Learning from the realtors

We preacher types see parallels in everything. I once did an article for this website saying “what preachers can learn from funeral directors.” It honored my favorite mortician and was well received.  So, since I’m in the middle of trying to sell the house where we have lived for more than two decades, parallels with our realtor come to mind. 

What churches could learn from realtors.  You’ll think of other things, but these come to mind….

One. Leave?

When buyers come looking at a house, we’re told that the owners should be gone.  Why? Because the prospective buyer needs to be able to criticize freely, words that might hurt the feelings of the owner who presumably loves this house and is attached to everything about it.

When people come looking for a church home, maybe the membership should leave and let them have the space to criticize.  “This carpet is ugly.”  “Whoever does the bulletin has a lot to learn.”  “I hate the color of the choir robes.”  That sort of thing.

I’m teasing. But it does make a point.

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What laypeople need to know–and seldom do–about speaking in “big church”

By laypeople, I mean non-preachers.

By speaking in church, I mean before large groups of the Lord’s people.

Many non-clergy are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind.  But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his element when suddenly asked to deliver a talk in front of the whole church.

Marlene said to me, “I’m sorry I took the entire service, Pastor. But the Lord was leading me.” Translation: She really got into her talk and couldn’t control it.  As a young pastor, I had invited church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes.  (Later, I learned to interview the individual and retain hold of the microphone the entire time!)

Since Marlene had not prepared adequately, once she got going, she couldn’t find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes.

Personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare on the Lord.

I see it happen all the time.  It’s almost embarrassing.

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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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