How to repair a church in mid-flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

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What to do when your church changes

These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I’m invited to preach have these things in common….

–Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.

–On the platform you find all kinds of musical instruments.

–Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.

–Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.

–Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.

–In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.

–Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they’re given new treatments. Mostly, though, what’s being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.

–Churches announce on their outside signs “blended” services, “contemporary” services, and/or “traditional” services.

The times, they are a-changing, friend.  (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)

If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

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Watch out for the bad guys…and also the good ones.

“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (Zechariah 13:6).

Recently I was guest speaker at a men’s meeting held 70 miles away from the host church at a retreat center owned and run by the Baptists of that part of the state.  My drive there required 115 miles–up the interstate, onto the U.S. highway, followed by a state road, county road, and finally something resembling a pigtrail.

That night, as we left the large room where we had held our evening session, I asked one of the leaders, “Will someone lock up?”  Our materials still lay on the tables.

He said, “This place is so remote that thieves would never find it if they were trying.”  We laughed.

He was right, except for one thing.

Sometimes, the thieves are among us.  We bring them in with us.

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Burned biscuits always go well with a little grace

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

My friend Chet Griffin passed this on to me. My notes do not indicate whether he was the speaker, or this was something he was forwarding.

“When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast for dinner every now and then. I remember one night in particular when she had had a long hard day at work, then did the breakfast thing for us.  Dad and I were seated at the table when she brought in plates of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and some extremely burnt biscuits.”

“This was so unlike my mom.”

“I sat there waiting to see if Dad noticed or would say anything.  Yet, all he did was to reach for his biscuits, smile at my mom, and ask how my day went at school.  I don’t recall what I told him, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!

“Later, I heard Mom apologize to Dad for burning the biscuits.  I’ll never forget what he said.

“‘Honey, I love burned biscuits.’

“That night when I went in to kiss Daddy good night, I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned.  He wrapped me in his arms and said, ‘Your mama put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired.’

“‘Besides,’ he said, ‘a little burnt biscuit never hurt anyone.’”

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My candidate for hypocrite of the year

“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Can we talk about imposters?

Specifically church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.

Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. I will labor to make certain it doesn’t come across that way.

I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.

I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real.  You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”

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Those inflexible people that can be found in every church

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart….”  (Acts 7:51). 

“No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment and a worse tear results.  Nor do men put new wine in old wineskins….” (Matthew 9:16-17).

Let’s start with an intriguing quote from a great churchman….

“The church recruited people who had been starched and ironed before they were washed.”  –John Wesley

Not sure of the context of Wesley’s quote, but I like it because it so accurately sums up the situation of a small contingent within every church.  Now, I have to say this conjures up memories of my childhood.  Mom did her own washing and ironing, and often, to starch a shirt or blouse, she would soak it in a bucket into which she had mixed up the dry starch with water. These days, anyone starching at home uses a spray, I expect.

There’s nothing like a great starched shirt.  I love them. Alamo Cleaners of River Ridge, Louisiana, does them for me. My wife loves me but not enough to do that!

Now then, some church members have been starched and ironed before they were washed.  A great metaphor!  But what does it mean?

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When friendship and truth clash

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

Around here in Southeast Louisiana you’ll see billboards that say “Friends don’t let friends eat imported crawfish.”

I know people in other parts of the country who would change that to say “Friends don’t let friends eat crawfish, period.”  :-)

A friend speaks up when his buddy is in trouble. A friend tells the truth even when doing so is uncomfortable for both parties. A friend rebukes his colleague if he’s doing something dangerous or self-destructive.

I want to be such a friend; I want to have such friends.

A few years back, while in Birmingham, I sought out a few friends whose opinions I treasure and handed them a brief manuscript I had labored over.

After all, who should know better than Calvin Miller, Fisher Humphreys, and Charles Carter whether my writing is sound, on target, helpful, and publishable?

“I need you to be brutally honest,” I said.

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There’s one of these in (almost) every church

Young pastors enter the ministry expecting the people of the Lord to be healthy, sane, balanced, spiritual, biblically informed, and Holy Spirit guided.

And then they run into reality.

The image of “running into a buzz-saw” comes to mind.

Some of them do not survive the experience, bless their hearts. But we remind them–when we have the opportunity–that our Lord said those who are whole do not need a physician (Matthew 9:12).  If they were all healthy, sane, balanced, etc etc., they would not need a pastor.

You are there for those who are the unhealthy, unbalanced, spiritually immature, and so forth.

Sometimes, it’s a leader in the church who blindsides you.

Here’s my story (see my two notes at the end)….

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“We dropped the ball!”

I find myself wondering when pastors and churches stand before the Lord and are asked what they did with the resources given them, whether they will say, “We dropped the ball.”

And wondering how that will fly.

In the city where I live, the local Children’s Hospital–a hero to untold thousands for many years–is under attack and the focus of a number of lawsuits.

Over the past couple of years, the hospital had at least five patients (all children) to die of a fungal infection which was the result of infected bed clothing.

As bad as that is, the hospital leadership did something even worse: They did not report it.

They were protecting themselves, they thought, by not following the law and informing the appropriate agencies about this. Consequently, they are in a mess of trouble.

Sound familiar?

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What to do about pastors who ride the church into the ground

Recently in this blog, we said pastors should be terminated abruptly if they are guilty of flagrant indecency, proven immorality, confirmed illegality, and serious heresy.

Several friends wrote to ask about pastors who are not guilty of those serious breaches, but are simply deadbeat preachers.

One said of her pastor, “He’s not guilty of any cardinal sins, but he simply stands by collecting a paycheck when the congregation has dwindled down from 250 to 50. All the programs and ministries are no longer functioning. Many changes were forced upon the people, changes they did not want.”

Her pastor receives a hefty salary while watching the church die around him and doing nothing about it.

She added, “When asked about all the people who were leaving–three-fourths of the church!–he says, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to be.’  And these are people who have worshiped there forty and fifty years.”

She wanted to know what I had to say about that situation.

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