Your great preaching is not going to build your church!

This is the burden of my heart.

Get out of the office, pastor, and knock on some doors.  Later, you can get your people to doing it.  But first, you do it.

Do it by yourself, if you must.  Or take someone with you.  Do it by appointment or cold-turkey.  But do it.

That is as profound a way as I know to build a great church.

Visit your church members, visit your leaders, visit them in their places of business.  Visit your neighbors, the homes around your church.  Visit people who visit your church.

Write letters to them.  The personal kind.  Handwritten, maybe two sentences.  Just to say you’re thinking about them, praying for them, thankful for them.

Get out of the office and get with the people.

Pastor Bobby Welch, longtime shepherd of the great First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, was teaching a soulwinning program to several hundred in the chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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The pastor looks back…and remembers a deacon.

Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.

My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.

At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church.  But God has shown me that I was wrong.  You have meant so much to me and my family.”

We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there.  In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm.  Tepid.

It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him.  But so few had turned out.

The problem was his style.  He was low key.  He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.

The congregation could not abide that.  They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults.  (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)

As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”

If that sounds like discouragement, it was.

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The greatest failure is not to encourage

Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching.”  .-Hebrews 10:25

“They have refreshed my spirit and yours.  Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).

My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.

Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined everything we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to step up and get involved in dealing with the dissenters.  They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.

“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!).  Find out what’s going on in their lives.  Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?”  The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me.  Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.

So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.

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“I need to apologize to our old pastor,” he told me.

Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state.  The other day he told me what happened.

First, as a layman he was put on the search committee to find the new preacher.  Then, they elected him chairman of the team.  And then, he began to gather information to present to prospective pastors.

“What is our salary package?” he asked the church treasurer.

The old gentleman had controlled the purse strings for that little congregation for several years.  So, we should not have been surprised when he told Bob, “We don’t want a preacher who thinks about those things.  He should settle with the Lord if He’s calling him here, and come no matter what it pays.”

Bob said, “I don’t think so.  The laborer is worthy of his hire, Scripture says.”

Because Bob wanted to do this right, he insisted that the church pay an adequate salary with benefits.  And did what was necessary to put it together into an acceptable form.

And then, something interesting happened.

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When church members insist on their rights.

“Why not rather be wronged?” (I Corinthians 6:7).

Ask any pastor.

We hear it all the time.  Variations on this theme are endless…

–“All these years we have belonged to this church and given our money to support these preachers, and now when we need him, he’s in Israel on a holy land tour!”

–“I went by the church.  I needed to see the preacher then, not the next day.  And you’re not going to believe this, but he was on his way out the door, headed to his son’s little league game!  And me a member of his flock.  What kind of preachers are we getting these days?”

–“The preacher needs to apologize to me for what he implied in that sermon on Sunday.  I know he was talking about me, even though he used someone else’s name.”

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Awakening the men of your church. It’s doable, but risky.

“Quit you like men” (I Corinthians 16:13 KJV). 

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13)

Men like challenges. Tough jobs.  Big assignments. Things no one else can do.  A little danger, some risk, to be pushed beyond their usual boundaries.

Women want a church with nurturing, good healthy relationships.  Men want a church that is doing something, making a difference, not protecting the status quo.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Oh, that it were universally true.

The truth is some women are plain spoken and blunt and care little for nurturing and relationships.

The truth is some men prefer to hibernate on the couch and watch endless ball games, to putter around in the yard and drink beer after beer all weekend.

Generalities are difficult.  Or, as the saying goes, “All rules have exceptions, including this one.”

Pastors need to know that by awakening the comatose men in the congregation, they run a real risk.  Men like to be active, assertive, adventuresome, always knowing they are making a real difference.

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How to waken a sleeping church. Aka, “How to raise the dead”

“Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Ephesians 5:14).

A pastor I know has a problem.  It’s not unlike that experienced by a large group of his peers, I imagine.

He has deacons who are undisciplined, church members who do not take care of the hurting in their midst, and in general, a congregation of unmotivated people.  When he preaches evangelism or discipleship or ministry in their community, the way they sit and stare makes him wonder if the language he’s using might be a foreign tongue to them.

Sound like your church?  Sounds like some I’ve pastored and a whole lot I’ve known.

The pastor of that unresponsive bunch asked for my advice.  Had I written anything on how to revive a comatose church?  Does our website have any help for him?

I asked him to give me a day or two to reflect on the subject and seek the Lord’s guidance.  (More and more, I keep thinking: This is an uphill task, wakening a sleeping church.  If it were easy, every pastor would do it and no church would be stagnant or declining. )

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The highest compliment a pastor can give

“But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:40).

“Tom, I need your help.”

“Ed, can you drop whatever you’re doing and meet me this morning?”

“Roger, I’ve got a tough visit to make and was wondering if you could go with me.”

Pastors don’t ask just anyone for this.

A preacher friend tells of the call he received in the wee hours of the night.

“A woman in the church was waving a gun around and threatening her family.  In recent weeks, we had been trying to help her with certain problems.  As I headed out the door for her house, I dialed the number for a deacon friend.”

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When the church exists for itself

How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14).

I live in a gated community of 25 homes.

This little neighborhood is surrounded by a high fence and entered through a gate which requires either a remote sensor or a code.  Homeowners pay a monthly fee to cover upkeep on the grounds and streets and a few services.  We rarely see anyone in this little ghetto other than residents and service people.

Therein lies the metaphor.

At Christmastime, as Bertha and I were placing decorations on the outside of the home, I mentioned that since we live in a cove–a tiny cul-de-sac among five other homes–almost no one will see the wreaths and lights and greenery. “We will see it,” she said. And I agreed. That, I expect, is why most people erect a Christmas tree in the first place. For themselves.

Churches do this, to their shame. They do programs and ministries which no one will ever partake of except themselves.  They plan elaborate pageants and oratorios and cantatas and wild game suppers and marriage retreats, and then fail to tell anyone other than the immediate family.

Then they wonder why so many pews went unfilled and the response to their evangelistic invitations was so tiny.

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The mentality that is killing your church

All this missions stuff is okay, I guess. But what’s in it for us?

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’  And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?'”  (Matthew 9:37-38 with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)

“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”  And the disciples said, “Let’s skip that part and get to the part where you reward us.”  (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion.  The part about rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already.  Tell us about the blessings you have for us.  Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)

I was reading one church’s minutes from a century ago.  In a business meeting, the clerk told of a request for ten dollars from a new church in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary said, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.”  As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches.  Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers know that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally.  It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.

It’s not sufficient to do something to please God, honor Christ, or obey the Spirit.

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