When you suddenly realize the pastor’s sermon is missing something

My wife was commenting on a sermon she heard recently.  “It was a fine sermon in many respects.  It called for the right kind of actions and spoke of the Holy Spirit.  And then it hit me.  Nowhere does this person’s preaching deal with the gospel, mention Calvary, or call for repentance.”

She said, “I suppose the sermon works if everyone is saved and obedient and has a sincere desire to serve God.  But what if they aren’t?  What if we are rebels, what if our hearts are in rebellion against God? What then?”

“Preaching like this sneaks up on you,” she said, referring to what that sermon was missing.

Much has been said about the sermon delivered by the Episcopal bishop at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.  Most of us enjoyed hearing the sermon, particularly because it was so American and so typical of the African-American tradition we’re familiar with but which presumably the British elite crowd is not.

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Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

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Put a smile on your face. Here’s why. And how.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

A smile is outward evidence that everything inside is in good shape.  A smile is visible evidence of the joy of the Lord.

Anyone can smile. And everyone should.  But those who put faith and trust in the Lord Jesus have more right to smile than anyone.  They can number a hundred blessings in their lives as a result of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ:  They’ve been forgiven, cleansed by the blood, and born into the family of God.  They are indwelt by the Spirit, overshadowed and undergirded by Him, and surrounded by like-minded disciples.  They have the Word of God, the love of God, and the power of God. And so forth.

The unsmiling Christian is a contradiction.

Why aren’t you smiling?

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The mixed multitude in your church–and what to do with them

“And a mixed multitude went up with them.”   Exodus 12:38

“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?'” — Numbers 11:4

The world is attending your church.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them.  Not good.

When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone.  Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also.  (Various translations call them “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)

Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt?  Doubtless there were slaves from many countries.  So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.

Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.

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Reminding the guest preacher: Be nice; you’re a guest!

“I have sent (Tychicus) to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts” (Ephesians 6:22).

I’m a guest preacher in every church I visit these days, and have been for the past nine years of retirement ministry.  Today this weekend I’m in Poplarville, Mississippi, and Jackson, MS, next week in Leakesville, MS, and next month will be ministering in Starkville, MS, Mobile, AL, at an encampment in West Texas, followed by McCall Creek, MS and finally speaking at a church banquet in a restaurant in McComb, MS.

I’m having the time of my life. And I’ve learned a few things…

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A lot of ear-tickling going on in churches

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Ear-tickling sells.

Anyone doubting that should stand outside a typical church on a Sunday morning and listen.  “I like the way he preaches.”  “He makes me feel good.”  “I don’t like what I hear.”  “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.”  I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.

What I want in a church.  What we’re looking for.  Why we’re considering leaving.

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Every pastor needs a plan

“As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).

How are you going to grow your church, pastor?

If your church is not growing–i.e., reaching new people and discipling those God sends–your church is on the decline.  People die, people move away, some will grow lax and drop out.  No church is static. The pastor who sees his role as maintaining the status quo, keeping those who pay his salary happy and placated, is on a mission to disaster.

Every pastor needs a plan or strategy–a prayer, a personal program, a scheme or something!–for reaching outsiders and bringing them into the congregation and growing this church.

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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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