The question for all church big-shots

“…who loves to be first among them” (III John 9).

I’ve known them in quite a number of churches. They have no trouble identifying themselves as the force to be reckoned with around this church.

If you are the visiting preacher, their words to you before or after the service will be an announcement, not a comment.  You will know you have heard from the control room of the universe.  You have heard the voice of God.  This man is in charge around here.

No one has to tell you.  You just know.

This one calls the shots.  Rules the roost. Throws his weight around.  Is the power behind the scene.

He loves to have the pre-eminence.  (See Diotrephes in III John, above.)

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The biggest mistake preachers make concerning huge churches

This sounds like a given, but pastors would do well to tell themselves repeatedly, “I will never go anywhere without a strong indication the Lord is sending me there.”  To do otherwise is to invite major trouble.

You can hardly believe it.

You’re a pastor and the search committee from Megaville has arrived at your church.  It’s about time you were getting the notice you deserve, you cautiously (and humbly) think.  After all, you logged the requisite years in seminary and struggled through several pastorates, all of them challenging to one degree or other.  And now, something good seems to be happening.

The committee attends several Sundays in a row, and then you get a phone call.  They want to  take you and your wife to dinner next time they visit.

You’re both excited.  You line up a baby sitter, wear your newest clothes and use your best manners.  All goes well and you both begin to dream.  How would it be to live there, to adjust to that huge place, to deal with such successful people, to administer such a large staff, to manage a budget in the millions?  What do you suppose your salary will be? and what will you do with all that money?  And could the Lord really be giving you such an opportunity?

Also, you begin to think how nice it would be to leave behind this present church with its problems: difficulty in meeting the budget, a staff member who is a constant headache, and a few high-maintenance lay leaders.  Poof! Gone in one fell swoop.

We move to Megaville and start afresh.

A few days later, the committee calls again.

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What a pastor is to do when his competition is another preacher

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. Is all the rage.

“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.

Which just made it harder on his competition, the pastors of nearby churches.  They could not in good faith dismiss the guy as unworthy or a superficial rock star.

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Misleading God’s people: A national pasttime?

“See to it that no one misleads you….. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:4,11).

Our Lord knew His people.  He knew that there was something about their makeup which would make them susceptible to being misled.  By “being misled,” we mean being conned, scammed, hoodwinked, deceived, tricked, lied to, fooled, and abused.

In Old Testament days false prophets came through the land, preaching half-truths and whole lies and filling God’s people with false expectations and pagan ways.  The New Testament church, just beginning to find its way and choose its methods, quickly became the target of these scammers and con-artists.

In Matthew 24, our Lord cautions His people to keep their guard up concerning prophecies about end times: His return, signs of the end, fulfilment of certain prophecies, apostasies, portents and omens.

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When to walk out on a sermon

On the morning of Sunday 19 May, 1940, Clementine Churchill returned early from a church service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, having walked out when the preacher delivered a pacifist sermon.  Winston told her, ‘”You ought to have cried, ‘Shame!’, desecrating the House of God with lies!'”   (Darkest Hour, by Anthony McCarten, p. 154)

It was Easter 1968. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, all of us–white and black alike–were hurting and confused, disturbed and concerned.  That Sunday I preached a sermon that addressed racism in America. I was 28 years old and in the first year of pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta.  I’ve long since forgotten the sermon, but will never forget a phone call I received that afternoon.

Mrs. Glenn Powell called. She owned a beauty shop in town which I had quickly learned was gossip central.  Mrs. Powell had made no secret of her unhappiness with my sermons or with me personally.

“Brother McKeever, what will you be preaching tonight?”  I told her.

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The Facebook Syndrome: Alive and well in our churches

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Bertha was in her mid-forties.  She and husband Gary had gone to pastor in central Florida, and the women of their neighborhood had given a welcoming tea for her at a local upscale restaurant.  There were perhaps 20 or 30 in attendance.  It was an impressive event.

Throughout the afternoon, an elderly lady across the table kept staring at Bertha.  Finally, in her quavering voice, the woman said, “My dear.  You are soooo lovely!”

Bertha smiled and thanked her.

