The pastor’s principles of staff leadership and team management

From time to time, pastors run situations by me for my response.  Often it has to do with a conflict with a staff member. Particularly if either the pastor or staffer is new, conflict often arises.  That’s why…

I suggest that pastors have some tried-and-true principles to govern their relationships with ministerial staff and the office staff. That is–to clarify–some bedrock rules you go by in your dealings with your team.  In most cases, you have acquired these the hard way, by breaking them or being broken upon them.

Anyway.   Here are a few I have lived with, just to get you started….

One.  No leader  likes surprises.

That’s why we have weekly staff meetings, to talk things out, to plan the calendar, etc.  Once on a Sunday morning, the student minister announced to the church that the mission trip for next Summer would be to New Hampshire.  Next morning in staff, I said, “At what point did we decide the youth would go to New Hampshire next summer?”  He turned twelve colors, swallowed hard, and said, “Uh oh.”  We had a head knocking–in love, actually–and he learned an important lesson.  And yes, he took the youth to New Hampshire.

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The pastor wasted some time today; he doesn’t know which.

You do not know the way of the wind….  You do not know the works of God who makes everything….  You do not know which will prosper…. (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).

Today the pastor did a hundred things, some of which are eternal and some not.  Some were gold, silver, and precious stones, while others were wood, hay, and stubble.

He visited three patients in the hospital, talked to strangers in the hospital lobby, to nurses in the hallway, to people he met along the way, and he studied for his sermons.  He dealt with administrative issues in the church office, had to reprimand the church custodian for doing a poor job of cleaning bathrooms, and returned a dozen phone calls.  He wrote something for the church website, accepted an invitation to speak at a civic luncheon, and had lunch with his wife.  A neighboring pastor ran by for a few minutes to confer about a project they’re working on for the association, he answered someone’s on-line query about tithing, and he took a walk around the block.  He leaves the Bible open on the table in his back office and stops by for a few minutes from time to time to read the text of next Sunday’s message or to look something up.  He prays there and often, throughout the day.

When his head hits the pillow at night, he has a hard time remembering what he did or knowing what he accomplished.

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses and me

I don’t have a good track record of my dealings with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.

First story. During my seminary years, while pastoring a small church on a Louisiana bayou, a man in my congregation asked me to accompany him on a visit with a neighbor who used to be a member of the JWs and was not going to  church. I was green, eager, and clueless. Even though that man was no longer a member in good standing of the JWs–for reasons I have long since forgotten–he knew all their arguments, bought into their philosophy, and was a master of their combative attacks on what we might call traditional Christianity. He was brutal in the way he mauled me.

I was savaged.

As we left, my companion, a fellow who was to put a few grey hairs in my head over the decades for other reasons, tossed it all in my lap. “You have to answer him, Joe. If you don’t answer him, I’m never going to believe in you again.” Something like that.

Thanks a lot, friend.

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49 encouraging things to say to your pastor

Encourage one another. –I Thessalonians 5:11

When we posted “59 things not to say to a pastor,” my cousin Rebecca Kilgore Smith of Jasper, Alabama, suggested we should balance the sheet with a list of positive, encouraging things to say to pastors.

We sent out a call for help on that, and here is the result.

1. I’m praying for you. This was overwhelmingly the consensus for the number one encouragement for any preacher.  But don’t say it if you’re not doing it!
2. I love you. And likewise, this was strong. Every minister should know they are loved.
3. Hebrews 6:10, my all time favorite scripture for a faithful servant of the Lord. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown to His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering.” It’s one thing to say “I remember,” but another entirely to say that “God remembers.”  Great promise.
4. We are taking I Timothy 5:17 to heart, Pastor, and starting immediately we are doubling your pay.  Ha. In your dreams.

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Why we love God’s Word (and we do! Never doubt that.)

Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.  And by this word you shall prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.  –Deuteronomy 32:46-47.

God’s people are a Bible-focused people.  Have you noticed that?

They love God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Most have multiple copies in various translations  and they make a big deal of reading Scriptures daily, some for an hour or more.  They commit large portions of it to memory, and love to quote its key insights when appropriate.

They do not do this out of a slavish, dull-spirited sense of obligation.  As Moses told Israel, “Indeed, it is your life.”

Everything we know of Jesus Christ and God’s revelation from Heaven, for now and forever, comes from  these pages.

