“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of the truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
I can imagine picking up this guy’s resume’ and having it say: “In one of the two churches I served as pastor, I endured a four-hour deacons meeting in which some wanted to lynch me for preaching the gospel. Not only did I frequently preach revivals in some outstanding churches and baptized hundreds of converts, but my wife became the target of a gossip campaign because she wore a pants-suit to church one night. So, I think I’m qualified for anything now.”
A full resume’ would tell both sides of our story.
“Don’t try this alone.” –advice on a thousand exercise devices.
Years ago, the Readers Digest ran an article “What good is a tree?”
When the roots of a tree touch, a substance present reduces the competition. An unknown fungus links together roots of different trees, even of dissimilar species. A whole forest may be linked together. If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, a third to sunlight, the trees find a way to share.
We could all take a lesson from the forest.
When I was a teen, someone set out a small longleaf pine in my grandmother’s yard. Year after year, it remained a dwarf, refusing to grow. After her death, an uncle who owned the property set out hundreds of trees across the front yard. Suddenly, that lone, dwarfed pine had company and began to prosper.
The Lord knew you and I would be needing help in living for Him in this fallen world. So, when He saved us, He “added us to the body” (see Acts 2:41).
God never intended any of us to live this life in isolation.
“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)
It’s so easy for a preacher to exhibit fear and not faith when standing before the church and calling the congregation to faithfulness and righteousness.
Fear is not your knees knocking. Fear is not the beads of perspiration popping out on your forehead or the trembling of your hand as you do this very hard thing.
To go ahead and do the difficult but right thing when you know full well that some are not going to like it take real courage.
Courage is in short supply in church work these days, I fear.
Fear often sits in the drivers seat.
(My commencement message to the 2016 graduating class of William Carey University. Delivered Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016.)
Dr. Larry Kennedy was President of this institution for the last decade of his life. In the 1960s, Larry and I were seminary classmates, and then we pastored several churches in Mississippi near one another. He told me this story.
“My son Steve was 7 years old when he went to his first big-church wedding. He sat in the sanctuary beside his mother and watched as the door in front opened and his dad walked out and took his place. Behind him came six or seven good-looking young men dressed in tuxedos. Spread across the front of the church, they were a handsome lot. The bridesmaids entered and took their places. Finally, everyone stood as the bride entered on the arm of her father and moved slowly down the aisle. At this point, Steve tugged on his mother’s arm.
“Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry? Or is she going to decide when she gets down there?”
“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13)
A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons. The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment. So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)
My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “He had a great idea. He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor.”
They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.
An editor can be a writer’s best friend. It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books. A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.
Most of us who try to write and then self-publish (which is what we are doing on the internet) serve as our own editors.
The result is often embarrassingly bad. I will read something from this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and made a mess of it).
I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor. Or a wife.” (Please smile.)
“That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
The Lord wants the best for His Bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.
Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century….
One. I wish the church were less of a business and more like a family.
Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brothers and sisters and my mother” (Mark 3:33-35). The obedient are His family.
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family. I wish more of them were.
“How many times I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
Almost daily, I hear of churches that are firing their preachers, are engaged in lawsuits, and struggling with inner conflict. I know a hundred churches that were strong a generation ago but are fighting to survive now.
These are difficult days for churches, which makes these challenging days for church leaders.
If you are not grieving for the church these days, it must be because your mind is on other things.
Let us care for what is happening, and pray for the Lord’s people.
I grieve for the trendy church which is drawing people in from the smaller surrounding congregations and bursting at the seams, but leaving the smaller ones to shrivel and die. The huge church often cons its members into thinking they are doing something for the kingdom since they are experiencing such growth. Churches can be so self-centered.
I grieve for the church which is having mind-staggering growth but gradually becomes secretive about what it does with the millions of dollars it takes in, protective about the pay it gives its pastor, and dismissive about the questionable personal lives of its leadership. Churches can be carnal.
I grieve for the smaller church which turns an envious eye at the growing congregations in its community and, desiring to be like the others, dismisses its faithful pastor and worship leaders because “we have to stay current with modern trends.” Churches can be wrong-headed.
The prospective pastor walked to the pulpit, took the measure of the congregation, and began. “There is a powerful lot of wondering going on here today. You are wondering if I can preach. And I am wondering if you know good preaching when you hear it!”
I know a good Flip Wilson story that fits here, but I’ll tack it onto the end of this.
Not all pastors are asked to deliver a “trial” sermon to the congregation they hope to serve. Some are appointed by a bishop and some are chosen by elders or a committee. We Southern Baptists usually use the procedure listed below. Of the six churches I served over 42 years of ministry, only one brought me in without the people having heard me preach. The other five administered the usual “trial.”
The procedure goes like this….