The 5 best pieces of preaching advice I ever received

Not every advice given to preachers is sound or wise.  But from time to time, a godly layman or preacher friend has a great word.  Here are five I recall…

One.  From a deacon. 

“Be patient with the people.”

I was fresh from seminary and the brash new pastor of a church in the Mississippi Delta. This was in the late 1960s, one year before Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I was preaching on God’s love for all people of all races, that we are all equal before Him, created by a loving God and thus to be valued. Not a very inflammatory message to be sure.  But some of my people were reacting.  That’s when the chairman of deacons called his young pastor aside.

“What you are saying is right, pastor,” said businessman and deacon chairman Lawrence Bryant.  “But let me remind you that the preacher before you told these people for nine years that segregation was God’s way.”  He paused.  “You can change them, but you need to be patient with them.”

It was the perfect advice.

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The best church in every state

You see these come-ons all the time—

The best restaurants in every state.  The best small towns in every state.  The best town for retirees in every state.  The best beaches, best whatever.

So, don’t be surprised if you look up one day and someone has compiled a list of the best churches–best small churches, best mega-churches, whatever–in every state.  People are so shallow as to think such a list could be compiled and many will buy into it.

I’m by that the way I am the college football rankings.  Today, as I was driving back from a ministry assignment, for an hour or more I listed to the Sirius XM station where spots guys discussed last night’s college football rankings. LSU was one, Ohio State two, and so forth.  Back and forth they went: Shouldn’t Alabama be lower than 5th? Shouldn’t Baylor be higher than they are? Wisconsin too?  People called in and for an hour or more they argued.

For absolutely nothing.  Next week there will be a new ranking, based on this weekend’s games, and they’ll start all over again.  It’s what these sports-talk guys get paid to do.

But it’s so much foolishness.

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The ever-present drift toward Pharisaism

“But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

It’s so easy to become a modern Pharisee.

We start out with good intentions, desiring only to encourage people to serve God faithfully.  We end up setting in stone our requirements and holding people responsible for disobeying God when they violate them.

That has happened in our denomination.  When Southern Baptists decided to update their “creedal statement,” a document we call  The Baptist Faith and Message, it was said loud and clear that these were not to be tools by which we were to judge the doctrinal faithfulness of our people.  That soon went by the wayside. These days, if professors and pastors do not subscribe to that document, they are not considered for that open position or vacant pulpit.

The sons and daughters of the Pharisees are alive and well and active inside your congregation, too, friend.

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Does “touch not my anointed” refer to preachers?

Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.  –I Chronicles 16:22. (Psalm 105:15) 

A pastor who wants a free hand to come and go as he pleases chafes when told he is accountable to the membership or must report to a certain committee. The very idea!  He pulls out Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22 and uses these as a battering ram on his people.

He bellows, “God’s Word says, ‘Touch not Mine anointed!’  It says, ‘Do My prophets no harm.'”

Then, he gives his twisted interpretation to his misconstrued favorite passage.

“This means no one in the church and no group is allowed to criticize the pastor.  God’s messengers answer only to God!”

The only problem with that is it just isn’t so.

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Why the Lord put you in a church

Comfort one another.  I Thessalonians 4:18

A lady who read our blog commented that when she was widowed, her church did not minister to her.  And no, she said, “I did not seek counsel from my pastor.  I sought help from the Bible and the Lord alone.”

I’m thinking she was saying that somewhat pridefully.  I may be reading it wrong.

I replied, “God never intended you and me to handle life’s burdens ‘from the Bible and the Lord alone.’ That’s why He put us in a church when He saved us.”

We have to give the pastors and leaders a chance to help us.  We should let them know we are in crisis.  Then, it’s their responsibility to respond appropriately.  But if they do not know, they will do nothing and you will suffer needlessly.

I repeat:  The Lord intends us to help each other handle these critical passages in life.  He does not intend us to life our lives in isolation, just reading our Bible and trying to get sustenance from the Lord.  He gives help through His people as well as by the Holy Spirit.  And often, it’s through His people that the Holy Spirit ministers best.

“Love one another.”  “Comfort one another.”  “Encourage one another.”

Have you read that in Scripture?  It’s all through the New Testament.

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How to manipulate people to do big things

“….not grudgingly or of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Have you ever done something big, then the next day had “buyer’s remorse”?

Welcome to the club.