What specifically do you love about God’s Word?  Ask a hundred serious followers of Jesus and you may get a hundred answers.  Here are my top ten reasons for loving the Word of God….

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The Lord’s biggest competition

“My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewed out for themselves cisterns–broken cisterns, which can hold no water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

You make a very small god, friend.

An executive with Wal-mart  made an observation before a group of businesspeople recently  that has stuck with me.  “You know who our biggest competition is?”  People suggested Target, K-Mart, Best Buy, the, malls, and such.

“Dollar stores,” he said.  “That’s what Wal-mart started out to be and they are now eating our lunch.”

Well. Makes sense.  Those little stores are everywhere.

You know who God’s biggest competition is in this world?

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The day I was kicked out of Wal-Mart

I’ve waited a while to tell this, so the host pastor would not put two and two together and a) be embarrassed or b) feel he should march into his local Wal-Mart and confront someone.

I was doing a senior adult revival in a wonderful church in a small Alabama city.  Late that afternoon, on my way to the church I saw I was a little early, so stopped by the lccal Wal-Mart to pick up a sketch pad.  They have great pads at a reasonable price and I always try to have a couple of extras on hand.

As I neared the checkout stations, I noticed none of the ladies had a single customer.  I made some little remark about “which one shall I go to” and then one of them checked me out.  Still no customers anywhere near, so as I often do, I said to the checker in front of me, “Hey, smile at me and I’ll sketch you.”  It takes a minute or so.  “Draw me,” the next one said.  I had time, so kept on drawing.

I was on the third or fourth one when a woman walked up.  “Sir, you’re not allowed to do that.”

I said, “I’m not allowed to sketch them?  I’m not taking them away from their work, and I’m giving them a nice little gift.”

“You’re not allowed to take pictures of the employees,” she said sternly.

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Two huge considerations before preaching on stewardship

I worry about pastors who never talk to their people about stewardship. Whether they call it tithing or simply giving to the Lord, Scripture is saturated with teachings, admonitions, and instructions.  This is not an optional subject for the faithful pastor.

Our people are often overwhelmed by financial bondage.  We owe it to the Lord and to them to teach Scriptural principles which will free them, will honor the Lord, will support God’s work throughout the world, and will result in Heavenly treasures for the givers.

When a pastor begins to plan a series of messages on money, here are two major considerations to keep in the forefront…

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It’s fine for the pastor to be a mini-chamber of commerce!

Just don’t overdo it.

In  a sermon, the pastor tells of  his recent visit to a historic cemetery in the region.  He saw an epitaph that will linger with him for a long time.

He tells of the time he was a special guest at the dedication and commissioning of a military ship built in his area.  The steel of the prow came from the World Trade Center’s ruins, from 9-11.  From the ashes of the devastation came the strength of the mighty vessel.  It’s a great sermon illustration.

He describes his tour of  the White House alongside the local Congressman.  He thought of the nation’s leaders who have called this their home and recommitted himself to praying for them.

Perhaps he told the church of  a conversation with the mayor regarding a new plant to be built just north of the church, an industry said to  bring in hundreds of new employees and new residents.  A church must be poised to reach out to new people moving to their area, he preached.

Pastors should live in the community they serve and be knowledgeable about its history, its current events, and its politics.  Whether he ever mentions it or not, knowing this will undergird his sermons and his leadership from time to time.

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Collateral damage: Hurting the little ones

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea…. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 18:6,10)

A friend texted this with an all-too familiar story.

The church has just run off a good pastor for no apparent reason other than the so-called powers wanted him gone.  When a little senior lady stood to protest and declare love for her pastor, she was ordered to sit down and be quiet.  Off to the side sat a young couple who did not stand up and protest, but who were grieving.  Their story, I was told, involves the pastor reaching her for Christ when she was  about to give birth out of wedlock.  In time, as a member of the church,  she married a fine young man and they had a child of their own.  They’ve been growing in the Lord, and they love their pastor devotedly.  Then suddenly–with no warning–they had the privilege of seeing him  brutally mistreated by a few church members who refuse to be accountable. Their beloved pastor was gone and no reasons were given.

No one cared about the senior lady and no one cares for the young family.  They are merely collateral damage.

Thus the Lord’s church gets mauled by the bullies and the “little ones who believe in Me,” as our Lord called them, are despised and abandoned.

There will be a reckoning, friend.  Mark it down in big letters.  The end of this story has yet to be written.

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