How the preacher can sound really smart

“I speak as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart.  True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress.  He is a messenger, delivering the word of God, then getting out of the way.*

However, a less than solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers.  An insecure, insincere preacher–one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor–might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That’s where we come in.  We can help.

Herewith then is our list of tricks which a poor preacher might want to employ.

Tongue in cheek, of course.

One. Insert the occasional Hebrew or Greek word into your sermon.  This is not hard to do, now that we have the internet.  If you really want to sound smart, after saying, “Now, in the original, the Greek word is” whatever, then you will want to say something like “in the pluperfect aorist tense, of course.”  No one will know you have no clue what you’ve just said, but it doesn’t matter. It sounds good, and that’s the point.

Two. At least once in every sermon, say “As my seminary professor used to say…”  You’ll find great quotes on the internet to attribute to the anonymous teacher.

Three. Google Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, and find something good he said.  (He said a lot of quotable stuff, so this won’t be hard.)  In quoting him, be sure to pronounce his name correctly, otherwise the one person in the congregation who knows who he was will badmouth you and your efforts will be for nothing.

This also works for the German preachers Helmut Thelicke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Unfortunately, it does not work for Joel Osteen or John Hagee.

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Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Many churches have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.

I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

In the qualifications for deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13), verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  That “one wife” business has been interpreted in a dozen ways–everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades), to no one in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.

Likewise, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 which gives qualifications for pastors.  If this refers to the deacons’ wives, shouldn’t there be something about pastors’ wives? But there isn’t. So, many have decided verse 11 refers not to wives of deacons, but to women deacons.  (Argue if you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

Why then do our churches insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

I suggest the answer is found in Matthew 19:9. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  This seems to state very clearly that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, remarriage amounts to adultery.

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My Thanksgiving blog from 2008

(Since my family members read this, I thought they might appreciate this blast from the past…)

I’m sporting a red bruise high in the middle of my forehead that Mikhail Gorbachev would envy. Friday, after throwing a log on a fire in the middle of the field, I raised up and whacked my head on a low-hanging limb. More about that below.

Wednesday, at Alpha Cottingham’s funeral, evangelistic singer (and her husband W.O’s cousin) Ronnie Cottingham provided special music and told a story about this wonderful pastor’s wife. “Miss Alpha called to ask if I could come and do a full one-hour concert. I told her I could if the preacher invited me. He did and we worked it out. The night of the concert, I came in and got set up and started singing — but Alpha wasn’t in the crowd. I checked and discovered she was keeping the nursery. No one else was available, so she took care of the little ones so others could attend the concert.”

The pastor’s wife has a servant heart.

Early in the week, Margaret suggested I ought to go see my Mom for Thanksgiviing. I’d thought about it. I’ve not been home in several months and it’s a seven hour drive, but at Mom’s age (nearing 93), I need to get there when I can. So, Thursday morning, I left the city early and drove to north Alabama (the family farm is five miles north of Nauvoo, AL). I’d asked the family to save some leftovers for my supper. Leftovers where my Mom and sisters are concerned would be a feast anywhere.

After supper, we did something we’ve not done in a couple of years: played rummy. This card game has been our family’s pastime since Dad taught us to play when we were children. My brother Ron and I played sister Patricia and her husband James. How the game turned out is never the point; the fellowship and camaraderie is. And that’s how it came about that we received the best laugh of the week from our Mom.

We were in the midst of the card game and enjoying the fellowship. James happened to mention that one of his co-workers for the phone company, many years ago, was a part-time preacher. They were working out of town and one night, James walked into the man’s hotel room and found two Playboy magazines laying on the bed. The man recovered quickly and said, “James, look what was laying on the floor when I checked into this room today!” Um hummm. Sure.

I had my own contribution to the story. “When our younger son Marty was four years old, we were living in an apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. One day, he found a Playboy out behind the building. When Margaret tried to take it from him, he wouldn’t let her have it. ‘It’s mine,’ he kept insisting.”

They all smiled. Then from the kitchen, Mom said, “Why? He was only four. He couldn’t read.”

A pure heart.

(Everyone around the table agreed that Mom has probably never even seen that magazine.)

Now, about that tree burning.

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Word studies can bless those who study God’s Word

What made me want to study Greek and Hebrew in seminary was faithful preachers during my college years who sometimes gave us the meaning of a word in their sermons.  Not too much, of course.  It’s easy to overdo this.  And nothing very technical.  The guy in the pew does not care a whit about the aorist tense or pluperfect whatever, or that Josephus used this in one way and Herodotus another.

Pastors should do this sparingly, but when they do it wisely and well, a word study can enrich Bible study and inspire the hearers.  (I suggest no more than one word meaning from the Greek or Hebrew per sermon.  The average worshiper can absorb only so much, and we must not presume upon their kindnesses.)

