the Holy Spirit.

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What one minute can do

A hundred years ago* when I was just out of seminary and trying to pastor a neighborhood church in the Mississippi Delta, a radio executive taught me something I have never forgotten. (* Well, okay, 47 years ago to be exact.)

Benny Gresham said, “Each day at 9:15, we lose half our audience.”

Local pastors were given time for a daily 15 minute devotional. Pastors in the local ministerial association would be assigned a week at a time.  Some would show up each day and do the program live, while most would record them all at one sitting.

Gresham explained, “Most people don’t want to sit through a 15 minute preaching service on the radio. But they’ll listen to anything for a minute.  Even a test signal.”

He said, “If I were a pastor, I’d spend my money buying one minute spots and sprinkle them throughout the day.  And I’d try not to sound too preachery.”

Good advice, they say, is where you find it.

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Self-destructive behavior from those who should know better

“…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25).

“What were you thinking?”

A pastor with a fine church, great respect, challenging opportunities, and a good income does the strangest thing. He arrives home from the monthly meeting of a denominational board and turns in his expenses (air fare, hotel, taxi, and meals) to the church bookkeeper. She writes him a check to repay him.

Eventually, it comes out that the denominational agency was also reimbursing him. He has been charging both the church and the agency for his expenses.

For a few thousand dollars a year, he was willing to risk everything.

What was he thinking?

A pastor with a great church and incredible potential discovers he can pull down an additional $20,000 a year by taking several groups to the Holy Land.  All his congregation sees is that their pastor keeps pushing these trips as a way to deepen their commitment and broaden their vision. They are completely unaware that the travel company is giving him a hefty commission.  When the membership finds it out, most are unhappy.  Nothing illegal was going on; this is accepted business practice. The problem is the pastor’s moonlighting and using his position of influence to pad his income on the side.

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When the pastor feels like a failure

“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

“Did I fail?”

Every man or woman who ministers in the Kingdom of God is immediately struck by two great realities:  The perfection of God (and thus the desire to present to Him worthy offerings of worship and service) and the imperfection of mankind (meaning anything we offer Him will be flawed, even at its best).

As a result, we are often tormented with feelings of inadequacy and hounded by the sensation that our efforts have not been enough, our devotion has been too weak, and our ministries a far cry from what we had hoped.

“I feel like a failure.”

Those words and that feeling are voiced not just by those who literally are failures. Some of the (outwardly) most successful pastors and spiritual leaders on the planet deal with the same sense of futility.

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No one spoke to you at church? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

“We’re not going back to that church. We attended once and not a soul spoke to us.”

This may be the most common complaint offered by church visitors.

Our people have come to expect that churches will be welcoming to strangers, open to newcomers, receptive to inquirers, and alert to first-timers.

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How we learned Christ

“But you did not learn Christ in this way” (Ephesians 4:20).

“Learning Christ.”

Interesting term.

To my knowledge, this is the only occasion in Scripture where this kind of reference is made.

Paul tells the Christ-followers in Ephesus they must not continue in the same pagan way of life they see exhibited all around them, the kind out of which they themselves were yanked.

“Walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk.”  And how is that? “In the futility of their mind.”

The understanding of the unsaved is darkened. They have none of the “life of God” in them.  They are ignorant. Their hearts are hardened.

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Should the preacher confess his doubts?

“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children” (Psalm 73:15).

Some questions need to be handled in private and not made public.

A friend who had not been to church in a while ventured back recently only to be slapped in the face by the sermon.

The guest preacher chose the Noah story from Genesis 6-8 for his sermon.  My friend said, “He informed the church that he does not believe that story.  He said it was impossible for Noah to have carried food on the ark for all those animals for a period of 90 days. And imagine the waste those animals would have produced!”

“He said the story was made up by old men to teach people that God punishes those who do not obey Him.”

One wonders what conditions prompted the leadership of that church to invite the enemy to fill the pulpit.  That is precisely what they did and it’s who he was.  Anyone undermining the faith of the Lord’s people in the Holy Scriptures is no friend.

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The blind beggar of Jericho: Responding to the critics of the Bible

Critics of the Scriptures want to have it both ways.

If they find an inconsistency in Scriptures–the numbers seem not to agree, or a story is told in two or more different ways–it proves the Bible is man-made, filled with errors, and not to be trusted.  If they could find no inconsistencies, however, this would prove the church had removed all the troublesome aspects of the Bible in order to claim it to be inspired of God.

Either it is or it is not.

When one is determined not to believe a thing, nothing gets in his way. He can always find a reason not to believe.

Take the matter of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho.  His account is told in three of the gospels, but he is named in only one (Mark 10:46).

This is my favorite story in all the Bible.

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How to remember people’s names (Pay attention, preacher!)

“The (shepherd) calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out” (John 10:3).

The evangelist had held a revival in my church one year earlier, just before I arrived as the new pastor, and it had gone well. Since we had been seminary classmates and the congregation appreciated his ministry, I invited him to return a year later for a repeat engagement.

He walked in and began calling people by their first names.

I was floored.

I said, “James, how many meetings have you been in since you were here last year?”  The answer was something like 36, as I recall.

I said, “Then how in the world can you remember the names of our members?”

“I work at it,” was all he said.  (Looking back, I wish I had not let him off so easily but insisted on learning what he did.)

His words stuck with me.  A few months later, I preached a revival in Edison, Georgia, in a congregation that ran 130 in the morning service.  By the end of the week, I was calling all the people–every person in the building–by their first names.

Pastor Gene Brock said, “I wish I had your ability with names. How do you do this?”

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