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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Ten biblical truths a lot of God’s people don’t really believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people talk a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, the Lord’s people probably do not believe the following…

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?

If we believed that God hears, cares, and answers, we would be praying over every detail of our lives.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) would define our very existence.

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The kind of preaching we like; the type of preacher we want

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah.  And there eat bread and there do your prophesying!  But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).

My journal from a number of years back has this:

Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher.  She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night.  He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”

Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split.  He had been the essence of faithfulness.

She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”

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Why do church people hang on to their jobs too long?

“Diotrephes who loves the preeminence…”  (3 John 9)

In one church I served, the assistant pastor had been there for over 25 years and was long past retirement age.  After I learned he was working against my leadership, when our people started talking about his retiring, I jumped on that bandwagon.  We set a date, with his complete involvement, and the congregation gave a generous love offering.  Then, just before the big day, the personnel committee informed me that they were asking him to remain in place.  He would not be retiring.

Yes, they “informed” me. They didn’t ask.

He gladly stayed on, seeing himself as the savior of the church against this young whippersnapper of a pastor.  (I was 46, not exactly a kid.)

And no, he did not return the love gift.

Why would he want to hold onto the job?  It seemed to give him a sense of prestige being a prominent leader in the city’s most storied church.  That and a dollar would have bought him a cup of coffee.

If you conclude I had more problems in that church than just the assistant pastor, you would be correct.  I ended up leaving after only three years on less than ideal terms.

What’s funny about that–sad funny, not ha-ha funny–is that two years later, I heard the new pastor was trying to get him to retire and having a time of it.  I had to smile.

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Four things I wanted to know that most pastors do not

I’m confident most church members never analyze why they feel the way they do about their pastors, either positively or negatively. But I always wanted to know what was going on with them.

For forty-two years I pastored six churches, as well as serving on the staff of another church for three years.  During those times, four areas used to concern me, to bug me actually, about our people.  Whenever I would mention them to my ministry colleagues, most shrugged and said, “Not me.  I don’t want to know that.”

One.  Why are you leaving?

No matter how large or successful your ministry, people will leave from time to time and join a church down the highway.  I wondered why.

Pastor Ross Rhoads led one of the largest churches in Charlotte, NC at the time, easily twice the size of First Baptist Church where I was serving. But we had a lot in common–age, experience, demanding schedules (preaching four services each Sunday!), and such–and enjoyed a friendship.  That particular day, for some reason we began talking about people who leave our church to join another in the area.

I said, “I know we can’t pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Why did you join that other church?  Did we let you down in some way?’  But I’d like to know. We could learn a lot by knowing why people leave.”

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Paying the preacher: Doesn’t he do these things out of love?

A recent article for this website dealt with what to pay the preacher for weddings, funerals, and such.  Among the responses came one from a friend who belongs to a church I served years ago and whom I know as a generous and faithful sister in the Lord.

“Silly me,” she said.  “I thought preachers did the funerals out of love.”

I replied, “We do indeed do these things out of love.  But if someone gives the preacher a little money, does that negate the love?”

No preacher I’ve ever heard of charges for weddings and funerals and such.  Every preacher I’ve ever known has bills to pay and appreciates a little help with that.

And yes, there are a few of the big guys pulling down huge salaries from their churches–two or three of them, obscene amounts from what I hear–but I don’t know any of them personally.  (If I belonged to one of their churches, I’d not have to worry about what to pay the preacher for a wedding or funeral, however, because they don’t do them.  Their underlings take those tasks.  And I’m betting these guys are paid normal salaries and thus can use the financial encouragement of a hundred bucks after a funeral.  Just saying.)

Now, back to the subject….

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How church members undercut their own best efforts and fail Christ

“Welcome the stranger within your gates. For you were foreigners in Egypt.” — The thrust of Leviticus 19 (see verses 10, 18, and 33-34)

This is one of the greatest frustrations and painful aspects of pastoring.  You try to do well–to prepare sermons blessed of God, to lead your team to present effective ministries, to build powerful worship services, to develop disciples, and reach those in darkness–and then your best people fail to do the smallest thing.  In so doing, they end up negating a thousand good things they do.

They fail to think of the outsider.  They look right past the newcomer.  They give no thought to the first-timer.

My blog from Monday, March 22, 1999—

“I made a number of visits tonight.  Left notes at three homes (no one there) and visited with Carol and Bob Coleman.  They’ve been visiting our church several weeks.  She said, “We love it.  Great music, etc etc–but only three people have greeted us!”

“Three!  Our people think they are friendly but in truth they are friendly to each other.  Bob told me he had volunteered to help Clyde with cooking the wild game supper at church.  Was brusquely turned aside with ‘We already have enough help.’  Then Bob came on to the dinner and brought a friend.  One hour later, they were back.  Said not a soul spoke to them.  So disappointing.”

That church, you will want to know, had a reputation from the previous decade as strong on evangelism and soul-winning.  In fact, when I had asked the congregation to do something heroic and go the extra mile–more than once, our people opened their home to mothers from Third World countries bringing critically ill infants to our Children’s Hospital in New Orleans–they always responded well.  So, they were not uncaring.

They were not uncaring.

They were unthinking.

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