Here are a few from Pau’s Letter to the Philippians…

“…so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).

The word “sincere” here is rich in meaning.  Our English word comes from the Latin “sin” meaning “without” and “ceres” meaning “wax.”  Without wax.  We’re told this refers to the shoddy practice of sculptors in the past.  While working on a piece of art, the marble might develop a crack.  Rather than discard the piece or try to repair it, the unscrupulous artist might fill it with wax.  It looked great and fooled the buyer….until he built a fire in the room where the piece was being displayed.  The heat melted the wax, and the fraud was discovered.  A truly sincere person is someone without wax, we would say.  Someone who can take the heat.

We used to speak of certain people being “plastic,” meaning a cheap imitation of the real thing.

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What we wish for the preacher-killers among us

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

My pastor friend Albert was facing a crisis in his church.

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’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.

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

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

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Truths which Satan uses to stop us from praying

The forces of hell will do anything to keep us from praying.

Satan tells lies to keep us from praying.  He uses pleasures and misinformation and our laziness to keep us from praying.  He uses false teachers and busy schedules and great television to keep us from praying.

He also has been known to use truth.

As odd as it seems, the dark prince does not hesitate to speak the truth if it will make us think we shouldn’t pray.

Here are eight true statements Satan uses to put a stop to the most powerful force in the world, the prayers of God’s people…

1–God already knows what you need. No point in asking.

2–You are unworthy.

3–You are weak.

4–Your faith is small.

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The preacher said something I disagree with. Horrors!

“…they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

When I asked where he went to church, the man working on my house said, “I used to go to church across the river.  But the preacher said something I disagreed with.”

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

But he was serious.

After giving him a moment to elaborate, which he did not do, I said, “Man, I would hope so.”

He seemed interested.

I said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible to have a preacher who said only the things that I know and taught only what I believe? What would be the point of going to hear him if I already knew what he was going to say? There’s so much more to God than what little I already know!”

Lord, make us teachable.

It’s a mark of maturity to welcome correction, to recognize and appreciate constructive insights to make our lives better. The godliest person comes to church hoping to hear something that blesses, something that corrects him, something that inspires her, whether they had previously known it or agreed with it or not. 

A quick scan of Scripture produces a long lineup of people who heard God calling their name, who made themselves available to Him, and then were told something they didn’t want to hear!

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Why we need a little conflict in our lives

“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, who are natural enemies, that fits here…

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.

All sunshine makes a desert, the American Indians used to say.  We need the rain and the occasional storm.

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Pastors: What not to do regarding search committees

We’ve written on this website regarding pastor search committees and how they should be approached by alert pastors.  Perhaps it’s time to say a word on what not to do regarding these church leaders determined to find a new leader for their congregation no matter how many bruised and bleeding ministers they have to leave in their wake.

Just to be safe, you may wish to go ahead and plant your tongue firmly in your cheek.  While the subject is serious, my treatment of it will be only partially so.

Okay. Pastor, you’ve been invited to meet with the search committee from the First Church of Butterfly City, and you’re plenty excited.

You’ve been at your present church a number of years now and have about run out of ideas, patience, and life-savings.  A change would not only be good, it might save your life, your ministry, your marriage or all three.   In fact, your wife might start believing in God once more if you told her He was transferring you to a new church.

Now, pastor, simmer down.  Do not let yourself become too excited….

First, pastor, you must not assume anything.

–Do not assume the Butterfly committee has done its background checks.  It’s completely possible they may begin tonight’s meeting with, “And who are you again? And where are you serving?”  Assume they know very little about you.

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When the pastor search committee asks a killer question

Josh Woo, a friend from my last pastorate, is a veteran of game shows and quiz programs. When Josh was 11, he was a contestant on Jeopardy.  As a student at the University of Southern California, he hosted his own television program on the campus station.  At one point, Josh was a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In between, he’s done the Wheel and several other shows.

The question that tripped him up on “Millionaire” went something like this: “At 7’7″, So-and-so is the tallest player in the NBA.  But he is slightly shorter than what portion of the Statue of Liberty?”  The choices were her right arm, her eye, the tablet she is holding, and her finger.  Using his final lifeline, Josh asked a buddy to help him, and they missed it.  Anyway….

Josh said veteran contestants (like himself) have a name for that kind of question, but perhaps he shouldn’t tell his pastor.  I said, “Come on. Give.”

“We call that a Go To Hell question.”

“A ‘Go To Hell’ Question,” he explained, “is one relying on such fine detail that no reasonable person should be expected to know it.”

Ah yes.  Who among us is not familiar with such.

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