What pastor search committees fear most

“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)

“For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

You should read my mail.

Well, maybe you shouldn’t.  You would come away disgusted with the notion that our churches operate in faith, trust God supremely, and always want to do the honorable thing.  Some do; many do not.

A young minister I know is well-trained and very capable, he is called of God and has a heart for ministry.  Some church is going to love having him as pastor.  If they ever decide to call him.

Search committees are deathly afraid of him.

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If I were a deacon just starting out

If I were a newly ordained deacon, I would be eager to learn my craft, to honor my Lord, and to serve my church.  So, here are some of the things I would do:

–I would stay on my knees, asking the Father to purify me, make my motives holy, and to give me a heart to serve.

–I would read Luke 17:7-10 again and again until it became part of my DNA.  I would resolve never to seek appreciation or expect honors.  We are servants.

–I would find the godliest, most effective deacons now serving our church and latch onto them.  I would pick their brains, and ask if I could work with them until I learned all they could teach me.

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The power of a good life-altering crisis

“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it,  it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God  used it.

Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.

It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal.  It just depends.  “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”

We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.

In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.)   Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.

An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”

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How cartooning figures into my larger ministry (an assignment)

I was speaking to the medical staff at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board at the request of one of their physicians.  She asked that I talk about how cartooning figures into the ministry to which God called me..

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6).

As  a young pastor I drew a sharp line to distinguish between natural talents and spiritual gifts.  The first you are born with; the second reborn with.  The first might involve talents for music, art, science, math, etc.  But spiritual gifts–those strengths in our heavenly DNA–would be more along the lines of preaching, teaching, service, prayer, witnessing, and such.

I’ve altered that a little….

It’s all His.  And whatever natural talents and gifts He gave us can be given back to Him and used for His glory.

I began drawing at the age of 5 when Mom put me and my 3-year-old sister at the table with pencil and paper and told us to draw.  I learned immediately that I loved to draw.  The next year, the first graders at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary School would gather around and watch as I sketched.

As a 16-year-old, I took a correspondence course in cartooning.  But mostly I was self-taught.

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When to question a candidate’s conversion

“Behold, Lord, half my goods I will give to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).

Let me hear Donald Trump saying that and I might believe he has been truly converted.

And to those who say (correctly) that no one else we know makes the kind of reversal which Zaccheus did in Jericho that day, I would say, “Well, how about something in the general area, then.”

Let’s see (and hear) something from the candidate himself to indicate he has changed his way.

I’d say that about The Donald or Hillary or the local candidate for coroner.

What we should question is preachers calling news conferences to announce that “the candidate has assured me that he has been saved.”

I’d like to hear it from the candidate’s own mouth.  And I would like the preachers to be silent.

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Taking the lazy way out

When the Bible says something unequivocally with no question and without complication, God’s people are on safe ground saying, “God said this and it’s so.”

Such statements would include salvation by grace through faith, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. The resurrection of Jesus is attested by all four gospels and Acts, plus the various epistles.

Only those who deny that holy scripture is God’s Word say otherwise.

But when good and faithful followers of Jesus see Scripture passages differently, for one to accuse the other of denying the Word can be most unfair and unChristlike. Rather, they should “man up” and do the adult thing and say, “This is how I see it; many good people disagree.”

In teaching our people, we can say, “God’s people differ on this, but I’d like to share with you what I believe this is saying.”

That’s responsible.

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“What I did for love”–Every believer’s two-sided resume’

“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.

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Church: The power of working together

“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.

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Leading from fear: So many churches do it

“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.

That’s courage.

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.

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Choosing: The precious, the load-bearing, the unseen

(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?”

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