If I were starting ministry again, what I would do

If I were a young man just beginning to minister for the Lord, I would want to make sure I did these things…

One. Stayed close to the church.  Loyal to it, involved in it, faithfully preaching that the church is the only institution the Lord formed, and I would work through the local church.

Two.  I would want to get as much formal education as possible, and do it as fully and completely as possible.  This means, I would move my family to the campus just as we did the first time, and get to know the professors and students personally.  The bonds formed in class and in between class periods last a lifetime.  Thereafter, I would continue getting as much education as I could, and if some of that was online, that would be fine.  But the basic seminary education, I would do on campus.

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7 laws of service in the Kingdom

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).   “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master” (Luke 6:24). 

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy and Rose traveled to New Orleans to help.  Unable to find a place to plug in, Rudy walked into the kitchen of Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered.  That church was strategically situated next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers from the nation, as they protected the darkened city. The church had become a hotel for the troopers and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day.  They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail.

Not exactly what he had in mind.

Rudy had been pastoring a church in southern Canada.  When he saw the suffering of our people on television–entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops–he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and he and Rose came to help.

Now, he ends up emptying garbage cans.  By his own admission, Rudy was developing an attitude problem.

One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster.  The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was lifting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.  

Rudy stood there drenched in garbage, crying like a baby.

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Boring Sermons: We all have them from time to time.

We all preach boring sermons from time to time.  The trick is not to make a habit of it.

I’m almost tempted to say a pastor should give his people a boring sermon once in a while, if for no other reason than to help them appreciate the good ones when they come.

Bill Baker was pastor of Clinton, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church.  He told me this one himself.  At the Friday night high school football game, during halftime the other team’s band marched onto the field and did their show.  Right in the middle of their presentation, a group of students on the other side of the stadium called out, “B-O-R-I-N-G!!”  Real loud and very slow.

A four-year-old girl was puzzled by that.  ‘What are they doing, Mama?” she asked.  Her mother explained that sometimes students will do that when they feel the other band is doing poor work.  “It tells them they stink,” she laughed.

That’s why the very next Sunday, right in the middle of Pastor Baker’s sermon, this four-year-old stood in church and did the same thing.

I’ve preached boring sermons.  And I’ll bet you have too.

Often, a sermon is boring when we have not thought the subject through sufficiently.  Or the subject is too much for us and we do not grasp it well enough to be able to convey it simply.  Or, we are tired and not able to give this our all. Or something has distracted us from being able to give our best effort.  Or we’re preaching something assigned to us but about which we do not feel strong convictions.

Which is to say: A sermon can be boring for a hundred reasons.

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Interview yourself. Discover how interesting (or dull) you are!

“Let every man examine himself….” (I Corinthians 11:28).  The women too. 

Toward the end of each issue, Vanity Fair magazine interviews some celebrity.  The questions they pose are good ones.  Consider answering them for yourself.

Here are the questions in the September 2017 issue–

–What is your idea of perfect happiness?

–What is your favorite journey?

–What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

–On what occasion do you lie?

–What do you dislike most about your appearance?

–Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

–What do you consider your greatest achievement?

–What is your greatest regret?

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Pride and prejudice: Pastors know without reading Jane Austen

“Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (I Peter 5:6-9)

This is for pastors and other church leaders.  In the same way, the above admonitions were directed first of all to pastors and elders.  Peter was addressing “elders…as a fellow elder….”

Sometimes you have to take a tough stand, and then later, often months later, you have to defend it.  My suggestion is youshould keep good records.  To be able to open your book and say, “Okay, here’s what you said and what I answered” may end up saving your job.  Or your ministry.  Or sanity?

Hearsay or memory cannot stand up in a court of law alongside a journal where you recorded the exact conversation the day it happened.

Estherline has given all her pastors headaches.  But I was new at the time and no one had cautioned me about her.  I walked into her lion’s den unknowing.

When the lady who had been directing weddings in that church gave up the job, I was just entering as the new pastor.  I called her.  She gave me the names of two ladies in the church who could do the job. Estherline was the second.  “She’s pretty rigid, Pastor,” the lady warned me.

So, when the first choice declined, not knowing any better, I called Estherline.  She was only too happy to become the church’s wedding director.  She held that little position for the next three-plus years.  Until I fired her.

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Your pastor is plagiarizing his sermons; What to do.

