The biggest failure of most pastors

The four-year-old who says, “I can do it by myself” has a lot in common with the typical pastor.

Pastors are notorious for their lone ranger approach to ministry. It’s what I call the number one failure of 90 percent of pastors. They prefer to go it alone.

Even Jesus needed a buddy. “He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40)

Sometimes it helps to have someone nearby, praying, loving, caring, even hurting with you.

The word paracletos from John 16:7 is translated “Comforter” and “Helper” in most Bible versions. The literal meaning is “one called alongside,” the usual idea being that the Holy Spirit is our Comforting Companion, a true Friend in need. And each time that word is found in the New Testament–John 14:16,20; 15:26; 16:7; and I John 2:1–it always refers to the Lord.

However, here’s something important.

Continue reading

Signs the pastor is not interested in reaching people

(This is most unusual for me.  When I visit a church, I come to worship, not to sit in judgement, not to pick the sermon apart, not to criticize.  But this experience left me so cold, I came home and wrote the following.  Btw, this was not recent, in case I’ve been in your church in recent days.  Smiley-face here pls.)

I sat in your church and heard you preach. You did not know I was in the congregation because we never had the opportunity to meet.

Now, I was visiting in your part of the state, and the next day moved on to the next city where I’m ministering. So, had we met you would not have greeted a prospective member and probably would not have remembered it the next day. That’s fine and I understand.

What concerns me is that I was with some friends who have moved to your city and was hoping they would make some kind of connection with your church. That did not happen.

Watching what you did and failed to do concerns me. One reason it has persisted in my thoughts is that I’m certain at various times in my six pastorates, I made the same mistakes as you.  I could wish someone had loved me enough to call my hand on it.

Now, since we do not know each other, I’m assuming you will not read this. So this is not for you exactly. Rather, we post it on this website in the hope that other pastors will look at their own Sunday ministries in view of the newcomer sitting in the pews.

Here is what you did.

Continue reading

Church leader, you should be the kid brother

He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:26).

Raise your hand if you’re the kid brother in a large family.

If so, you have been given an insight into this teaching of the Lord that most people miss altogether.

Now, in our family Mom and Dad had four sons and two daughters. I was the number three son, born between sisters Patricia and Carolyn. Ron was (still is) the eldest and Charlie was the youngest. (Charlie died in 2006 and Glenn in 2014.)

Growing up, since he was the eldest in our large household, Ron took the role of the assistant father. Whether Dad established that rule or not and whether the rest of us liked it or not, when Dad was not around, Ron called the shots. Once when we were small, some relative came to our house and gave each of us a nickel. By nightfall, Ron had all the nickels. He’d traded or cajoled or something to corner the market on McKeever nickels.

As the baby of the family, little Charlie caught the brunt of everything. He wore the hand-me-downs and had little say in family decisions.

I still smile at this exchange between Ron and Charlie when they were something like 15 and 6, respectively. Ron called out, “Charlie! Come here.” The little kid reluctantly came near.

“Charlie? You my buddy?” The child, wise to the ways of his big brother, said, “What you want me to do?” I recall laughing out loud at that. (I would have been 10 at the time and already appreciated a snappy comeback.)

Jesus said, “If you want to be greatest in the kingdom, be as the little brother.”

Continue reading

To communicate well, give some forethought.

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

And yet….

Continue reading

When a leader should submit. And when to insist.

We were sitting in the second pew to the far left.  I leaned over to my teenage grandson and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform was the usual dozen or so musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo.  The music was amazing.

I found myself wondering,  “What if we had given in to the critics? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

Continue reading

How the pastor can learn (and remember) people’s names

“The (shepherd) calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out” (John 10:3).

The evangelist had held a revival in my church one year earlier, just before I arrived as the new pastor, and it had gone well. Since we had known each other in seminary and the congregation had appreciated his ministry, I invited him to return a year later for a repeat engagement.

He walked in and began calling my people by their first names.

I was floored.

I said, “James, how many meetings have you been in since you were here last year?”  The answer was something like 36, as I recall.

I said, “How in the world can you remember the names of our members?”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.)

Continue reading

You’re not really the boss until you fire someone. True or not?

On Blue Bloods, the popular CBS series about law enforcement in New York City, a co-worker tells Erin Reagan, Assistant DA, “You’re not really the boss until you fire someone.”

So she did.

The show didn’t say whether she enhanced her position with the team by that act. It’s only a one-hour program and they have multiple storylines.

I’ve wondered about that ever since, whether it’s true that  one is not really the boss until someone is canned.

I think the idea is something like this:  The new boss notices an employee who is shirking his/her duties.  The other employees watch to see how the boss deals with it.  If the boss lets it ride and does nothing, the message goes forth that quality work does not matter, that you can get by with less than your best.  But, if the boss deals promptly with the unfaithful employee, co-workers see that he expects excellence and will deal with ineptitude.  And that’s a good message to convey.

Over six pastorates and one five-year stint in denominational work, I’ve hired a lot of people. And fired several.  But firing them did not make me the boss.  I was already that.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading