The day I got tough with our deacons. Finally.

(Readers need to know I love deacons. And yet, I bear scars from run-ins with a few members of that fraternity over the years. My son is a wonderful deacon. These days, I’m writing a series on “My Favorite Deacon” for Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine.  So, let no one interpret what follows as a putdown of deacons. It is not. I am, however, aware that many pastors fight ongoing battles with some who insist on controlling the church. My heart goes out to them. This is sent forth with them in mind.)

Deacons and pastors were given as servants of God’s people.  Ephesians 5:21 urging that we “submit to one another in the fear of the Lord” applies to both groups in the same way it does to the entire congregation.

There is no place for bigshots and autocrats in the family of the Lord.  Jesus Christ is Lord of the church (see Matthew 16:18), and Scripture warns pastors not to “lord it over the congregation” (see I Peter 5:3).

What then is the pastor to do when the deacons insist that their job is to run the church?  That was the situation I came into in 1990 as a new pastor.  Now, not all deacons were infected by the ruling virus, but at least half of the group of 24 were, enough to thwart anything the pastor tried to do that smacked of upsetting their little apple cart.

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Courage greatly needed–in the pulpit and in the pews

“The Lord is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6.  See also Hebrews 13:5-6)

I read that scripture–especially the Hebrews 13:5-6 incarnation–and smile.  Asking “what can man do to me?” is kind of like asking for it, isn’t it? Daring them to “bring it on.”  The answer of course is that man can do a great deal to you.  But the bottom line–and the point of the scripture–is that ultimately, with God being “for me,” it does not matter.

Nothing matters so much as our being one with the heavenly Father.

Can we talk about courage?  This is as rare as plutonium these days, particularly among the very people who should demonstrate it most readily, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Only two people in the church need courage: the one in the pulpit and the one in the pew.

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The single most encouraging thing you can do for a pastor

First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving ministry. However, there was a time when life was tough.

That’s what this is about.

I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested.

Eight years later, we did something.

Amazing, isn’t it, that we waited so long.  But one must not think we did not try a hundred approaches to bring unity among our church leaders.  However, nothing worked.

Finally, in exasperation I told the deacon officers–all of whom were faithful and supportive–that I had had it “up to here” and was ready to bring these men before the church and ask the congregation to take action.

The officers conferred with each other and came back with a most unusual request.

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What one new pastor told his church

“(I ask) that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21).

No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord.

In fact, almost everything depends on unity.

On April 14, 2012, Pastor Charles McLain stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.

Before they got underway with reports and motions and votes, however, he had something to say which they needed to hear.  His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.

He wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.

What follows is his written message just as he gave it (which he gave me, alongwith permission to share)….

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Self-destructive behavior from those who should know better

“…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25).

“What were you thinking?”

A pastor with a fine church, great respect, challenging opportunities, and a good income does the strangest thing. He arrives home from the monthly meeting of a denominational board and turns in his expenses (air fare, hotel, taxi, and meals) to the church bookkeeper. She writes him a check to repay him.

Eventually, it comes out that the denominational agency was also reimbursing him. He has been charging both the church and the agency for his expenses.

For a few thousand dollars a year, he was willing to risk everything.

What was he thinking?

A pastor with a great church and incredible potential discovers he can pull down an additional $20,000 a year by taking several groups to the Holy Land.  All his congregation sees is that their pastor keeps pushing these trips as a way to deepen their commitment and broaden their vision. They are completely unaware that the travel company is giving him a hefty commission.  When the membership finds it out, most are unhappy.  Nothing illegal was going on; this is accepted business practice. The problem is the pastor’s moonlighting and using his position of influence to pad his income on the side.

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What a church can expect from its deacons

“For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 3:13).

I suggest you not worry about dissecting that and trying to grasp the fullness of its meaning, deacons. Just enjoy it. Believe it. Work to demonstrate its truth in your life.

All it seems to be saying is that when a deacon does his job well, God and the congregation are really, really proud of him!

I see deacons serving well all the time.  They’re taking care of the church’s widows and dependent elderly, rallying to the support of their pastor, serving as the “event staff” when church projects need helpers, listening to disgruntled church members and helping them to see the wisdom of what the leadership is doing, and cooking breakfast for the monthly men’s meeting.

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Church leaders, get some new ideas–please!

“Quench not the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19).

“Do not put out God’s fire” (NIV translation).

A church group from a small Texas city was visiting a large dynamic congregation here in New Orleans not long ago.  The music was lively, people were rejoicing in the Lord, and joy was filling the air.

At one point, a deacon in the Texas bunch leaned over to his minister of music and whispered, “Don’t get any ideas.”

Was he teasing?  Perhaps.

The person who told me that added, “At last report, that Texas church has continued to be weak and divided, and to struggle.  The local church however flourishes.”

“Don’t get any ideas.”

Has there ever been a more Spirit-quenching statement than that?

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Help! My church is overpaying me!

Every once in a while someone comes up with a new wrinkle on church headaches.

A young pastor friend wrote to say the church he now serves went through a split a year or so before he arrived, and the smaller congregation struggles to keep up with the financial needs. Presently, they are running a deficit of perhaps $10 thousand a year, forcing them to draw on reserves.

The church has a number of fixed expenses, he says, such as utilities and insurance, that cannot be cut. Even if they eliminated all literature and supplies, the deficit would still not be covered. His suggestion is that they cut his salary by $10,000 a year.

The leadership refuses.

How awful of them, wanting to keep the pastor’s salary at a high level.

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You are visiting in a church and the sermon offends you.

You’re on vacation or just traveling through, and you stop for church somewhere. As a minister of the gospel, you are so looking forward to being ministered unto.

You are beyond disappointed.

Question: Do you say something to the minister or not?

No. Almost always, the answer is “Absolutely not! There may be a hundred reasons why the preacher did not deliver today or the sermon bombed, and you don’t know any of them. Leave him to the Lord.”

When it comes to one preacher rebuking another for something, I fall back on Paul’s statement, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls….” (Romans 14:4).

However, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to.

I had spent several days ministering in an East Tennessee setting, and on Sunday morning asked my hosts to go to church with me.  Since we were old friends and they were new in that area and had not found a church home yet, I figured we’d be safe worshiping at the First Baptist Church there.

You would think.

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Make me a servant, Lord–but, an “executive” servant, if you don’t mind.

Something inside us pastors tends to love impressive offices with nice furnishings.

We have to constantly work against this lust for the trappings of the ministry while neglecting the ministry itself.

The front page of Monday, August 26, 2013’s The New Orleans Advocate tells of LSU’s new president Dr. King Alexander’s way of introducing himself to students.  He’s helping them move into the dorms.

In the photo on the front page he’s wearing a t-shirt and ball cap and loaded down with boxes and bags.  Looking anything but presidential.  (Don’t you know he had fun with that!  “No, really, I am the president of the university.  Really! My name? It’s King.”)

Okie dokie.

I will say that in my quarter-century in Louisiana, this guy is unlike any chief executive LSU has ever had.

What makes this special is a conversation I had later in the day with a minister friend concerning a church he once served as a staff member.

“The pastor talked a great game,” he said. “He sounds a lot like (a well known radio preacher) who is his mentor.  Just listening to him preach, you would think this is one great pastor, someone I can really relate to.”

You would be wrong, he said.

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