Does God allow His people “tremendous latitude” in where we serve?

Recently, in one of our on-line magazines for ministers, a preacher friend gave twenty-five questions which pastors should ask of search committees before accepting their call.  At the conclusion, he said, “I believe the Lord allows us tremendous latitude in where we serve.”

Tremendous latitude.  Interesting expression.  I assume that to mean “great flexibility.”  Which implies, to me at any rate, that the Lord lays out all these choices and says, “It’s up to you.”

It’s your call.  You can decide.

Take your pick.

I replied with a cartoon.  A preacher sits at a table with his open Bible before him.  He prays, “Lord, I’ve heard you give us extreme latitude in deciding where to serve.  But Lord–please don’t do that.  I don’t want latitude.  I can’t trust myself to do this.  You choose, Father.  You choose!”

That’s how I feel.  If the Lord were to say to me, “Choose from these three churches, all of them wanting you as pastor,” I’m afraid I would have to punt.

I can hear myself saying, “Lord, You know.  I don’t.  You know my little strengths and my glaring weaknesses.  You know who is in each of those churches and how they make decisions.  You know their secrets and I don’t.  Please don’t ask me to do this.”

As a friend once preached on something similar, I do not have mentality enough, morality enough, or maturity enough for making such a call.

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Ten things to pray for your pastor…and one big thing to do next

“Pray for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). 

Whether requested or not, you and I would do well to pray for our pastors.

Then, continuing to pray for your pastor in good times and ill is a sign of great faith in Christ.

So much depends on whether our spiritual leaders are functioning well, close to the Lord, thinking clearly, and in good health.

Here are ten requests we should be asking of the Father for our pastors….

One.  A strong sense of God’s calling on the pastor’s life.

“It is the Lord Christ whom ye serve.”  (Colossians 3:24)

He is not his own, nor is he “ours.”  He has been bought with a price.  So, we pray that He may always have a clear sense of where his allegiance begins and ends.  This will produce a far greater intensity in his faith and drive to his work ethic than anything the deacons or finance committee can impose.

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What the unemployed pastor can pray when most churches want nothing to do with him

“Lord,” I said, “Most churches are afraid of me.  If I’m such a good candidate for their church, they wonder why I am still unemployed?”

I had survived an attempt to oust me from leadership of the church I’d pastored the last three years.  It had been the most difficult, up-hill period in my ministry.  Then, when it appeared the coup had failed and the know-it-alls knew a lot less than they had figured, I was not given time to take a breath before the ringleader said in private, “It’s not over, Joe.  It’ll never be over until you’re gone.”

He was determined to get me out of that church.

A few days later, the Father said to me, “You may leave now.”

Six months earlier, a church leader with ties to the little power group had taken me to lunch with an offer.  “If you will leave, they’ll give you $100,000. And you can walk away.”

I said, “I would love to leave.  The stress is killing me.  But the Lord will not let me.”

A Midwest church twice our size had shown interest in me as a possible pastor.  I’d sent them recorded sermons–this was before the internet–and we’d had extensive long distance conversations.  They were about to send their search committee across the country to visit us when I stopped it.

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When planning, reading the instructions is a good place to start.

“Our company asks prospective employees to fill out a written application,” a man wrote in the Readers Digest.  “One question said: In one word, describe your greatest strength. This woman applicant wrote: I’m always faithful to read the directions first.”

Recently, Bertha and I voted at the church a few blocks from our house.  As you sign in, the poll workers give you a paper ballot.  Since only two races were left for the runoff, the page was mostly empty.  At the top were these instructions:  “Using black ink, fill in the oval circle beside the name of the candidate for whom you are voting.”  You were given a closed space to mark your ballot, which you then handed to a clerk who fed the paper into the voting tabulator.  Mine went through fine.  Bertha’s was spit back out.  The clerk looked at it, smiled at her, and said, “Ma’am, you put a checkmark by the candidate’s name.  You’re supposed to fill in the oval.”  She laughed, was slightly embarrassed, they gave her another ballot, and she got it right this time.

On the way to the car, I said to my schoolteacher/wife: “Honey, do you tell the students to read the directions before they take their test?”  She gave me that look.

On the drive home I said to her, “I’ve not changed the clock in this car since we went on Daylight Savings Time.  The truth is I’ve forgotten how to do it.  I’ve had the car a whole year now, so I know I’ve done it before. But I don’t recall how.”

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Pastor: What to pray when your ministry is on the line

“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word” (I Kings 18:36). 

I was pastoring a church that had survived–just barely–a massive split a couple of years before I arrived.  Many were still carrying guilt over how they had behaved or anger over the misbehavior of others.  Or both.

And since these people had ousted the pastor who had provided the spark for all this turmoil, it soon occurred to a strong handful that they could do the same to me.

So, for the first years of my ministry in that church–which actually lasted nearly fourteen years–I had to put up with the detractors, people who were determined to find fault with everything I did and turning it against me.

And then one day I noticed how Elijah had prayed on Mount Carmel.

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Why you need a little resistance in your life

“Where there’s no friction, there’s no traction!”  –Overheard from an elderly Baptist preacher in North Carolina 30 years ago

Tim Patterson, executive of Michigan Baptists, had a great insight about catfish and codfish–natural enemies–on Baptist Press the other day..

