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.)
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.
A friend left this question on our website…
What advice do you give people in the pews to be better listeners? I admit I have listened to a wonderful sermon and by mid afternoon may have trouble with recall of the major points. I have found jotting some notes can help. Your thoughts? We have a gifted pastor and I want to honor him and our Lord by my listening and learning.
My first thought is to say to my friend, “This isn’t rocket science. It all boils down to pay attention, take notes, stay focused.” That sort of thing.
Those who listen to sermons regularly have noticed that a successful listening experience usually involves a number of factors:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…. (I Peter 5:2-3)
If anyone on the planet should hold to the highest standards in dealing with people, it should be those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alas. The Elmer Gantrys have always been among us. Those who are in the work for the basest of reasons: money, recognition, other kinds of gratification.
Unto whom much is given, much will be required. A warning if there ever was a warning to those who occupy the pulpits. (Luke 12:48)
Lack of integrity permeates our culture.
I had to cancel a credit card this week. The monthly statement showed six or eight fraudulent charges. Where did that come from and how did it happen? I don’t know, but no one is surprised anymore.
From time to time, pastors run situations by me for my response. Often it has to do with a conflict with a staff member. Particularly if either the pastor or staffer is new, conflict often arises. That’s why…
I suggest that pastors have some tried-and-true principles to govern their relationships with ministerial staff and the office staff. That is–to clarify–some bedrock rules you go by in your dealings with your team. In most cases, you have acquired these the hard way, by breaking them or being broken upon them.
Anyway. Here are a few I have lived with, just to get you started….
One. No leader likes surprises.
That’s why we have weekly staff meetings, to talk things out, to plan the calendar, etc. Once on a Sunday morning, the student minister announced to the church that the mission trip for next Summer would be to New Hampshire. Next morning in staff, I said, “At what point did we decide the youth would go to New Hampshire next summer?” He turned twelve colors, swallowed hard, and said, “Uh oh.” We had a head knocking–in love, actually–and he learned an important lesson. And yes, he took the youth to New Hampshire.
Encourage one another. –I Thessalonians 5:11
When we posted “59 things not to say to a pastor,” my cousin Rebecca Kilgore Smith of Jasper, Alabama, suggested we should balance the sheet with a list of positive, encouraging things to say to pastors.
We sent out a call for help on that, and here is the result.
1. I’m praying for you. This was overwhelmingly the consensus for the number one encouragement for any preacher. But don’t say it if you’re not doing it!
2. I love you. And likewise, this was strong. Every minister should know they are loved.
3. Hebrews 6:10, my all time favorite scripture for a faithful servant of the Lord. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown to His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering.” It’s one thing to say “I remember,” but another entirely to say that “God remembers.” Great promise.
4. We are taking I Timothy 5:17 to heart, Pastor, and starting immediately we are doubling your pay. Ha. In your dreams.
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).
I suspect some of us are marginal Christians, just around the edges.
The Lord Jesus knew His Bible. He was quoting Isaiah.
In the 8th century B.C., the prophet said: “Therefore the Lord said, ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore I will again do a marvelous work among this people….'” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
Look out at the typical congregation most any Sunday morning. It isn’t hard at all–nor, in my opinion is it judgmental–to see on display this very thing: people honoring God with their lips while their hearts roam across some foreign country somewhere.
It’s not a new thing. While Isaiah preached in the 8th century B.C. and our Lord eight centuries later, you and I witness the same two thousand years afterwards. It seems to be a human affliction.
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
My preacher friend was rendering his opinion on a certain large church with which we are both familiar.
“The people are like the fans of (a certain college football team). Individually, great people. Salt of the earth. But put them all together, and they are horrible. Prideful, boasting, irritating.”
That’s an analysis I’ve not been able to shrug off. If it’s true–and I’m in no position to judge–it’s a devastating assessment.
The Ascended Christ said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing–but you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
The reality is often far different from what we want to believe, from what we aspire to, from what we advertise.
Dare we ask the Heavenly Father to tell us the truth about our own church?
“In today’s service, we will be giving roses to the oldest mother and the youngest mother present.”
Ever done that, Pastor? I have.
Anything wrong with honoring motherhood in church? Absolutely not.
We might need to find new ways to do so, however.
I started pastoring in late 1962, not long after graduating from college. This means I led churches through the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and down to 2004. I continue preaching at every opportunity, and am deeply involved in our churches. .
To say the ball game has changed forever would be the understatement of the year.
“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).
Warren Wiersbe once heard a preacher announce, “I didn’t never go to school! I’m just a igerant Christian, and I’m glad I is.”
Dr. Wiersbe countered, “A man does not have to go to school to gain spiritual intelligence; but neither should he magnify his ‘igerance.'”
Spiritual knowledge is available to all who will open God’s word and sit before the feet of the Savior. But, we hasten to add, it does not happen in a few minutes. We do not take a pill for spiritual maturity and godly knowledge. It’s more the result of what has been called “a long obedience in the same direction.”