How to keep your church young and growing

“They will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).

The December 2014 issue of “The Progressive Farmer” asks whether to “Keep or Cull?”  Subtitle of the article: “High prices have changed the rules about when to cut one loose from the herd.”  

Farmers who want to keep their herds young and viable know the importance of culling certain animals that get too old, consume too much resources, are no longer producing, or are a detriment in other ways.

Pastors cannot cull.

More’s the pity, we say with a wink.

There is a reason certain businesses are dying before our eyes.  K-Mart and Shoney’s come to mind.  The discount store and the restaurant were once all the rage.  Today they are fighting to stay alive.  (My wife says, “K-Mart is coming back.” Okay. Good.)  We think of names like Montgomery-Ward, Spiegel, Western Auto, and Rexall– in most cases only dim memories now.  National Shirt Shop. Woolworth. Maison Blanche.

To stay healthy and maintain its mission, any entity must be constantly reinventing itself, tweaking its systems, sloughing off the old and dead, birthing the new.

Continue reading “How to keep your church young and growing” »

Delegating upward: Why we should not let it happen

“Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:7).  “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43).

Sometimes when we say “He must increase; I must decrease,” it’s not Jesus we’re referring to, but a brother or sister of ours.

Early in my seminary pastorate, I looked around for quick ways to make a difference in our little bayou church.  Since I had been a secretary for several years and typing and running printing machines were second nature to me, I decided the church bulletin would receive my attention.

I asked Mrs. Porter, the lovely senior lady who had the weekly responsibility of gathering the information, typing it into the form, and printing it as a handout bulletin for Sunday services, if I could take it over.  To her credit, she was not offended, but delighted to get rid of that task. (She had plenty of other responsibilities. As I say, it was a small church.)

The bulletin I produced was sharper than hers.  The typing was clearer, the English was classier, and the overall appearance was better.

I had made a serious mistake.

Continue reading “Delegating upward: Why we should not let it happen” »

Disaster in the making: The worst advice ever for young ministers

“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity…” (I Timothy 4:12)

People love to give advice to young adults just entering the ministry.  I’m sure they think they’re helping.

I was a senior in college when the Lord fingered me for the ministry.  When my coal miner Dad got the news, even though his experience with church leadership was minimal, he had advice for his number three son. “Start off pastoring small churches.  That way you learn how to do it before moving on to the bigger places.”

As if I had a choice.

Continue reading “Disaster in the making: The worst advice ever for young ministers” »

Our church welcomes you. On our own terms, of course.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

I had been reading in our local paper that the New Orleans Museum of Art’s display of artifacts from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would be closing its run soon, and I wanted to see this.  My wife was out of town, so this would be a good time.

So, that Tuesday afternoon, after finishing my hospital rounds, I drove to the museum in City Park, arriving around 4 pm.  I made my way around the barricades that obstructed the newly completed entrance and prepared to buy a ticket.  Signs said the museum closed at 5 pm.  And yet, something was wrong.

The entrance was closed and the ticket booth was shut down.

I stood there a moment wondering if I’d been mistaken about the time.

Just then, a couple of young adults stepped out of the ticket booth. I said, “Are you closed?”

One of the men said, “The exhibit takes two hours to see, so we stop selling tickets at 4 o’clock since you could not complete it before the museum closes.”  I was stunned.

Continue reading “Our church welcomes you. On our own terms, of course.” »

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.

Continue reading “To those just starting in ministry” »

Today’s headline: Teachers are arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student

“Now Eli was very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (I Samuel 2:22).

(From time to time on this website, we post warnings to ministers about the dangers of sexual transgressions and urge great care in relationships with everyone, male or female. Invariably, some people reply that the fault belongs completely with the lecherous ministers, or they wonder why I’m always blaming the women.  Nevertheless, the news today reminds us to keep trying to get this across. The battle is never-ending.)

There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately.

In a high school not far from where I live, two women teachers–both of them gorgeous and young, by the front-page photos–were arrested yesterday for inviting a 16-year-old male student to an apartment and having three-way sex with him.  Both women are English teachers, and one is exactly twice the age of the student.

The fall-out from this tragic event is enormous.  Lives are disrupted, the school is in turmoil, and families are torn up.

We have laws against this for good reason.

Continue reading “Today’s headline: Teachers are arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student” »

How to repair a church in mid-flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

Continue reading “How to repair a church in mid-flight” »

The 1950s: Are you sure you want to live there?

Recently when we posted an article about change in worship and noted that some people in our churches seem to want to return to the 1950s, one commenter who found absolutely nothing to like in the piece said, “I’d love to live in the 1950s.”

Happy Days. Chevrolet convertibles with the huge fins.  Malt shops and sock hops.  Mayberry was America and America was Mayberry.  Ike was in the White House.  Elvis was in his ascendancy.  And Andy Griffith was sheriff.

What’s not to like, right?

I smile at that.

No one loves the 1950s more than those who never lived them.

My wife said, “In the 1950s, every time a plane went overhead I thought it was possibly carrying an atomic bomb to drop on us.”

Such was the attitiude of fear pervading this land.

In the early 1950s, I recall walking home from church with my grandmother after one of those meetings in which the preacher scared the living whatever out of us, and hearing the planes overhead–hey, this was Birmingham and they had lots of planes!–and I was thinking the same thing as Margaret: “We’re goners.”

You want to return to that?

Continue reading “The 1950s: Are you sure you want to live there?” »

A tribute to my friend, Rev. Bill Hardy, Jr.

My dear brother in Christ William E. Hardy, Jr., went to Heaven this week.

Bill Hardy was the very definition of faithfulness, of integrity and character.  He was solid gold.

Our friendship dates back to May of 1974 when Bill and Barbara Hardy moved from Kosciusko, Mississippi, up the highway an hour or so to Columbus, Mississippi.  Bill was joining the staff of our First Baptist Church, coming from a similar position in Kosciusko.

It was to be the start of a lifelong friendship.

Bill remained with us in Columbus for nearly a decade before moving on to Casper, Wyoming, where he served as director of Christian education for the Southern Baptists of that state.  On retiring, perhaps 10 years later, they returned to the Magnolia State.

Bill died this week. His funeral is Saturday, September 13, 2014, at the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Mississippi.  11 a.m.

I will not have time in the service to say everything I’d like to about Bill, so this blog is a good place to deposit a few remembrances.

My greatest tribute to Bill Hardy is one he probably did not appreciate very much.

Continue reading “A tribute to my friend, Rev. Bill Hardy, Jr.” »

Show us how it’s done, church leader!

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

In attempting something I’ve never seen done, I need to look over the shoulder of someone doing it.  I don’t learn how to do hard things just by reading plans.

The Air Force has instructor pilots.  They sit beside the student in the cockpit, showing how it’s done, then giving hands-on instruction when the pupil takes the stick.

The educational system has interns who sit in the classrooms of veterans and learn from them. Other occupations have apprentices, associates, and trainees.

Show me.

A word to the pastors and other church leaders among us:  Show us how it’s done. Be Exhibit A.

Give the young believers coming after you a pattern to follow, for some look in vain for instances of believers living what they are hearing.  Give the old crusty veterans a close example of one living out the Christ-life, for some have given up hope of ever seeing that.

Do you want us to go door to door, sharing the gospel or inviting neighbors to a church event?  Then, the week before, you get out there and knock on a hundred doors.  In doing so, not only will you be able to help your people later when instructing them, but it will free up your spirit more than ten hours of prayer.  Honestly. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.

Continue reading “Show us how it’s done, church leader!” »