All preachers borrow ideas and illustrations from one another.  I heard Adrian Rogers say, “I got this story from someone who got it from someone who got it from the Lord.”  We all smiled and the purists among us were satisfied.  He gave credit.

But what about when a pastor lifts the sermon in toto–lock, stock, and barrel–from another pastor’s book or website?  Is that right?  Is he guilty of something–possibly something illegal? or at least unethical?  Does he violate some unwritten law somewhere? Should a church be concerned?  And what if you are a member of that pastor’s staff and you are the only one who has learned where he is stealing those sermons?

A friend wrote to ask about this. He asked that we keep his identity anonymous, for obvious reasons.

His pastor is well-loved and highly respected.  A father figure almost.  Quite by accident the staff member discovered where the preacher was getting his sermons on the internet.  The man is preaching them verbatim.

“It’s quite impressive, actually,” he told me. “That he can remember those sermons in such detail.”

The pastor obviously did not give credit to the source of those messages since as far as the congregation knows, the Lord was giving those messages to him directly from on high (as opposed to indirectly, by way of this other guy, the one who spends untold hours in his study, on his knees, working and hammering out those messages).

The pastor is being dishonest, of course.  I’ve known of pastors being fired for such.  And he has lost the respect of his staff member who reported it to me.

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Destroyed for lack of knowledge–and loving it

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).

There is a reason people reject information that is new or different;  they love to be left alone in their comfortable deceit than to have to deal with all the changes required by the light.

Ignorance is bliss, they say.

The problem–whether with mankind or the redeemed–isn’t exactly a lack of knowledge.  If that were the case, we could remedy the situation by sending everyone back to school.

God would send educators to the church.  Instead, He sent prophets and shepherds.  He sent light-bringers. He sent a Savior.

Neither is the problem that people do not know the truth. Nor that no one has come to tell them the truth.  The problem is not that they have never heard the truth.  The problem is that they have rejected truth when it did come.

They are ignorant because they rejected true knowledge.   This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19).

Not knowing something and rejecting the knowledge of something are two different animals.

Over here is someone in darkness who yearns for the light. It comes and he awakens and all is well.  The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live (John 5:25).

Stumbling in the darkness, they spurn the light offered.

The speaker of Truth comes and they run him out of town.  Or scoff and jeer and mock him.

They crucify Him.

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The kind of preaching we like; the type of preacher we want

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah.  And there eat bread and there do your prophesying!  But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).

My journal from a number of years back has this:

Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher.  She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night.  He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”

Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split.  He had been the essence of faithfulness.

She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”

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Radio spots for your church? Here’s what we did.

Do churches still buy radio spots?  If you do, here are a few thoughts on the subject.

In a small to medium sized town, your church can probably afford an ongoing promotion of radio spots or a regular daily program.  Not so much in a metropolitan area.

In one sense, I guess I’ve done it all (or most of it!), everything from television broadcasting of our weekly services each Sunday to making 10-second TV spots promoting those broadcasts, to having a daily morning “live” call-in program on a Christian radio station.  I’ve hosted panel discussions on television, been interviewed on other people’s programs, some of them national. Was even on Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” once.

When I pastored in Charlotte, NC, a major city with many radio stations and high costs for air time, our church came up with a budget for a series of 30-second spots which I would be recording.  Our committee did the background work and decided on three stations to run the ads.  I drove to each station and recorded the spots once a month.

Here’s what happened at one of those recording sessions.

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Why do church people hang on to their jobs too long?

“Diotrephes who loves the preeminence…”  (3 John 9)

In one church I served, the assistant pastor had been there for over 25 years and was long past retirement age.  After I learned he was working against my leadership, when our people started talking about his retiring, I jumped on that bandwagon.  We set a date, with his complete involvement, and the congregation gave a generous love offering.  Then, just before the big day, the personnel committee informed me that they were asking him to remain in place.  He would not be retiring.

Yes, they “informed” me. They didn’t ask.

He gladly stayed on, seeing himself as the savior of the church against this young whippersnapper of a pastor.  (I was 46, not exactly a kid.)

And no, he did not return the love gift.

Why would he want to hold onto the job?  It seemed to give him a sense of prestige being a prominent leader in the city’s most storied church.  That and a dollar would have bought him a cup of coffee.

If you conclude I had more problems in that church than just the assistant pastor, you would be correct.  I ended up leaving after only three years on less than ideal terms.

What’s funny about that–sad funny, not ha-ha funny–is that two years later, I heard the new pastor was trying to get him to retire and having a time of it.  I had to smile.

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