Eight things I like about the church…and five I hate.

One: I like the idea of church. A regular gathering of the redeemed to worship, remember, nurture one another, hammer out questions, and hold one another accountable.  After all, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We were made needing one another, and do not function well in isolation.

Show me a Christian who can please God better alone than with other believers and I’ll show you a one-of-a-kind, something never before seen on planet Earth.  The Lord thought you and I would be needing each other, so placed us in a church fellowship when He saved us.

Two: I like the people in the church.  Two things can be said of the people who make up almost any congregation on earth:  They are a cross-section of humanity, of the very type found in a grocery store or in a schoolyard, and they contain a special group–the cream of the crop–of the best people on the planet.  Jesus said a sure sign that we are His is our love for one another, i.e., fellow Christians.

Show me a Christian who does not like church people and I’ll show you someone backslidden, out of fellowship with Christ.  This is a no-brainer, as sure as the sun rises in the east.

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Would someone please rock that boat?!

The deacon made no attempt to hide his disgust with his preacher.  As far as he was concerned, preachers were the hired servants of the church. And, as a head deacon, that put him in charge.

“Preacher, I have some new rules for you.”

“You have rules for me?”

“From now on,” said the old man, “you will keep a written account of every copy you make on the copier.  And you will keep a notation on every phone call you make.”

And that was not all.

“Furthermore, you are not to make any personal calls from the church office.  If you have a personal call to make, you will go to your house and make it.”

Pastor: “What if I need to call my wife when she is at home?”

“Then, you will get in your car and go there and talk to her. But you will not call her from the church phone.”

This conversation actually happened, just this way.

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Reluctant leadership is better than nothing

“Somebody ought to do something!”

I was second in line at the traffic light. My lane and the one to my right were all turning left onto Dauphin Street in Mobile. The third lane was turning right.

We sat through through three sequences of lights. Meanwhile, the line of cars behind us grew longer and longer.

Clearly, the light was malfunctioning, but only on our side. Traffic from the other directions was receiving the correct sequence of lights. Our light stayed red.

I was traveling home from a revival in Selma, Alabama, and had stopped for a late-morning breakfast at the Cracker Barrel.  After a fairly demanding week with 1500 miles of driving, I was relaxed now and willing to sit there in the traffic without getting impatient.

But not all day.

Finally, I had had enough. The light was not working and the cars in front of me were showing no inclination to move.

So, I got out.

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Things they never taught me in seminary.

A pastor friend wrote a book by the title “What They Never Taught Me in Seminary.”  I even drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.

Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have.  Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed. One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.”  I’ve taught it a few times myself.

Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes.  After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.

All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind today….

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Imagine if I knew what you were thinking. Uh oh.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to virtual church.

You have noticed on your screens that the pews in our building are empty today.

There’s a reason for that.

No one comes to this church any more. That’s the bottom line.

It did not happen accidentally, by the way. But this is the result of a concerted effort from those of us in leadership positions to set higher standards for the membership.  Anyway, what happened was this….

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How to stay at one church 42 years.

My friend Pastor Dave has led a congregation in our neighborhood for two thirds of his life.  It’s a sweet fellowship and even though our denominational affiliation is different, he has kindly invited me to fill the pulpit in his absence on several occasions.

Recently, over lunch, I asked Dave how he managed to stay in one church over four decades. Were there not times when church members rose up and demanded new leadership? Did he not get the urge to try something new?

“Give me your top three ways to stay at a church for 42 years,” I told him.  He did not hesitate….

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When a pastor has exceeded his expiration date

Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult.

Our pastor has been here umpteen years.  He has lost his vision and his energy, and the church is dying.  The numbers are down considerably, and yet the church is located in a growing area.  We love him and are so grateful to God for his ministry over the years. But isn’t there a limit to the loyalty thing?  At what point does a pastor need to be told that his time here is up?

There are no simple or easy answers to this.  Handled wrongly, this matter can destroy a church, inflict a terminal wound to a veteran minister, and hurt his family in lasting ways.

On the one hand, the minister is there by the Lord’s doing. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit makes the pastors/elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).  We do not want to casually hurt God’s servant since our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40).  Now, we are not equating today’s pastors with Moses but throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was clear that the Lord took personally the treatment/mistreatment of His man by the people.

I think that’s still the case.  When people mistreated God’s prophets down through the ages, He interpreted that as an offense toward Himself.

So, we always want to try to honor the Lord’s servant, even if he is undeserving at this particular moment.

On the other hand.

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Ramifications: It has nothing to do with sheep

“We who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5)

We are all interconnected and are in this thing together.

The sooner we realize that, the better.

In the introduction to their book “One Anothering,” Dan Crawford and Al Meredith wonder if you have heard “the goose lesson”.

Geese flying south for the winter usually fly in a V-formation.  This formation adds at least seventy-one percent greater flying range, because the flapping of one bird’s wings creates uplift for the bird immediately following.  When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the flock, and another goose flies point.  Geese honk from behind to encourage the lead goose.  If a goose gets sick or injured and falls out, two geese follow it down to help protect it.  They stay until the fallen goose is able to fly or is dead, and then they join another formation and continue their journey. Should a goose fall out of formation, it quickly feels the difficulty of flying alone and returns immediately to the formation.

You and I are so interconnected, we might as well have slots and tabs.

No man is an island.

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The world is always listening and watching.

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

“And all the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). 

You’ve been put on the spot.

Someone is challenging you, daring you, cursing you, or slandering you.  You squirm. Nothing about this is pleasant.  You try to think of an appropriate response.

Before you act, I have a suggestion.

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The urgent reason for unity in your church

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent me….that they may be one just as we are one….that the world may know that You have sent me….” (John 17:20-23)

In the churches with which I have experience, unity seems to be a sometimes thing.

We Baptists have been known to pride ourselves on our divisions. “Where you have two of us, you have three opinions.”  A great many of our churches were started, not intentionally but accidentally, the result of division and splits.

To the average church member, it appears that unity is good but not important, welcome but not essential, comfortable but usually inconvenient.

We are dead wrong.

Unity is a huge deal to the Lord, in Scripture, and in our world today.

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