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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Me and women preachers

“There  is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

I’m a Southern Baptist pastor. I am a 74 year old male.

And I blog, mostly for pastors and church leaders within the context of churches like ours.

They’re the only kind of churches I know.

(As a child, I attended the Free Will Baptist Church in rural Alabama and the Methodist Church in rural West Virginia, before they became “United Methodists.”  As a 19-year-old college student, the Lord led me to become Southern Baptist. I have lived and worshiped and served within that context ever since.  As a pastor, it’s all I know.)

I don’t write for Catholics, although if they read my stuff and find something useful, I’m delighted. I don’t write for the United Methodists, with their district superintendents and bishops and annual appointments, but am always pleased when they tell me some of these writings have proven helpful.

I don’t write for women pastors, but am pleased when they say these articles have been of assistance in their ministries.

No Catholic writes to criticize because I don’t mention the pope and nuns and their saints. No UMC pastors criticize because I fail to take into consideration how they do things. But women pastors regularly let me know they are offended by my use of the pronoun “he” in referring to pastors.

Most are gracious in pointing out what they consider my slight and/or oversight, which I appreciate. I’m not naturally confrontational and appreciate kindness from one writing to point out my errors. I would rather make love than war, as the 1960s slogan put it.

But, I need to say something here.

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How the preacher can do weddings he’ll not regret

My first wedding didn’t turn out too well.  My sister and the fellow she chose for her life-mate asked me to marry them.  I was ordained and trying to pastor a tiny church outside Birmingham, but other than that, was as green as it’s possible to get. I bought a Pastor’s Manual (yep, they make those things) and in someone’s living room, as I recall, read every word of the ceremony.

I sometimes wondered if the fact that the marriage didn’t last had anything to do with the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Sometime–when we both have the time–I’ll tell you some of my wedding stories. I have quite a few, some embarrassing to me (like calling the groom by the best man’s name) and some embarrassing to the participants (like the time the bride fainted), and some just funny.

I have done hundreds of weddings in almost every conceivable situation–sanctuaries, college chapels, parks, living rooms, and back yard patios–and so have learned a few lessons on how to do this right. (And twice that many on how to get it wrong!)

Here are my pointers. Use any that work for you, and ignore the rest.

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Twelve social skills needed by every pastor

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

A retired seminary professor, now ministering in a different church every weekend, posted an interesting little note on Facebook…

That day, he had been wondering whether the host pastor had appreciated his sermon. So far, the preacher had not said a word. But as they walked toward the parking lot, the pastor said, “Before you go, would you like a cup of coffee?”  Thinking the pastor wanted to visit a bit, the professor said, “Sure, that would be fine.”

The pastor said, “You  will notice a McDonald’s on your right as you leave town. They serve a great cup of coffee.”

Not exactly what the visitor had in mind. Some of us who have had similar conversations found it amusing.

Dr. Adrian Rogers once said to me, “Do you ever get up to Memphis?” I said I did from time to time.  He said, “Well, don’t ever worry about a place to eat or a place to stay. We have some of the best restaurants and hotels you will ever find anywhere.”

I laughed and said, “Thanks a lot!”

As a fellow retiree (and thus a guest preacher in some 30 or more churches a year), I have had similar experiences as my professor friend.  One of the most common things that happens after I preach in a church is….

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7 things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

Rehearsing songs–whether for church or school assembly or for the juke joint down the street–is hard work.

Gradually, I began to see some patterns forming. Eventually, those shapes merged to form life-lessons that have remained with me all these years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

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A minister should be able to teach.

“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged….” (2 Timothy 2:24).

I am a teacher.

When I was a senior in high school, a classmate gave me one of those unforgettable moments that lives in one’s mind forever.  Principal Andy Davis had summoned me to his office to help Jerry Crittenden with a math problem. Now, Jerry was a big football player, lovable and kind-hearted, and a joy to be around.  But in math, the guy was lost.

Toward the end of our session, Jerry said, “Joe, you should be a teacher. I can understand it the way you explain it.”

Eighteen months later, following a frustrating freshman year of college that taught me one huge thing–I do not want to major in physics!–I realized that God wanted me to be a teacher. He had gifted me with a love for history as well as a delight in learning, and had surrounded me with some excellent teachers as role models.

At the time, I thought the idea was to become a history teacher in high school and later, after getting the necessary education, in college.  Then, as a senior in college, God called me to preach.  I think members of my churches over these years would say, however, that Joe never quit teaching.

And that’s good.

“Able to teach.”  What a strange thing the Apostle Paul did.  In the middle of calling his preachers to hold down the noise, to quieten the arguments, and still the controversies, he wants them gentle and patient and kind–and able to teach.

Pastor search committees would do well to put this skill high on their list of requirements when checking out preachers.

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How to be fired unjustly and come out a winner

Let’s say you are a minister on the staff of a medium-sized church.  You finished seminary and at the invitation of this church, you moved your young family here to this city and have gotten deeply involved in ministry.  You are in the process of buying a house.  Life is looking good.

Then one day, you are asked to attend a meeting with a few leaders of the church. The administrator is there, accompanied by the chairman of the personnel committee and the deacon chair.  Long story short, you learn you are being terminated. Let go. Superannuated. Fired. Getting the ax.  Pink-slipped.

They gave you reasons.  They said things like, “We love you. We appreciate your ministry.  You have a great spirit and we treasure your family.”  Then they added the “however.”  Things like: “Things are not working out, finances have been down lately, it’s not a good fit, you and the church.”  Or perhaps, “Some people are unhappy with the way you do things” or “Your manner is abrasive and you have rubbed some people the wrong way.”

You did not see this coming.

They gave you no warning.  You wonder why.

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