100 things I tell young pastors (the final 20)

81. Just as no one knows you better than your spouse, your co-workers on the church staff will see you as no one else does. Make sure they respect you as a person of integrity and compassion who keeps his word, has a sincere heart for God, and treasures each of them.

82. Watch for certain scriptures–a verse here, a verse there–that impress themselves upon you in a special way. This is a work of the Holy  Spirit, a personal gift even. He is inviting you to study this area more, to seek His insights and receive His teaching.

83. Humility. Do not hesitate to apologize. If you made a mistake and everyone knows it, to stonewall and refuse to admit it will end up enraging a few and disappointing everyone else. By humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness, you endear yourself to everyone who matters.  (I’ve known of pastors who gained so much love by publicly apologizing, they started looking for some other dumb mistake to make just so they could apologize.)

84. When you require the approval of a committee, if the chairperson tells you, “Oh, just go ahead and do that, pastor,” don’t do it.  Instead, you should respond, “Thank you, my friend. But I’d really like the entire committee’s input on this.” Never allow the chair to act as if he/she is the committee. (Just so subtly are church tyrants created.)

85. Always err on the side of conservativism in finances and of grace in relationships.

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What the church staff owes the pastor

This is a followup to our recent article on “What pastors owe their church staff.”

A pastor has a right to expect that the ministerial staff working under him will carry out certain basic responsibilities, which include….

1) Doing their particular jobs well.  If you are called to work with the teenagers, that should be your focus.  If your area of responsibility is administering the children’s program or the work with seniors or discipleship, you will always be interested and supportive of the total work of the church, but you will be rated on how well you do your particular area.

2) Living a solidly Christian life at all times. This should go without saying, but after seeing the way some people compartmentalize their lives–“Hey, this is simply my job. What I do in my spare time is my business!”–we need to spell it out: If you are not living as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have no business serving in any capacity whatsoever at a church.

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Why the Lord has to call people into this work

The pastor said to me, “Pray for me. It’s hard out here. But we’re hanging in there, trying not to return evil for evil.”

I teased, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, to put up with that stuff.”  And after a moment’s reflection, added, “It’s why God has to call people into this ministry.”

If it were easy, they’d be lining up to get in on it.

Called by God. Yes, it’s how He fills the ranks of shepherds.

“Now, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you; and I will make you….” (Genesis 12:1ff.)

“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…. (And God said) ‘I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3)

“And God said (to Isaiah), ‘Go and tell this people…’” (Isaiah 6:8)

“Now the word of the Lord came to (Jeremiah) saying, ‘I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

“And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew…. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:18-19).

“And the Lord said (to Saul), ‘Arise, and go to the street called Straight….’  ‘(Saul) is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:1ff.)

Anyone see a trend here?

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The two-faced church. Both sides are accurate.

“…a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

Anyone can criticize the church. It’s the most vulnerable institution in the world, the most victimized, and the most vilified.

Criticizing the church is like clubbing baby seals.  It has no way of fighting back, but just lays there and takes what you dish out. The difference is that, after the beating, the church stands to her feet and goes on about her business, while you the critic walk away beaming as though you have done something heroic.

You haven’t. You have picked on the easiest target in the world.

In this morning’s newspaper, some (ahem) rocket scientist wrote a letter to the editor taking on the church for the Spanish  Inquisition of the Middle Ages and before that the Crusades.  I assume he just discovered these.

No institution on earth has been so targeted for villainy as has the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

–Satan and his legions persecute it and when that doesn’t work, they imitate it in order to make people think the wickedness they’re perpetrating is actually done by the people of God.

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Lack of integrity in the pastor: A deal-breaker

My longtime friend Will was telling me his story.

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 some 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.

Listening to my friend tell of that experience, I thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in a pastor–as employer, supervisor, mentor, and hopefully a Christian brother-–is integrity.

Without integrity, nothing matters.

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Elevating boasting to an art form

He must increase, but I must decrease.  –John the Baptist.  (John 3:30) 

The speaker said, “As you know, I urge people to walk by the Spirit, to obey Him.  But I need you to know I am not anti-intellectual, not against education.  In fact, I am so much pro-education that I have my bachelor’s degree from a college, I have my master’s, and I also own a doctorate.  In fact, when I was working on my doctorate, the dean said to me that my dissertation was so profound that I should turn it into a book.  That book, you’ll want to know, is on the market right now and you can purchase it in the foyer at the end of this meeting.”

Another time, the visiting preacher, an older fellow, wanted our church to know that he was somebody, I suppose.  Early in the service he told how he had started a church many years ago and stayed with it through the years until his retirement, that during this time he had baptized so many, and had enjoyed seeing the membership climb to (whatever).  He showed a photo of the huge plant on the screen.  He must have talked about his former church for five minutes.  We never did know why.  We did not need to know of his successes to hear him.  In fact, his scars probably made him a better preacher than his awards.

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Blindsided by opposition: Welcome to the ministry, pastor.

(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)

“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)

You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.

As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.

Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.

That’s what you thought.

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Some churches do it right

What happened this week.

Yesterday, Thursday, I drove 200 miles to New Orleans and to Covington, LA to do the funeral service of a dear lady who was a former member of the Kenner, LA church I pastored 1990-2004.  She and her family remained our friends through the years, particularly as she battled cancer and left an amazing witness for Christ through it all.

The large church was packed yesterday–observing the distance protocols and masks, but still hundreds present–as friends far and near came to honor this beloved lady.  Shannon Marvin Maisano was only 48.

What I wanted to tell you is this:  In the service three other people spoke, all from that church: her best friend Dana, the Sunday School teacher for Shannon and her husband Billy, and the former associate pastor.  What makes that special to me is this…

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When a church gets the disappearing blues

This train got the disappearing railroad blues.  –Arlo Guthrie, “City of New Orleans”

The cleaners I used for over two decades made a decision to go out of business.

They just didn’t know it.

It all started with a closed sign on the door one morning.  I walked away carrying the clothes I had planned to drop off.

The next day, a sign announced they had relocated.  Since the new site was closer to my house with more convenient parking, that did not make me unhappy.

Next, they began cutting back on the hours.  The young man newly hired to run that branch informed me they were now opening at 11 am and closing at 7.  No longer would people be able to drop off clothes on their way to work.

I asked him, “Shouldn’t you have a sign outside with the hours of operation?  Since this is a big change.”  Why I should care is another question, but I did.

He casually assured me that the small notice on the glass door would suffice.

He was wrong.  To read that a customer would have to leave the car and walk to the door.  This is an ideal recipe for frustrating one’s customers…and thus for losing them.

Thereafter, I never saw a car in front of the store indicating a customer inside.

Pretty soon, I was gone too.

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Church staff rules to live by

When I asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships, here are some of the most interesting responses.

1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”

Over several decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least three times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.

I’m recalling a time two churches ago when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”

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