Anyone who begins to pastor a church should recognize two big things: There are lessons to be learned if you are ever to do this well, and most of them are learned the hard way. Your scars will attest to your education.
Most of this is counter-intuitive; that is, not what one might expect.
One. Bigness is overrated.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Most pastors, it would appear, want to lead big churches, want to grow their church to be huge, or wish to move to a large church. Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than one would ever think.
Small bodies can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.
A friend says, “At judgement, a lot of pastors are going to wish they’d led smaller congregations.”
My favorite place in church is the altar area.
When I was pastoring, sometime in the middle of a weekday, I would slip in and kneel there and spend time with the Lord.
The question arises as to “Why? What makes that place special?” After all, even though we call it the “altar,” it isn’t, not in the Old Testament sense or even the New Testament sense. Calvary is the ultimate altar for believers. The only answer I can find is: “I don’t know. I just know I need it and love it.”
What I do not understand is believers who never come to the altar and pray. It seems that only the most spiritually sensitive do, and I sure want to be among that number.
I love, love, love those times in church when for reasons unknown the congregational singing comes together like never before and everyone is singing at the top of their voices, the hymns are circulating around the room, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to fill us, and our souls are lifted. It feels like we have touched the hem of the garment of our Lord, and makes us long for Heaven all that much more.
What I do not like is when the worship leader tries to manufacture this on his own. I’ve seen them do that, and the result is fake, hyped, unworthy.
Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church. He’s a media star. He’s pulling people out of the other churches.
Sound familiar? It’s not a new phenomenon.
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.” (Acts 18:24)
Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul. Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.
What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot. A real hunk. Articulate in the pulpit. Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.
Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist. He made an impact wherever he went.
What’s more, he was good. He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.
Wait upon the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord. –Psalm 27:14
God’s times are not yours. He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar. His alarm clock is broken. He doesn’t keep regular hours.
Lose the stop watch. Take a hammer to the timer. God is not going to order His actions by your schedule. Forget about showing Him your day-planner. He’s not impressed.
God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.
“Most great ministries are made in the crock-pot, not the microwave.” –Allan Taylor
Nothing stresses a pastor like conflicts occurring on his staff. A secretary in the office, the minister of music, the organist, the head custodian–each of them was brought to the leadership team for good reason. Now, here they are threatening the unity of the church–not to say its mission and ministry–by a conflict with another team member.
In my four-plus decades pastoring six churches, I’ve seen the following (and plenty more, too, let me add) up close and personal….
–a senior staff member addicted to prescription drugs
–staffers using the computer for online porn.
–associate ministers who were protective of their turf, who resented anyone–including the pastor!–intruding to tell them what to do.
–Staffers who wanted to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to cooperate with anyone else
–Staffers who were angry at me about something and shared that little bit of gossip to laypeople in the church before telling me.
–Lazy staff members.
(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)
“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)
You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.
As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.
Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.
That’s what you thought.
In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961. The incident provides an excellent lesson for all of us, particularly church folk.
But first, the context.
Skinner’s book traces the development of dictionaries in this country and their struggles to determine what goes in and what stays out. Then it chronicles the work of G. and C. Merriam Company to produce a new kind of dictionary, one unlike all the others.
The editors had arrived at the interesting conclusion that no one had made them the authority over the English language. No one had put them in charge of English as spoken and written in America. In fact, they decided there is no authority.
This must have come as a shock to every teacher I ever had in elementary and high school. Invariably, they would fault students for some breach of the language and add, “Check the dictionary.” Yep, there it was, in black and white.
“They will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).
The December 2014 issue of “The Progressive Farmer” asked whether to “Keep or Cull?” Subtitle of the article: “High prices have changed the rules about when to cut one loose from the herd.”
Farmers who want to keep their herds young and viable know the importance of culling certain animals that get too old, consume too much resources, are no longer producing, or are a detriment in other ways.
Pastors cannot cull.
More’s the pity, we say with a wink.
I’ve never meant much to any team I’ve rooted for.
I grew up in Alabama and went to quite a few Bama games during the Bear Bryant era. When I moved to Mississippi, I learned to love Ole Miss and State. Later, living in the New Orleans area, I became a fan of LSU and Tulane.
Those schools make no money from me. They do not know I exist. I’m on no mailing list for alumni or anyone else. I just watch them on TV. I cheer when they win and hurt (a little) when they lose.
On one occasion, LSU was playing Alabama and it was a huge game. I cut off the television and went to bed at halftime. Sunday morning, I got up and drove to the church where I ministered all morning, and did not learn the outcome of the game until the afternoon. Some fan, right?
Personally, I’m good with that. It does not bother me one iota that I no longer live and die by the fortunes of any team.
Sports are not reality . They are called games for good reason. Granted, the fortunes of teams affect the livelihood of a lot of people and the economies of their host cities. But that would be true of t-shirt factories or ice cream parlors if the city invested its hopes in them.
I know preachers who are delighted no longer to be pastoring in the heart of football-land where a large segment of their church members have lost sight of the dividing line between fantasy and reality and bring their school loyalties and animosities into the fellowship. I know pastors who need to take down all the fan stuff hanging on the walls of their offices and replace it with something about Jesus.
There are church members with deeper loyalties to a college team than to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If that does not concern you, well…it should.
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…