When they say “somebody” ought to do something, they’re calling your number

“Somebody ought to do something!”

I was second in line at the traffic light. My lane and the one to my right were all turning left onto Dauphin Street in Mobile. The third lane was turning right.

Nobody was moving.

We sat through three sequences of lights. Meanwhile, the line of cars behind us grew longer and longer.

Clearly, the light was malfunctioning, but only on our side. Traffic from the other directions was receiving the correct sequence of lights. Our light stayed red.

I was traveling back to New Orleans from a revival in Selma, Alabama, and had stopped for a late-morning breakfast at a restaurant in Mobile.  After a fairly demanding week with 1500 miles of driving, I was actually relaxed and willing to sit there in the traffic without getting impatient.

But not all day.

Finally, I had had enough. The light was not working and the cars in front of me were showing no inclination to move.

So, I got out of my car.

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Three difficult church situations and what to do about them

I am not a professional counselor, not an official adviser of churches or denominations or pastors as such, and not acclaimed as an expert on problem-solving or conflict management. What I am is a veteran  preacher–now retired– and a writer who sometimes gets asked, “What is your take on this? What do you recommend we do about that?”

Out of that experience, and spurred on by two recent situations–one by phone last night and the other from an email this morning–here are three “case studies” or problem scenarios that occur with alarming frequency in our churches. And my suggestions on what the leadership should do in handling them.

As always, I do not claim to have the last word on any of this. But if it turns out this is the first word, something that gets readers to thinking deeply and acting courageously, it will have been worth the effort.

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Lack of integrity in a pastor is a deal-breaker

I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago.  We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.

Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that the property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.

That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.

Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.

I sat there listening to longtime friend Will tell of that experience from some years back and thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in his/her new pastor–employer, supervisor, and hopefully  mentor–is integrity.

Without integrity, nothing matters.

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Some treasures are in Birmingham, some in Chicago…

Tragically, in most churches the pain of change is greater than the pain of ineffectiveness. — Thom Rainer in “Simple Church.”

Longtime friend Max Youngblood of Bessemer, Alabama–now in Heaven–sent me a delightful thing from the Birmingham area. At the time, the Jefferson County Commission was proposing a “non-user fee” for residents who do not use the county sewer system.  That’s what gave restaurant owner Tasos Touloupis an idea. The owner of Ted’s Restaurants — one at 328 12th St. South and the other at 1801 4th Avenue South — took that to its logical conclusion and proposed a “non-diner’s fee.”

Ted promised to maintain a record of his customers. At the end of each month, his bookkeeper would send a $12 NDF invoice to all residents of Jefferson County who did not eat at Ted’s during the month.

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Yes, it does matter who gets the credit!

Sitting in front of the television as Hollywood was handing out its annual Oscars, I wondered something.

Who decides who steps to the microphone to acknowledge and receive these coveted awards?

When a movie’s name is called as the winner of “best picture” or some other category in which a number of people have collaborated, who decides which member of that crowd stands, walks to the front, accepts the kiss from Penelope Cruz, and addresses the billion people who are tuned in?

Do they work this out in advance? Is it spontaneous? Do people get their feelings hurt when the wrong person steps up and takes credit?

Michael Curtiz directed “Casablanca,” the incredible movie which took home several Oscars from the 1944 prom. He was named best director and the movie best picture of the year.  The film was done by Warner Brothers.

There were three Warner Brothers–Albert, Harry, and Jack. It seems to be the universal assessment that  Jack was the rascal in the bunch. Once Jack talked his brothers into selling the studio to a Boston firm, then the next day repurchased it so it would belong exclusively to himself. The rest of the family never forgave and never forgot.

An executive who worked on “Casablanca”–I’ve forgotten his name–tells  what happened at the awards ceremony when “Casablanca” was announced as best picture of the year.   “I was rising to my feet when I noticed Jack Warner already on his way to the front. He accepted the Oscar like he had had anything to do with this movie. It was my movie. I’m the one who made ‘Casablanca’ happen!”

A generation later, the man still had not forgotten the offense or forgiven Jack Warner.

A line attributed to Ronald Reagan says, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” (Other people, including Walt Disney, also get credit for saying that.)

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10 lessons on church leadership, all learned the hard way

This is not the final list. I’m still learning.

Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, not what I might have expected.

In no particular order….

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.

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10 signs you’ve been at that church too long

This is about one thing: How to tell when the pastor or church staff member or the chairman of a committee or a church officer has overstayed his/her welcome.

There are always clues, if you look for them.

One church I pastored had a vivid illustration of what happens when a member holds a position so long they begin to “own” it. Behind the sanctuary, on the same block, sat the synagogue, a lovely brick building that serves the scattered Jewish congregation in monthly services.  Across the street from the synagogue sat the funeral home, owned by one of our church’s deacons. One day that deacon told me, “Preacher, we could have bought the land the synagogue is sitting on for a pittance 40 years ago.”

He said, “When the house that used to sit on that property came up for sale, the people wanted $30,000 for it. I was willing to raise the money and buy it. I knew we would be needing that property in the future.”

“The trouble was that old Mr. McDougal,  the church treasurer who had held that job for decades, vetoed it. He said that was just too much money for that piece of land and we would not pay it.”

The treasurer vetoed the purchase.

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Secrets pastors don’t want you to know

A deacon told me he and his wife witnessed a fist fight their first Sunday at our church.  The story comes at the end of this.

Now, perhaps a better title of this should be “Secrets some  pastors perhaps don’t want you to know.”

It goes like this…

Let’s suppose  you are considering joining Clearview Springs Church.  The ministers and leadership are glad to welcome you.  Your presence can fill a pew, your offerings can fund the work, and your efforts can enhance the ministries.  So, yes, they want you.  And that’s why the pastor might keep certain things from you, at least when you are visiting.

Some things the pastor would rather you not know; some he doesn’t want anyone to know, period.

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How the large church can help the small church, whether it wants help or not

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  — Romans 15:1  (Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. –From The Message, a paraphrase)

I wrote on Facebook something like this:

Sometimes one of our churches is bigger than all the others in their town or county combined.  When that happens, the church leadership has to make a decision.  One, they can say, “We don’t need you small churches.  We’re number one.”  Or, two, they can turn around and help the smaller churches.  One of these choices is Christlike and the other carnal.

The comments came in, in a predictable manner, opting for the obvious second choice.  Someone said, ” Yes, but sometimes the small churches do not want your help and resist any attempt to encourage them.”  True enough.

So, the question is what to do when a large church is willing to assist and encourage the smaller churches but are rebuffed in the attempt? Are there ways for them to show Christlike care and compassion even when the smaller churches are not receptive?

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Church boss Diotrephes is alive and well

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.  Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words.  And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to do so, putting them out of the church.  III John 9-10.

In his book of 1,502 stories and illustrations (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart), Chuck Swindoll has this:

A. T. Robertson, a fine, reliable Baptist scholar of years ago, taught for many years at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  When he began to write on books of the Bible, he chose on one occasion the Book of 3 John, which talks about Diotrephes.  Diotrephes was a man who became a self-appointed boss of a church. And over a period of time, he was the one that excommunicated certain people and he screened whatever was done in the church.  As the self-appointed leader, he wouldn’t even let John come to speak as a representative of Christ.  So, John wrote a letter and reproved him.

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