The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

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When a leader is a non-leader

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his work was done and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

Throughout his life, Joshua had never taken the initiative in anything, but had followed orders.  In Exodus 17:9, the first mention of Joshua in Scripture, he leads a rag-tag army of ex-slaves against the Amalekites. However, on a distant hill, Moses was overseeing everything and giving guidance.

No one wants to follow a non-leader.  Readers will want to check out the final chapters of Deuteronomy and the early chapters of Joshua and count the number of times Moses, God, and the Israelites urged this surprised newly chosen leader to “be strong and of good courage.”

A leader must be strong to forge a path and take the heat and must be of good courage to endure the problems, headaches, and backstabbings.

It goes with the territory. As the saying goes, it’s why they pay the leader the big bucks.

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Courage greatly needed–in the pulpit and in the pews

“The Lord is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6.  See also Hebrews 13:5-6)

I read that scripture–especially the Hebrews 13:5-6 incarnation–and smile.  Asking “what can man do to me?” is kind of like asking for it, isn’t it? Daring them to “bring it on.”  The answer of course is that man can do a great deal to you.  But the bottom line–and the point of the scripture–is that ultimately, with God being “for me,” it does not matter.

Nothing matters so much as our being one with the heavenly Father.

Can we talk about courage?  This is as rare as plutonium these days, particularly among the very people who should demonstrate it most readily, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Only two people in the church need courage: the one in the pulpit and the one in the pew.

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“I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulation)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)

A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom.  In today’s Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer has scaled the mountain. He says to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”

The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”  Hagar says, “Lend me money.”

Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days.  The other day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

Our connection was difficult, so I suggested he use email.  Within the hour, there was his message.  He wanted me to know what good work he was doing for the Lord and how difficult it was.  I responded in a typical way, thanking him and saying I was praying Heaven’s blessings upon his work.  (And yes, I stopped at that moment and prayed.)

He didn’t waste any time. His next email hit me up for money.

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Another pastor was terminated this week.

(I hope you will read all the way through to the comments at the end, and a couple of add-on notes we felt were necessary to add.–Joe)

The preacher friend sent me a note to say that the virus had spread to his church too.  He’ll soon be moving back to his home state and trying to start over.

I asked for a favor. “Sometimes when you feel up to it, write me about what happened to you. What did the committee say, what were their reasons?  What did you do and what do you wish you had done?”

I  hate this.

It’s like divorce.  Nothing about it is good. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils and you do it for your own survival but it’s still awful.

But a divorce is a defeat.  A divorce sends a message to the world, the kind of message we don’t want to be sending.

When churches elect to terminate a pastor forcibly, they’d better have some good reasons, is all I can say.

From all I know of Scripture, the Lord does not take kindly to those who mess with His messengers and those who tamper with the unity of His body. Both issues are on the table when a church decides to oust a pastor.

Technically, I suppose, my friend was not fired. But the little group of members brought considerable pressure for him to resign. “If we take it to the church and the congregation terminates you, there won’t be any severance.”

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Periodic accountability calls: a necessary part of the church ministry

“And they came to Capernaum, and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33)

“Thanks for dropping by, Darren. Hope you’re having a good day.”

“Darren, I want to ask you a couple of things. When we get through, you can say anything to me you’d like and tell me what I can do to help you in your ministry.”

“First, Darren.  Tell me about the announcement you made from the pulpit Sunday morning.  When you told the church about the youth mission trip you’ll be leading this summer.  That was the first I’d heard of it.”

Uh oh.  Darren has committed a serious breach.  He has run ahead of his leadership and has put the pastor in a tough spot.  The youth are all excited over the upcoming trip Darren has told them about.  If the pastor stops it in its tracks, he’s the ogre. If he gives his okay to something not even discussed in staff meeting, he’s setting a terrible precedent for the rest of the ministers.

The pastor is calling Darren on the carpet, although in a gentle way.  But don’t be fooled by his graciousness. Darren is in trouble and he knows it if he’s smart.

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13 things to do when your church is hurting financially

“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

A lot of things can happen when a church experiences a money crunch, most of them bad.

The finance committee can get upset, deacons can get angry, church members become scared, and staff members start honing their resumes and looking for a safe place to jump.  Nothing about this is good.

Can anything good come from a financial crisis? It depends on how you handle it. Read on.

Keep in mind that sometimes a financial crunch results from a too-aggressive program outstripping the resources. Perhaps the church has become too-invested in a project and the crisis sounds a wakeup call.

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The pastor’s biggest temptation

“Shepherd the flock of God among you…not for sordid gain, but with eagerness….” (I Peter 5:2).


“Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8).   Of course, it happens all the time. For most, it happens when they keep for themselves God’s tithes and offerings. However, every year hundreds of pastors go to jail for embezzling God’s money from their churches.

How does this happen? How could a God-called pastor fleece God’s sheep?

Aside from the spiritual considerations, two large things keep me from stealing millions from my church: 1) I would not know how, or even where to begin, and 2) my church has structures in place to safeguard the Lord’s money. (My pastor will read this and think, “I can tell you another: We don’t have millions of dollars!” True enough. But that’s not the point. Smiley-face goes here.)

So how do people manage to pull off such grand thefts of God’s money?

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What one new pastor told his church

“(I ask) that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21).

No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord.

In fact, almost everything depends on unity.

On April 14, 2012, Pastor Charles McLain stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.

Before they got underway with reports and motions and votes, however, he had something to say which they needed to hear.  His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.

He wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.

What follows is his written message just as he gave it (which he gave me, alongwith permission to share)….

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Seven things the pastor cannot do from the pulpit

You can’t chew gum in the pulpit or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, some pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive, we must say.

Now, in one sense, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit.  Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking godly pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

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