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…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

What I would love to tell your church leaders

We’re supposing here.

Suppose your church assembled the following people: the pastor and staff, the office staff, the deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, and program leaders. This is virtual or in the flesh, maybe spaced across the room.  And suppose I have 30 minutes to say anything on my heart.

Now, assuming I had the undivided attention of the group, I would begin by telling this from Scripture.

A few weeks before Moses retired from the scene and Joshua stepped in to lead God’s people out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan, Moses had some final words. The book of Deuteronomy is the essence of what he shared, a recap of where they had been and what had happened in their recent past.

Moses strongly felt the need to impress one huge thing on God’s people as they were about to possess “a land of milk and honey.” We might even call this a warning.

“You are about to come into a land filled with everything you’ve ever wanted. You’ll move into houses you did not build.

You’ll harvest crops you didn’t plant or cultivate.

You’ll drink from wells you did not dig.

You’ll gather grapes from vineyards and olives from groves you did not plant.”

“You will eat and be satisfied for the first time in your memory. And when that happens…

Continue reading

Strategy for pastoral success: Make a mistake, a big one

In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.

The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.

This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.

This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.

My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:

Continue reading

10 things the young or inexperienced speaker does not know–but needs to learn fast!

Let no man despise thy youth (or thy inexperience–Joe).   (I Timothy 4:12)

As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. As a retiree and guest preacher, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….

Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)

But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”

I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run.

However, sometimes the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still will act like a novice.

Continue reading

What a seminary education will not do. And what it might.

Consider this a love note to a few unemployed preachers.

I have all this education and training.  Why won’t churches call me as pastor?”

He was angry at God, at all churches, and at the system.  He sported a college degree and two diplomas from seminary, the last entitling him to call himself “Doctor.”

And yet he was unemployed.

His resume’ shows two years each at several churches.  Not a good record.

“The old churches are blackballing me,” he said. “I’m thinking of suing them.”

At one point he said, “I’m giving up on the organized church.”

Now, a casual observer may think I’m betraying a confidence here.  I might be, except for one overriding thing:  I’ve heard this same complaint, in one form or other, at least a half-dozen times over the years.

There’s a lot of this going around.

Continue reading

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