How to change the world without ever leaving town

“Go home to your friends and tell them what the Lord has done for you, how He has had compassion on you.”  (Mark 5:19).

Start with the children.

Frank Pollard used to enjoy telling about a friend named Claude Hedges of Ollie, Texas.  Mr. Hedges taught a class of 10-year-old boys in the local Baptist church.  Frank said, “He didn’t just teach the ones who showed up.  He thought every 10-year-old boy in Ollie, Texas belonged to him.”

Frank said, “I knew he was coming.  Because I was boy number seven in our house.  Mr. Hedges had led all my brothers to Christ, and three of us became preachers.”

Now, Frank is the only one of the brothers I knew, but let me pause to tell you this about him.  For over 25 years, he pastored the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS.  At one time, he served the FBC of San Antonio and then was president of our Baptist seminary in the San Francisco area.  Sometime around 1980, TIME magazine named Frank one of the 10 outstanding preachers in America. And, for a number of years, Dr. Frank Pollard was the featured preacher on the Baptist Hour, a television production that was literally beamed across the entire world.


Frank said, “I used to go back and visit with Claude Hedges.  I would say, ‘Thank you for doing the best thing anyone ever did for me.'”

Continue reading

Four things I wanted to know that most pastors do not

I’m confident most church members never analyze why they feel the way they do about their pastors, either positively or negatively. But I always wanted to know what was going on with them.

For forty-two years I pastored six churches, as well as serving on the staff of another church for three years.  During those times, four areas used to concern me, to bug me actually, about our people.  Whenever I would mention them to my ministry colleagues, most shrugged and said, “Not me.  I don’t want to know that.”

One.  Why are you leaving?

No matter how large or successful your ministry, people will leave from time to time and join a church down the highway.  I wondered why.

Pastor Ross Rhoads led one of the largest churches in Charlotte, NC at the time, easily twice the size of First Baptist Church where I was serving. But we had a lot in common–age, experience, demanding schedules (preaching four services each Sunday!), and such–and enjoyed a friendship.  That particular day, for some reason we began talking about people who leave our church to join another in the area.

I said, “I know we can’t pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Why did you join that other church?  Did we let you down in some way?’  But I’d like to know. We could learn a lot by knowing why people leave.”

Continue reading

Divine appointments: God is on the job

Have you ever walked out of a church service knowing today’s sermon had your name all over it?  You should feel so honored that the God of the universe maneuvered everything to minister to your need.  Does He do that as a regular thing?  My experience says He does.  Every day.  God is at work.

What a mighty God we serve!

This is from my journal from May 3, 1999—

“Every once in a while something happens that lets you know God is really active in what you are doing.  Sunday a week ago, I preached about young people.  I called it “the 5 cries of youth.”  Today’s young people are crying to Belong, crying for Unconditional love, asking for Instruction, needing and will someday appreciate Limits, and finally, for Time.  (Resulting in the acrostic B.U.I.L.T.)

Two solos were featured in the service–both by young women, one in her teens.  And we had visitors in the service.  Now, that’s not unusual.  Often we’ll have folks who are in New Orleans temporarily and staying at a hotel near the airport and drop into our services.  But on that day, we had 55 visitors–all teenagers (with a few adults) from two high schools in Wisconsin.  They were part of two high school bands in some kind of competition at the University of New Orleans.  That morning the leaders had asked, “Who wants to go to church?”  and 55 (about half) had responded.

Most of the youths indicated they had never been in a Baptist church before.  Since this was just after the Littleton, Colorado tragedy, I talked about it in the sermon.  Later, the leader came up with tears in her eyes.  She said, “Pastor, you have no idea how appropriate your message was for some of the kids in our group.  Some of them are dealing with the very issues you touched on.”  She gave me a hug.

As far as I know, the next time we all see each other will be in Heaven.

I can go for days on that kind of encouragement.”  (end of journal)

Continue reading

Why churches love their former pastors so much

“Most churches are two pastors behind in their appreciation.”  –Ron Lewis (taken from David Chancey’s response at the end of this article)

A cartoon shows a weary, embattled pastor standing beside a statue of a man on a horse.  The sign at the base reads, “Our former pastor.”  The preacher is saying, “Most popular guy in town.”

“They sure do love you here.”

The host pastor was talking to a former pastor, then the president of a theological seminary and celebrated as a distinguished denominational leader.  They’d invited him back for a special day, a homecoming or something.  Everyone was excited to see him and to hear him preach.  The attendance was good.

The distinguished guest looked at his host and said, “Really?  Did they tell you that?”

“Uh, yeah.  They say they really do.”

“Listen,” said the seminary president.  “That monument they built to me was made from the stones they threw at me.”

They threw stones at the preacher? And now they’re saying how much they love him?

Yep.  Ask any veteran pastor.

You serve a number of years at a church and have the typical experience of good and bad times.  You are loved by some and despised by others. It’s life.  It happens. And then, eventually, you retire or move on to another church.  After a few years and a couple of pastors, they invite you back for some big occasion.  And to hear them tell it, yours were the glory years for that church.  Those were the best times, you had assembled the greatest staff, everything was perfect back when you were here.  They rave about all the inspiring sermons you preached and the unforgettable moments in the history of the church.

That’s what they say.  And, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they probably mean it.

They suffer from a poor memory.

Continue reading

Paying the preacher: Doesn’t he do these things out of love?

A recent article for this website dealt with what to pay the preacher for weddings, funerals, and such.  Among the responses came one from a friend who belongs to a church I served years ago and whom I know as a generous and faithful sister in the Lord.

“Silly me,” she said.  “I thought preachers did the funerals out of love.”

I replied, “We do indeed do these things out of love.  But if someone gives the preacher a little money, does that negate the love?”

No preacher I’ve ever heard of charges for weddings and funerals and such.  Every preacher I’ve ever known has bills to pay and appreciates a little help with that.

And yes, there are a few of the big guys pulling down huge salaries from their churches–two or three of them, obscene amounts from what I hear–but I don’t know any of them personally.  (If I belonged to one of their churches, I’d not have to worry about what to pay the preacher for a wedding or funeral, however, because they don’t do them.  Their underlings take those tasks.  And I’m betting these guys are paid normal salaries and thus can use the financial encouragement of a hundred bucks after a funeral.  Just saying.)

Now, back to the subject….

Continue reading

Write a play for your church. A short, fun one that fits the sermon.

In the church I was pastoring in the 1990s, we began inserting the occasional drama into the morning worship service, something we had created to fit the sermon.

(Note:  If you do brief dramas like this, you don’t have to purchase them.  And neither do you have to buy videos.  You have a few people in the congregation who would love to do something creative and helpful like this.  Don’t do it more often than monthly, lest it grow old.)

Here’s one from Sunday, July 11, 1993.  We called it the “Low Self-Esteem Anonymous Group.”

Margaret called the meeting to order.

Julie stood and said, “My name is Dummy–and I have low self-esteem.  I’d planned to look for a job this week.  But I didn’t.  Probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.”

David stood to his feet. “My name is Invisible and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about asking a girl for a date this week. But I didn’t.  Who would want to go out with me?”

Jennifer said, “My name is Zero–and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about going to church.  But I probably wouldn’t fit in, so I stayed at home.”

Throughout this, Neil sits aloof, off to one side, making derogatory comments (which brought laughter).  Finally, he has enough.  He stands up, points to the sign and says, “Look at that–‘Low Self-Esteem!’ I love the initials–L.O.S.E.  That’s what you all are. A bunch of losers! I’m out of here.”

As he turns to leave, Jesse calls to him, “Hey Buddy–Egomaniac Anonymous meets down the hall, third door on the left.”

Continue reading

What to pay the preacher for a wedding, funeral, etc.

“The laborer is worthy of his hire.”  (That’s in the Old and New Testaments.) 

People often ask whether we’ve written anything on this website concerning honoraria–what would be appropriate to pay the preacher for a wedding,  a funeral, a banquet, or for guest preaching in their church.

I haven’t…until now.

I suppose the reason is that this is so subjective, so hard to nail down.  Different regions of the country and different denominations will have their own customs and expectations.  But, for what it’s worth, I will give it a try.   I know full well that we will leave some questions unanswered, some subjects unaddressed.  But, here goes.

The last wedding I did, they paid me $550.