A short time afterwards, Bertha was walking home from the tea with one of the women who was a neighbor.  The woman said, “Oh, by the way, the older woman who told you you’re so lovely, she is actually almost blind.  I thought you would want to know.”

Bertha has no memory of how she responded to that.  My own opinion is there is no answer to it.  It’s a show-stopper.

Why, we wonder, did the neighbor feel it important to shoot down the older lady’s compliment?  What kind of mentality prompts one to do such a thing?  Why couldn’t she be content with the pastor’s wife receiving a compliment?  (And a fitting compliment at that.  Bertha is my bride now of nearly 11 months, and people still remark on her loveliness.)

Facebook users see it all the time.

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One thing we must never do in ministry

A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them.  They will be right.

They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years.  They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there.  And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred.  They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated. 

The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level.  And shows no signs of abating.

So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose.  Flockless shepherds.  Ministers without portfolio.  Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant.  Pink-slipped.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

God bless you.  May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high.  No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).

May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants.  Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.

In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago.  Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.

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Two of my best ideas for ministry

I’m tempted to say, “Some of my best ideas for ministry came from other people.”  Which is true, of course. Ask any pastor or staffer.   And, just as equally true, some of my best ideas bombed and I wouldn’t want to tell you about them.  Smiley-face here.

But here are a couple of things the Lord gave me (I know, I know. We should say that cautiously, lest we join the Name Above All Other Names to something unworthy) that not only worked out, but turned out to be some of the best things we did in my last pastorate…

First idea.  An idea for stewardship.   Purpose: To motivate people to tithe their incomes to the church over the difficult summer months

Summer is hard on churches which live from month to month financially.  And yes, sometimes from week to week. People go on vacations or find distractions to take them away on weekends. A large segment of the Lord’s flock give only when they are in church.  Sundays when they are out, the church goes lacking.

Once when our church was hurting financially–which seemed to be a constant for that congregation–the Lord gave me the idea which we were to name “SUMMER BLESSED.”  (I have no memory of the moment the idea arrived or whether it was sparked by something another church was doing.)

In naming it “Summer Blessed,” the idea was to “make this a summer blessed of the Lord.”  With the full support of the church leadership, I threw out this challenge to our congregation:  “Tithe your income for the three months of the summer and do so faithfully.  Then, at the end of August if you do not feel your life has been immeasurably blessed as a result, if you will request a refund, we will return all the money you gave to the church.”

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Why a lot of professing Christians never attend church

“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”–unless, of course, the Lord reveals to you that you are the church, as one lady said to me.  Or, that you are smarter than the preacher, the deacons are trying to run the church, or no one in the congregation will speak to you.  Hebrews 10:25, sort of.

When you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to have an excuse.

If you do not want to go to church, for instance, if you can skip church for a whole year and never miss it, you should “man up” and admit, “I’m not a Christian and don’t believe all that Bible stuff.  Church is for people who take the Lord seriously. Not me. So, I don’t go.”

Hmm. That felt ‘mean,’ didn’t it?  But it’s dead on accurate.

Please read on.

By “go to church,” we don’t necessarily mean a building with a steeple on it.  It could be a group of God’s people gathered in a living room to sing and pray and study the Word.  Or,  fifty people in a storefront.  The point is not the location or the structure but God’s people meeting on a regular basis for the work and worship of the Lord.

The redeemed of the Lord will be drawn to one another.  They love each other.  Jesus said so.

I heard of a pastor somewhere who collected excuses on “why people who call themselves Christians don’t go to church.”   He did not make these up…

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Why you didn’t get that church job you wanted

This is merely one possible scenario, but I’ve seen it happen several times.

We had interviewed Brian and all the background checks and references were great.  We liked him, were impressed by the work he was doing in his present church, and knew God was going to continue doing great things through him.

He liked us, and possibly felt some leadership from the Lord.  If we had called, I expect he would have accepted.

But we backed off. We did not call him to our staff.

My journal tells how he responded when I informed him.

“I told Brian we had learned 100 good things about him.  But the bottom line is I don’t have inner peace about this.”

He asked what in particular was the hangup.  I said “Nothing. It’s just that I feel a sense of unease, that it’s not right.”

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