Special delivery to church staff members

“Only Luke is with me.  Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).

From time to time, pastors invite me to spend an hour or two with their leadership team, primarily the church staff, at their weekly meeting.  It’s informal and conversational and takes place around the office conference table with the coffee pot going and a rapidly diminishing plate of donuts before us.

Some thoughts I share with the team include the following…

One.  Nothing is more important than that you keep yourself close to the Lord.

He is your source. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Jesus Christ is the Giver of everything that concerns you.  He called you into this work (after saving you!) and He sent you to this church.  If either of those is not the case, you would do well to get alone with Him for an hour and clear everything up, then do as His Spirit instructs.

Keeping yourself close to Jesus means exactly what you think it does:  daily quiet time with Him, with your Bible open and your heart in constant prayer, bringing every thought and act under His lordship.  We should begin and end the day in prayer, and offer up prayers throughout the day.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  We should know God’s word and meditate upon it.  A church staffer should never say knowing the Word is the preacher’s job;  it’s every believer’s privilege and duty.

From time to time, your pastor is going to exasperate you; Jesus will give you patience and understanding.  Your income is not going to be sufficient; Jesus will hear your prayers and send what He wants you to have.  Your job conditions are going to change, and sometimes the assignment dearest to your heart and matching perfectly your spiritual gifts and talents will be taken from you;  Jesus will be your counselor, guide, and protector, or you will be in trouble.

The Holy Spirit will be your Human Resources Director.  He is your Lord.

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The best thing a boss can do for his worker

If I work for you, I expect you to protect me when I’m attacked unfairly and defend me when I am accused unjustly.  Your failure to do this means I lose confidence in you and the quality of my work begins to suffer immediately. In most cases, I begin looking for a better environment in which to work.

Let a good supervisor–the manager of a business, principal of a school, or pastor of a church– learn this most valuable lesson. 

I was a year or two out of college, newly married, and pastoring a tiny church up the highway 25 miles.  During the week, however, I was the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

My boss was 65-year-old Clyde Hooper, a cigar-chewing Methodist layman who could teach sailors a few things about plain speaking.  He had paid his dues in coming up the hard way, and was so tightly bonded with the 300 men working in the foundry that they would have died–or killed–for one another.  Mr. Hooper wore a crisp, starched white shirt and beautiful tie to work every day.  I adored the man.

I also emptied his spittoon in the corner of the office.

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Does it matter if the pastor is not a tither?

Oh man.  When a friend suggested we ask Facebook friends what to do when a pastor or staff-member is not tithing–and not even giving anything to the Lord’s work–I went with it. And the fur flew, far more than I expected.  Answers ranged from “Terminate the guy, immediately” (a large contingent said that) to “Tithe? That’s Old Testament law and has no place for New Testament believers!” to “Who are you to judge?”  They argued back and forth, and some became rather unChristian in their comments.  Then, one group accused the other of Pharisaism and condemned the condemners.

Amazing how this issue arouses the dander of some otherwise reasonably minded people.  Even so, ever the one to charge hell with a water pistol, I thought I’d take on the subject.  Here goes….

First, I write as a tither.  But it was hard getting started, I will admit.

Giving one-tenth of my income to the Lord was never taught in the churches I grew up in.  As a college student I joined a Southern Baptist church where tithing seemed to be a pillar of the faith. One day, the minister of education approached to ask if I would give my tithing testimony. I stared at him blankly and said, “What is that?”  First time I’d heard of this thing called “tithing.”  He was aghast.  But then, Ron Palmer had come from a longtime Southern Baptist family where tithing had been ingrained in him since childhood.  It was new to me.

Learning to tithe was slow and hard.

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What we told the nervous singer

“Sing unto the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1; 98:1; etc).

She has a marvelous voice, one anybody this side of Juillard would be proud to own.  When she sang in church with her musician husband, they blended wonderfully and blessed the congregation.  But she undermined her own effectiveness by her timidity, that paralyzing self-consciousness which froze her in place and refused to let her enjoy the moment.

Stage fright, we call it.

Who among us is unacquainted with that monster?

Most of us know precisely how she feels.

That’s why, on the final night of our meeting, as I expressed appreciation in private to this couple, I spoke to her quietly. “Can I tell you one thing about your presentation?”

She smiled shyly. “I know what you’re going to say.”

And she did, to a point.

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Delegating upward: Why we should not let it happen

“Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:7).  “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43).

Sometimes when we say “He must increase; I must decrease,” it’s not Jesus we’re referring to, but a brother or sister of ours.

Early in my seminary pastorate, I looked around for quick ways to make a difference in our little bayou church.  Since I had been a secretary for several years and typing and running printing machines were second nature to me, I decided the church bulletin would receive my attention.