The important thing is that we who lead the Lord’s churches not be guilty of perpetrating that kind of thing on people.  We were not sent to coerce or con anyone into anything.  We are messengers of the King and are all about integrity and love.  What Scripture calls “grace and truth” in the Lord Jesus (John 1:14).

They called him Tommy the Cork.  Thomas Corcoran was a political fixer, fund-raiser, and go-to guy for many politicians of the post-War years.  Robert Caro interviewed Corcoran for his books on Lyndon Johnson.

He had once told me one of his most effective fund-raising techniques.  When the man he was asking for money wrote a check and handed it across the desk to him, Mr. Corcoran, no matter what the amount–no matter if it was more than he had hoped for–would look at it with an expression of disdain, drop it back on the man’s desk, and, without saying a word, walk toward the door.  He had never once, he told me–exaggerating, I’m sure, but how much?–he had never once been allowed to reach the door without the man calling him back, tearing up the check, and writing one for a larger amount.  

Manipulation means getting people to do your bidding whether they want to or not.

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What a good church does for a lonely Christian: An illustration

Robert Caro had a problem.

He was researching and writing an in-depth biography of Robert Moses, the highly acclaimed “master builder” of New York City, who lived 1888 to 1981.  Originally, Caro thought the book might take a year.

He was wrong. Bad wrong.

After a couple of years working on the book and with no income to support his family, his wife sold the house to raise money to keep them going.

That money ran out.

He kept working.

In time, he was embarrassed when friends would say, “What are you working on?” and he would tell them he was still on the same book.  “How long have you been working on that book?”  He would mutter, “Five years.”

Five years.  Caro felt like a failure.

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What wears pastors down, ages them prematurely, and uses them up too quickly

Betrayals.  Disappointments.  Constant conflict.  Second-guessing everything you say.  Griping.  Negativism. 

Like herding cats.

It takes a toll.

Most church members have no clue that the constant murmuring (the KJV’s favorite word for it) among the flock is offensive to the Heavenly Father and burdensome to the shepherd He has sent. 

Moses is a great case study for us.  For forty years–think of it!–he gave faithful leadership to the people of God who, far from appreciating him,  were relentless in their eroding, grinding, burdening undermining, questioning, and outright opposition.  Scripture gives a reason for this:  Among the flock was a group of strangers, aliens to the faith. 

They were the main problem. 

Scripture says when they left Egypt’s slavery, “A mixed multitude went up with them” (Exodus 12:38).  Some translations call them “rabble.” Since the Hebrews were not the only slaves of Pharaoh, when God threw off the shackles it must have been like a massive jailbreak.  All who could flee the country did so.  And since this Moses fellow seemed to have a glorious destination in mind, with no other place to go, many of the “mixed multitude” decided to accompany the Hebrews..

This bunch became the source of a thousand problems for Moses. 

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During his years as pastor of this church….

The state denominational paper announces the retirement of Pastor Dental Bridges with the usual numbers:  During his twelve years as pastor of Center’s Big Ol’ Church, Preacher Bridges baptized 112 people, received 325 by transfer of letter, and constructed a new educational building.  Everyone was happy to see him come and happy to see him go.

I read the report on one pastor whose church was on the far side of rural route fourteen.  “During his ministry, a new fence was built around the cemetery.”  Well, it was something.

We used to hear of reports that went like this: “During his years at Emmanuel Church, the attendance grew from 36 to 2,100.”  If you dug beneath the surface, it came out that 36 was the lowest number the church had during its interim period when they were pastorless and 18 inches of snow shut down the area one weekend.  And the 2,100 attendance came the Sunday the church brought in the star quarterback from the college football team after they had won the national championship and they gave away autographed jerseys and free kisses from the cheerleaders.

You think I’m kidding.  (Okay, maybe I am. A little.)

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When criticizing sermons, tread softly.

They criticized Paul’s preaching, if you can believe that.

They said, “He writes these fearsome letters, but his preaching is terrible.”

Well, okay, what they said was: His letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. (2 Corinthians 10:10)

And how did Paul feel about that?  The same way you and I do  when we learn what some are saying about our preaching.

He didn’t care for it much.

He thought it was unfair.

Pastor, if they didn’t like Paul’s preaching, it’s a lead-pipe cinch they’re going to criticize your sermonizing and mine.

It goes with the territory.

I find that comforting.  A little.

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