Things they never taught me in seminary.

A pastor friend wrote a book by the title “What They Never Taught Me in Seminary.”  I even drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.

Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have.  Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed. One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.”  I’ve taught it a few times myself.

Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes.  After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.

All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind today….

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What lousy English says about us. (Nothing good.)

I was sent the following email from someone trying to sell me a service….

Hi There,
I was sent you an mail regarding Web Listing hope you are found it.
This is an follow-up email for you, Interested in our proposal or not?

Let us know if you are interested, I am waiting here your valuable
reply.

I went back and read their original proposal to see if the same poor English was to be found there. It wasn’t.  Clearly, someone was hired to pretty up the original mailing, but the followup was done by the salesperson, if you will.

Not a good way to impress a prospective client.

Now.  I’m not interested in having my website be first to pop up on Google, as they were proposing.  Nothing about that interests me.

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Imagine if I knew what you were thinking. Uh oh.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to virtual church.

You have noticed on your screens that the pews in our building are empty today.

There’s a reason for that.

No one comes to this church any more. That’s the bottom line.

It did not happen accidentally, by the way. But this is the result of a concerted effort from those of us in leadership positions to set higher standards for the membership.  Anyway, what happened was this….

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The most selfish reason not to join a church?

“No one spoke to me at that church.”

“That’s an unfriendly church.”

“I’m never going back there again.”

We pastors have heard it all.  Sometimes, it’s anonymous notes informing us that ours is a cold church, that not a single person spoke to them last Sunday. They will not be returning.

Usually, it’s hearsay.  A visitor told a friend who passed it on to a neighbor who told one of our deacons.

Church visitors, it would appear, can be a troublesome lot. Always demanding to be greeted warmly, seeing that as their right and as the confirmation that ours is a church founded on the Rock and faithful to the Word.

I beg to differ.

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Never on automatic: The test of a champion

Itzhak Perlman is a champion violinist.  Disabled by polio in early childhood, he gets around on a scooter or with hand walkers and is arguably the world’s greatest violin virtuoso.

Hear him once and you are a fan for life.

In USA Today for Wednesday September 2, 2015, Perlman said, “If you are a golfer, you have to be reliable.  But you cannot do that as a musician.  The challenge, as I tell my students, is not how you play something the first time.  What about the 10th, or the 50th, or the 150th?  Am I going to play something the way I did last time? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the point is never to go on automatic.”

We preachers know about going on automatic.  It’s what actors call “phoning it in.”

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Those who travel first class on the path of righteousness

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

As a college student, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains.  It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.

First, their standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class.  This means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car.  Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.

I wondered if they did not know the company was sticking it to them. (I believe this three-tiered system is still the custom on Amtrak.)

When I began traveling by plane, I was amazed to see people paying astronomical fares for first class.  Same plane, a little more legroom, coffee in a china cup instead of Styrofoam, and get to deplane first. That was about it.  A status thing? I imagine so.

In the Texas of the 1800s, the stagecoach lines had three levels of tickets: first, second, and third class.  This had nothing to do with where you sat, the food you ate, or when you disembarked.  It involved what you did when the coach got into trouble.

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Five facts about the sign in front of your church

Since Scripture doesn’t mention “church buildings”–other than people’s homes–we have no explicit teachings concerning their function, architecture, or anything else.  Therefore, a sign in front of the church to identify certain details about the congregation is also foreign to Scripture, a small innovation made necessary by the cultures of which we are a part. So, the principles here are basic common sense…I hope.

1. Your church needs a sign.

When oppressive governments first decide to persecute churches, they require that all signage and identifying insignia be removed.  Mistakenly under the impression that if no one can find a church the houses of worship will soon cease to exist, pagan officials forget that the Christian faith existed for centuries by word of mouth, still the best method of propagating the gospel.

Even so, it’s a good idea to have a sign in front of a church.  In America, that is a given. The church without a sign in front may as well have no door.

Please take a look at the sign identifying your church.  Get out of the car and walk up close to it. Study it closely.

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When the pastor lives below the standard of his church leaders

Here’s a situation that might surprise some church members to know preachers deal with and that it is frequently a problem.

The pastor visits in the homes of his members and notices that they live more luxuriously than he and his family.  Their house is larger, built better, and is located in a classier neighborhood. They dress well, have a pool, and their cars are always the latest model.

The pastor and his wife notice these things; count on it. And as their children grow into the teen years, they also become aware that some in the church are wealthier than they.

Now, every family is different.  One would hope the pastor’s spouse and family are so intent on serving God in this community that material things are a distant second to them. You would hope they rejoice in the success some families enjoy, and let it go at that.

That’s not always the case. At times, the pastor and family come down with a severe case of “why not us, Lord?”  Also known in the medical books as “Why can’t we live the way they do?”

Here are a few thoughts on this issue.

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How to love your church’s monthly business conferences

I’m cleaning out desk drawers in my church office, trying to close it down.  After I retired  in 2009, our church generously provided me a secluded space to set up a desktop computer for writing. Since it adjoined the church library, it was perfect in every way.

These days, since I no longer need a separate office, for the past few months, I’ve been trying to close it out.  A bigger job than I’d anticipated.

That’s how I came across something written while I was still pastoring–that would be sometime prior to 2004–under the title “Conducting a business meeting.”

Pastors and church leaders are all too familiar with those monthly church business conferences that can be mind-numbingly boring at times and at other times can rip open a fellowship of believers and leave it in shreds.  Their unpredictability has caused many a church leader to look for ways to dispense with them, everything from simply forgetting to have them to amending the constitution and by-laws to say the church will have only quarterly or annual conferences to outright canceling them altogether.

No solution is ideal, as far as I can see. So much depends on the leadership and the membership.

That said, I wanted to reproduce the one page article here. It tells a great story….

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Predisposed toward the negative

“Help us, Lord! We’re perishing!” (Matthew 8:25)

A friend sent a packet of material to help me deal with the grief of my wife’s death.  I appreciate his kindness and thoughtfulness.  Included in the folder was his church bulletin and monthly mailout, which I enjoyed reading. That’s how I noticed something slightly odd.

The Sunday bulletin listed last week’s actual offering as, let’s say “$45,000.”   Above it was the figure which the budget requires on a weekly basis, perhaps “$55,000.”   Underneath it said, “Deficit: $10,000.”

Now, what we have here is a church showing that last Sunday’s offering, as generous as it was, amounted to a deficit, when all that happened was that on that particular Lord’s Day the contributions were low.  They probably made up for it the next Sunday.

If I were their pastor, I would instruct the editor of the publication to delete the word “deficit” from the dictionary.  “Use that word only when I tell you to do so.”

Some church members are automatically drawn to any bad report or negative slant they can find to attack or undermine the present pastor and church leadership.  I’d just as soon not give them ammunitiion.

Okay, now….

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