The perfect way for a pastor to lead a different church

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Imagine this.

You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say.  It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about.  Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.

You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.

So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.

As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find  yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.

Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination?  Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”

And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”

This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.

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Five more words to those new in the ministry

(Recently, we wrote an earlier article for “those just starting out in ministry” in which we made some suggestions on matters they should learn, skills they should have, and such.  Here is that article for which this one is the companion.)

I began pastoring churches when John F. Kennedy was president.  That was a long time ago.  Then, 42 years later I moved from pastoring to become associational director of missions. After five years in that (DOM) work, I’m now in my 6th year of retirement, mostly an itinerant ministry, speaking in scores of churches every year.

I love preaching and serving churches, encouraging ministers and counseling church leaders.  It’s the greatest work in the world.

Do I wish I’d done some things differently at the start? You bet. And, I imagine most ministers feel that way for reasons unique to themselves. Here are a few of my “wishes” that come to mind, for whatever it’s worth to you who are at the front end of your call into the Lord’s service….

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“Joe needs a new editing team.”

Someone left a stinging rebuke at the end of one of our articles that had been posted by an online magazine for people in the Lord’s work. The writer was perturbed that I had directed a piece to pastors’ wives but not one to the husbands of female preachers.

I pointed out that while I am well aware some pastors are female and their husbands need an article all their own, I am not the one to write it, having no experience of that nature. For me to write it would be presumptuous, I said.

But that wasn’t good enough for some people.

One guy blasted me for saying that, insisting that it was insulting to the women pastors.

I replied that when I write just for male pastors, some women take me to task for neglecting women pastors.  Then, if I include a disclaimer saying I’m aware some are female but I’m Southern Baptist and we don’t have any in our denomination and I’m unqualified to write for them, I get ripped for that.

One woman pastor noted, “Joe needs a new editing team.”  That one made me smile.

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The pastor said, “No, we don’t believe the Bible.”

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)  and “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

Let’s see what you do and I’ll decide for myself whether you believe the Bible.

My buddy Kris was commenting on meaningless questions some of our Facebook friends suggested should be put before pastor search committees (our previous article). Most, she said, are useless because they presuppose the answer.

Asking a search committee “Does your church believe the Bible?” is meaningless, because they’re all going to answer in the affirmative, and you’re no better off than had you not asked it.

“Wait a minute,” Kris said, interrupting herself. “I just remembered a time when my pastor answered that differently.”

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20 questions a pastoral candidate should ask a search committee

After the committee has grilled the pastoral candidate and the tables are turned, what information should he want from them?

Pastors toss me this issue regularly.  Somewhere in the archives of our website, I’m sure we’ve dealt with this subject.  However, with over 2,000 articles and no index of these things, I suggest that they google “McKeever + (subject),” and see what comes up. Usually, if I’ve written on the subject, it’ll show up in the results.

That said, perhaps it’s time to say a few more things about this.

Here’s the situation.  You, the pastoral candidate, are sitting in a room with a committee of anywhere from 6 to 20 people. They have spent the evening tossing questions, real and theoretical, at you.  You are drained and everyone is ready for the evening to end.

But not yet.  Finally, the chair says, “And pastor, is there anything you would like to ask us?”

You bring out your list.

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The clue that tells the story on you

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

We are reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never forget this for one minute.

–The chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus, but “they were afraid of him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

–The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Even the Lord’s closest friends were filled with fear.

 Nothing speaks so eloquently about who you are as what you fear. And whom you fear.

We are literally defined by our fears.

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To those just starting in ministry

A friend who works with student ministers on the various college campuses around New Orleans has invited me to address his team in their weekly gathering. Asked if he had a  topic in mind for me, he said,  “Give us three things you would tell those just starting out in ministry.”

Three things?  How about a hundred! Here are a few that come to mind, in no particular order.

1) Make sure of your calling.

The ministry can be tough and you will often be lonely and experience great frustration. Things are not going as you had planned. The people you trusted have proven themselves untrustworthy.  Those over you in the work have been unable to fulfill their promises.  You’re seeing little results from your labors. You are exhausted and see no way to clear off the schedule for a well-earned rest.

Unless God calls you into this work, you will not last.

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Whether to give to this cause or that guy. It’s so hard to know.

“Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30).

Two days ago, my wife and I were parked briefly at the rear of a local drive-in eatery, waiting for our orders.  A man on a bike came onto the grounds and wheeled over to our car.

“Sir, I’m traveling and am broke and haven’t eaten all day.”

He might have said more, I forget.  The backpack and his scruffiness indicated he probably was telling the truth.

No one enjoys being accosted like this.  Later, I realized that parking in the rear of the establishment as we did is what drew him to us.  He left after our little encounter without asking anyone else, even though 20 more cars ringed the diner. The reason, I realized, is that the management would have seen him and ordered him off or called the cops. That would indicate he has done this before.

I’ll tell you what I did and what I wish I’d done.

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I do not retain some things. Here’s why.

“For if anyone is a hearer of he word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:23-24).

I asked my friend Freddie Arnold what to do about the mildew on my concrete.

Our water heater had busted and water leaked everywhere in the garage.  After we mopped it up and replaced the heater, I noticed that the water had soaked into some things stored in the cluttered garage and we had a mildew problem.  Freddie would know what to do.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of metro New Orleans, the procedure for restoring many of the damaged homes was to throw away all the furnishings, mud out the floors, then strip out the sheetrock down to the studs.  At that point, you treated everything for mildew.  Only after you were certain there was no mildew would you start to rebuild.  Because Freddie Arnold was knowledgeable about these things, in his role as Disaster Relief foreman and NOBA assistant DOM, he led in the salvaging of hundreds of homes.

I called Freddie at the East Baton Rouge Baptist Association where he’s working these days in semi-retirement. (A joke. Freddie has never done half a job in his life. Pay him for half a day’s work and you will get far more than you expected.)  He told me what to buy to treat the mildew and I wrote it down.

And promptly forgot what he had said.

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Things a believer decided long ago

“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

In the late 1980s when the country of Lebanon was trying to self-destruct and life was hazardous for everyone, President Reagan ordered all Americans out of the country. The edict included missionaries also. And that created a dilemma.

One of my missionary friends protested, “This is when we do our best work, in a national crisis when people are fearful and disoriented. They become open to the gospel. Please leave us here.”

Another missionary agreed. “Whether our lives are in danger or not, we settled this a long time ago, the day we accepted the Lord’s call.  This is no time for us to abandon these people.”

Matters settled long ago do not need constant rehashing.

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