In the northeastern part of our country, codfish is a big deal. However, shippers discovered that freezing the fish to ship destroyed the flavor.  So, they tried shipping them alive in tanks of seawater.  In addition to that being too expensive, for some reason the cod still lost their flavor and arrived soft and mushy.  Something had to be done.

Eventually, someone hit on a solution. After the codfish were placed in the seawater tanks, one more thing was added:  catfish.  Their natural enemies.

“From the time the cod left the East Coast until they arrived at their destinations, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank…. When they arrived at the market, the cod were as fresh as the day they were caught.  There was no loss of flavor and the texture was possibly better than before.”

There’s a lesson there.

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Pastor, leave sports out of the pulpit. Here’s why.

“Not everyone in the pews cares who won that game.  They could care less who Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron, Joe Namath or Drew Brees are (is?).  Tell them a Yogi Berra story and while you stand there waiting on the laugh, they will say, ‘Who is that?’  An evening at a college football game with you is not a delight but punishment.”  –The voice of sanity

Keep that in mind as you enter the pulpit area.

Dr. Cecil Randall pastored Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church during the era of the famous Paul “Bear” Bryant when winning national championships became a matter of routine.  Later, as a professor in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he told his students not a single time did he mention football from the pulpit.

“Not everyone in your congregation is local,” Dr. Randall said.  “Some are from those other states and they cheer for those other teams.  Besides, you have bigger things to do today than talk about a football game.”

Any pastor who questions that should go back and examine his calling.

There is an exception.

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Our wish for the church’s preacher-killers

They asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind.  “My accountability to God,” he said.

My pastor friend Albert still carries scars from his last tough assignment.  And now, he tells me, he faces a crisis in his present church.

The issue, you will not be surprised to learn, has nothing to do with the community at large, the unchurched he is trying to reach, or the surrounding culture.

The problem Albert faces is internal.

“Twice the treasurer has threatened to cut my pay if I announce plans to stay on.  He tells everyone that our church cannot afford a pastor.  A couple in the church is spreading gossip about me.  A recent survey of the congregation assessed me and my ministry–which is fine–but the board chairman plans to discuss it at the upcoming annual meeting without clueing me in on the results ahead of time.”

Nothing about this bodes well for Albert.  (I suppose I’ve seen too many of these disasters-in-the-making to be optimistic.  Some people are determined to have their way and run “their” church as they please.)

He concluded, “Pray for wisdom, shrewdness, strength and peace for my wife and me.”

Ask any pastor.  The stresses from these forces are preacher-killers.

I’ve been reading the recently published “Valley Forge,” Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s account of General George Washington’s turning a bedraggled, dispirited, starving, half-naked army into a fighting force that defeated the best-trained militia on the planet, the British.  What strikes the reader is that while battling the British and contending with both the frigid weather and the sparse supply of food and clothing, Washington was constantly being undercut by Congress and generals who wanted his job.

The internal strife must have been worse than the external.

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Arrogance on display: Peacocks in a Mudhen Parade

(For the significance of the title, see the story at the conclusion.) 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….(who) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore, God has highly exalted Him…. (Philippians 2:5-9)

Browsing through Books-A-Million yesterday, I saw it.  A preacher had written a book.  The cover photo was a full picture of himself.  In the right hand lower corner were these words: “Not your typical preacher.”  (Sorry, I did not stop to make a note of who the preacher was, nor did I write down the name of the book. And I’d prefer to leave it that way, lest someone think I am attacking the man himself.)

I was offended.

This morning at breakfast, I asked my wife, “Why did that offend me?”  She didn’t hesitate. “Because it was so arrogant of him.”

My thought exactly.

Either that preacher wrote that about himself and ordered that his photo be plastered across the front of the book, or he approved it.  Either way, his ego is all over the place.  The man is exalting himself.

I can just imagine his office filled with stacks of these books.  A hundred photos of his face stare back at him.  He loves it.

I am offended that the man does not want to be identified with “typical” preachers.  He is clearly “a cut above,” in his thinking at least.

However, on second thought, most of us preachers will take comfort that he is not typical.  Most pastors are humble, hard-working, and dedicated to doing the work of Christ.  They are not prideful or self-exalting.

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The single piece of advice this generation cannot handle

Recently on a college campus where I spent four hours sketching students in the dining area, I noticed posters up and down the hall with the college logo and this message:

DREAM BIG;  PLAN WELL;  BE ANYTHING

Since I kept running into the message, it kept hammering at me. Finally, I realized what was wrong.

It was missing something.  Something vital.

The posters should say:  DREAM BIG; PLAN WELL; WORK HARD; BE ANYTHING.

They left out the crucial step of implementing the plans.  What we call “old fashioned work.”

That’s a most unpopular concept, I am aware.  This generation, much like the one before it, thinks that positive thinking and “dreaming big” will accomplish anything.

Today, while studying Philip Nation’s book on “Revelation 1-3,” a preparation for the January Bible Study on the “7 churches of Asia Minor,” I came across this.  Referencing the word “labor” in Revelation 2:2, Nation said, “The Greek word for ‘labor’ originally meant a beating and the grief that accompanied it.”  I read that and thought, “Then it’s not just this generation.  People have always hated work!”

In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve are confronted with their sin, God tells the man, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread….” (Genesis 3:17-19).

When asked if work is a curse upon mankind because of the original sin, it helps if we remember that before all of this, when God created man and woman, we are told, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (2:15).  John MacArthur says, “Work was an important and dignified part of representing the image of God and serving Him, even before the Fall.”

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