I asked Mrs. Porter, the lovely senior lady who had the weekly responsibility of gathering the information, typing it into the form, and printing it as a handout bulletin for Sunday services, if I could take it over.  To her credit, she was not offended, but delighted to get rid of that task. (She had plenty of other responsibilities. As I say, it was a small church.)

The bulletin I produced was sharper than hers.  The typing was clearer, the English was classier, and the overall appearance was better.

I had made a serious mistake.

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To those just starting in ministry

A friend who works with student ministers on the various college campuses around New Orleans has invited me to address his team in their weekly gathering. Asked if he had a  topic in mind for me, he said,  “Give us three things you would tell those just starting out in ministry.”

Three things?  How about a hundred! Here are a few that come to mind, in no particular order.

1) Make sure of your calling.

The ministry can be tough and you will often be lonely and experience great frustration. Things are not going as you had planned. The people you trusted have proven themselves untrustworthy.  Those over you in the work have been unable to fulfill their promises.  You’re seeing little results from your labors. You are exhausted and see no way to clear off the schedule for a well-earned rest.

Unless God calls you into this work, you will not last.

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A tribute to my friend, Rev. Bill Hardy, Jr.

My dear brother in Christ William E. Hardy, Jr., went to Heaven this week.

Bill Hardy was the very definition of faithfulness, of integrity and character.  He was solid gold.

Our friendship dates back to May of 1974 when Bill and Barbara Hardy moved from Kosciusko, Mississippi, up the highway an hour or so to Columbus, Mississippi.  Bill was joining the staff of our First Baptist Church, coming from a similar position in Kosciusko.

It was to be the start of a lifelong friendship.

Bill remained with us in Columbus for nearly a decade before moving on to Casper, Wyoming, where he served as director of Christian education for the Southern Baptists of that state.  On retiring, perhaps 10 years later, they returned to the Magnolia State.

Bill died this week. His funeral is Saturday, September 13, 2014, at the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Mississippi.  11 a.m.

I will not have time in the service to say everything I’d like to about Bill, so this blog is a good place to deposit a few remembrances.

My greatest tribute to Bill Hardy is one he probably did not appreciate very much.

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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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Ministry miseries: How to be sure you got ’em!

I don’t know anyone who wants to be miserable in anything, much less in serving the Lord, but some people give the appearance of working hard to achieve it.

Here are three self-destructive things (you’ll think of a hundred) we ministry-persons do which undermine our effectiveness in the work and fuel the angst of frustration which many people live with on a daily basis….

1) Expect to be paid what you think you’re worth.

Figure out what you are being paid, then total up the number of hours you put in, and divide the second into the first.  The result is your wages per hour.  Disgusting, ain’t it? (smiley-face here)

There is perhaps no more certain path to misery in the ministry than to estimate your own personal value based on such factors as years of training, the degrees you hold, and the tenure you have logged in the Lord’s work, and expect to be paid appropriately.  If this misery is not enough for you, then figure in the number of children you have, the hours your spouse invests in the ministry too (all of it unpaid), and the errands your children run for church members.  You will not, of course, ask to be recompensed for any of that, but dwelling on it makes you feel worse, and after all, that was the point in the first place.

In retirement, the math for certain misery gets easier.  You were invited for a specific event–a retreat for which you were the speaker, a banquet you did, a revival you preached for a church–and when it was over they handed you a check.  You have no trouble at all counting the miles you traveled, the hours you spent in your car, and the costs associated with your trip: meals, tips, dry cleaning bill, and other incidentals.  Then, you figure out the actual number of hours/days at that church, and compare to the numbers on the check you were paid.

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What a good administrative assistant (i.e., secretary!) does for a pastor

(I purposely did not ask two people very important to me for input into this.  Our daughter-in-law Julie is the outstanding administrative assistant to our terrific pastor and friend, Dr. Mike Miller.  To solicit their input might put them on the spot.  So, the first time they see this will be when we post it.)

Originally, we called them secretaries.  I’ve often wondered if it was because they were “keepers of the secrets.”

Then, seeking to magnify their work in their own eyes as well as to impress upon the church members their importance, we began calling them administrative assistants.  Some call them “ministry assistants.”  All of these are good.

They’re almost always women.

I used to be a secretary. For two years after college, I worked in the production office of a cast iron pipe plant doing everything that secretaries do for the production manager.  I took dictation, typed his letters, ran the teletype, typed up production work orders from the purchase orders, and emptied the spittoon.   Mr. Clyde Hooper, my boss, chewed cigars. He would cut one into three pieces and slip a section into his jaw.  That practice, he told me, resulted from the 1920s in a chemical plant where no one was allowed to smoke. At any rate, having grown up on a farm where I mucked out cattle stalls and hog pens, emptying that spittoon was nothing.

There’s possibly no better training for being a supervisor than having been a lowly employee.  In the church office, I never minded asking my “assistants” to fetch coffee in the morning, because at least they didn’t have to clean out my spittoon! (I clean it out myself.)

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