That generous, surprising amount was completely their decision.  Two months earlier, when the bride-to-be asked “How much do you charge?” I replied that “I don’t have a fee. Whatever you do will be fine.”  I may have suggested she ask her minister (they lived several states away and were coming to Mississippi for a family gathering and wanted to marry while everyone was together) what he thought was appropriate.

So, I might owe him a thank-you note.  (As a matter of fact, I do owe him one.  He did the pre-marital sessions, and even sent a note to that effect.)

Every pastor has his stories.  For one other wedding, I was paid $500.  But that was far and above the usual.  Back when I began marrying people, it was more like $10 or $20.  But that was when you could live on a hundred dollars a week.  (Yes, Ginger, there really was such a time in America.)  In recent years, the typical gift for a wedding was $100 or $200.

I remember a couple of times when I have had pity on the couple getting married in dire circumstances and assured them we would charge nothing, not for the church (with its huge a/c and electricity  bill, and janitorial costs) and not for me.  When they pulled up to the church in a limousine toasting each other with champagne, I felt like someone had just run a scam on me.

I’ve done funerals where the honorarium was not enough to pay my mileage.  And done a weeklong revival where that was also the case.  If the people were poor or the church was small, that was no problem.  But it rarely has been the case.  Thoughtless is more likely the culprit.

But every minister has done this.  It’s par for the course.  You don’t enter this work to get rich.

Continue reading

Something kind of wonderful in Mark 12

“After that, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Now, that is the real deal right there!”  (Okay, that’s not exactly how He phrased Mark 12:43, but it’s the point.)

We who take God’s word seriously sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of word study.  As we isolate a parable or story for our Bible study, teaching lesson, or sermon subject, we often end up missing the larger context.  Mark 12 is a great case in point.

The chapter is a chronicle of one frustration after another for the Lord, starting with the chief priests, scribes and elders confronting and questioning Him at the end of chapter 11. Chapter 12 begins with Jesus’ parable to them, putting in context precisely what they were doing and the danger they were risking.

These however were people of power and influence. They weren’t interested in learning about God from a carpenter of Galilee.  God was their domain.  Teaching was what they did.  Receiving truth and wisdom from a common laborer was something they would not be doing today or any other day.

Mark 12:12 says, “And they were seeking to seize Him.  Yet they feared the multitude…. So they left Him and went away.”

Next came the Pharisees and Herodians, a motley merging of political enemies.  The Pharisees were the “moral majority” of their day, the religious right, while the Herodians were compromisers, Jews who supported the tyrant in the palace for the gain that would flow to them.  They are “sent” by the previous group (see 12:13), thus embodying the line about politics making strange bedfellows. What they have in common is a dislike for Jesus.  They asked their question and got their answer.

“Well!” they must have said to one another. “That didn’t go too well.”

Continue reading

How church members undercut their own best efforts and fail Christ

“Welcome the stranger within your gates. For you were foreigners in Egypt.” — The thrust of Leviticus 19 (see verses 10, 18, and 33-34)

This is one of the greatest frustrations and painful aspects of pastoring.  You try to do well–to prepare sermons blessed of God, to lead your team to present effective ministries, to build powerful worship services, to develop disciples, and reach those in darkness–and then your best people fail to do the smallest thing.  In so doing, they end up negating a thousand good things they do.

They fail to think of the outsider.  They look right past the newcomer.  They give no thought to the first-timer.

My blog from Monday, March 22, 1999—

“I made a number of visits tonight.  Left notes at three homes (no one there) and visited with Carol and Bob Coleman.  They’ve been visiting our church several weeks.  She said, “We love it.  Great music, etc etc–but only three people have greeted us!”

“Three!  Our people think they are friendly but in truth they are friendly to each other.  Bob told me he had volunteered to help Clyde with cooking the wild game supper at church.  Was brusquely turned aside with ‘We already have enough help.’  Then Bob came on to the dinner and brought a friend.  One hour later, they were back.  Said not a soul spoke to them.  So disappointing.”

That church, you will want to know, had a reputation from the previous decade as strong on evangelism and soul-winning.  In fact, when I had asked the congregation to do something heroic and go the extra mile–more than once, our people opened their home to mothers from Third World countries bringing critically ill infants to our Children’s Hospital in New Orleans–they always responded well.  So, they were not uncaring.

They were not uncaring.

They were unthinking.

Continue reading