If you’ve been in the Lord’s work very long, your scars prove it

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.

“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.

At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face.  “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me.  Wow.  Tough clan.

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon.  The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant.  We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

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

Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state.  He told me this story.

As a layman he was put on the search committee to seek the next preacher.  Then, they elected him chairman of the team.  Soon 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.  He said to  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.”

And one that happened in my last pastorate…

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Seven things pastors cannot do in the pulpit

“…so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God….” (I Timothy 3:15).

You can’t chew gum in the pulpit, smoke a cigarette, or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, some pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive, we must say.

Now, in one sense, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit. Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking, mature and responsible pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

1. He cannot recommend a book which has questionable material in it nor condemn a book he has not read.

Okay. He can, but he shouldn’t.

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What one new pastor told his church about misbehavior

“(I ask) that they may all be one….that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21,23).

No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord.

According to Scripture, almost everything depends on unity.

A few years ago, my friend Charles stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.

Before they got underway with reports and motions and votes, however, Charles had something to say which they needed to hear. His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.

The new pastor wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.

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When a leader should submit. And when to insist.

We were sitting in the second pew to the far left.  I leaned over to my teenage grandson and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform was the usual dozen or so musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo.  The music was amazing.

I found myself wondering,  “What if we had given in to the critics? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

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To the pastor of a stagnant congregation

How many churches have stopped growing in this country, in your denomination, of your church-type, in your county or parish or town?

Depends on who you ask.

Go on line and you’ll soon have statistics coming out your ears on this subject.

In our denomination–the Southern Baptist Convention–the most significant number, one that seems to have held steady for over three decades, is that some 70 percent of our churches are either in decline or have plateaued.

Plateau. Funny word to use for a church. One wonders how that came to be. Why didn’t they say “mesa,” “plain,” “delta” (ask anyone who lives in the Mississippi Delta–flat, flat, flat!), or even “flatline.”

In the emergency room, of course,  to “flatline” is to be dead. No one, to my knowledge, is saying a non-growing church is dead, only that some things are not right.

Healthy churches grow. Non-growing churches are not healthy, at least in some significant ways.

If it’s true that 7 out of 10 pastors in our family of churches serve congregations that are either in decline or in stagnation, this is a situation that ought to be addressed.

Everyone is addressing it. Everyone has an opinion.

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What we learned after Katrina that might help now

A friend texted late last night to say he’d just left a video conference with his area pastors.  “They are trying to navigate in a world where the church is encouraged not to meet for a period of time.”  Strange, indeed.  He asked, “How did the New Orleans churches deal with Katrina?  When so many had fled the city or were otherwise unable to meet with their church family.  Were there lessons that might apply today?”

I lay awake in the night with that laying heavy on my heart.  For this, the first week of COV-19 Captivity I have refrained from doing exactly this–trying to sound like a know-it-all who has been there/done that because we survived a hurricane fifteen years before.  But perhaps there are a few things to be said from our experience.  I’m willing to give it a try…

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The friendliness factor: How to make your church friendly without encouraging cliques

A young pastor tossed a question my way.

“My small church is growing, and our people do not want to lose the family spirit of a small church. But how do we maintain that without becoming a clique?”

By clique he means a closed group of friends, accepting no new members.

We’ve all seen Sunday School classes where the members have been together for years and know everything there is to know about the others, and where the intimacy is deep and lasting. They know birthdays, the names of each one’s grandchildren, and they relate to one another like sisters.

Yes, sisters. It’s almost always a women’s class that does this.

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How to change the culture of a church

When Jim went to his church as the new pastor, he told me, “They have a bad history. Every two years they run the preacher off.” He paused and said, “Let’s see if we can change that.”

He didn’t.

Two years later, in spite of the wonderful growth the church was experiencing, a little group informed him that his work there was done and it would be better if he left.

I served one church where a small group of leaders–some elected and some not–met from time to time to make important decisions for the church. The poor pastor had little or no say. When I, the new preacher, suggested that this is the type of thing a congregation needs to know about and make the decision, the spokesman said, “We don’t like to upset the congregation about these things.”

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