How to set new records in ministry

What follows is a blend of the funny and the serious, what some call “peanut butter and jelly,” the PB for nourishment and the J for delight.  Please bring a sense of whimsy and expect to receive no sermon ideas from this! Thank you. –Joe

In the January/February 2015 issue of Preaching, executive editor Michael Duduit (and my longtime friend) tells of a fellow in Florida who carved out a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes.  Well, actually, it was 45 of his old sermons stitched together, not just one.  Michael says the guy used 600 PowerPoint slides and basically covered the entire Bible, from Genesis to the concordance.

All of that tickled Editor Michael’s funny bone, as oddities in the ministry usually do.  This started him thinking, “What other record-breaking attempts could be made by preachers?” After relaying his suggestions–with some parenthetical notes from moi–we will have an idea or two of our own.

Okay.  Michael suggests the Guinness people might want to look at:

–The most fried chicken consumed at a church supper. (As a growing teen, I was perturbed by the way the church women would put the food away before I finished eating. So, determining to eat nothing but fried chicken–true story–I consumed 14 pieces by the time they were closing up shop.  We never did learn my actual capacity.)

– The most irrelevant stories packed into a single sermon.  (I’ve done this. Once I used a story from a granddaughter who is a twin.  Then, I said, “As you all know, Abby and Erin are sitting here listening to this. I’ve told a story about Abby, and now need to tell a story about her sister Erin. So the following story has nothing to do with this sermon…..”)

–The most “and finally” references included in a message before actually stopping. (I plead not guilty on this one.)

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Help, I’m a pastor!

“In a multitude of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6)

I said to Pastor Marion, “I’m glad to exchange notes with you like this. But you need a couple of mentors–older guys with long histories in the ministry–whom you can sit across the table from and talk about these things.”

He named two such, a seminary professor and a retired pastor.

Pastors often find themselves in tough situations.  At the moment, Pastor Marion is leading his church in a massive building campaign, while working night and day to minister to his growing flock.  In the five years he has been there, his church has doubled or more in attendance. And then, this happens….

A deacon who is used to getting his way in the church called a meeting of the key leadership. He was upset about some of what Marion has been preaching, he says. Furthermore–it will not surprise you if you have ever been the target of this kind of abuse–-“many others in the church feel the same way.”

He threatened that steps may be taken to remove the pastor from the pulpit.

What is a pastor to do?

I mentioned a few possibilities, but with the caveat that “these are just some thoughts.” No way do I want to take responsibility for whatever he decides.

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Things that “simply could not happen!” Oh no?

“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, our country broke the Japanese secret code.  This means that Army and Navy personnel were reading Japan’s messages. We actually knew where their forces were most of the time and what they were planning.

All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–we were completely unprepared. Our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers.  Our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.

The Japanese had a field day.  A turkey shoot.

How had this happened?  How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?

We did not believe what we were reading. This could not possibly happen.

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Eight open secrets of leadership from Nelson Mandela

The cover of TIME for July 21, 2008, featured Nelson Mandela at age 90 beaming that sweet smile out to the world. Inside were his Secrets of Leadership: Eight lessons from one of history’s icons.

You know Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  A political activist against South Africa’s apartheid in the days when to speak out was to land in prison, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. In 1990, President of South Africa F. W. de Klerk released him. Then, three years later both men received the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1994, Mandela was elected president of the country. His autobiography is Long Walk to Freedom.

Over the decades, Mandela became a mature voice for reconciliation, reason, and unity. He is championed by people worldwide who are inspired by that beneficent smile from one who suffered so much and so long.

Here are his eight secrets of leadership, some of which you might find surprising—

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How to tell whether you are a leader

Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

Let’s just come right out and say it up front:  Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are probably not a leader.

The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he has been sent to serve.

A pastor comes into a church with a divine mandate. (This is not pious talk. He has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is.) He proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, many of the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service–those very people–stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.  (Want to see it in Scripture?  Numbers 16.)

This was the last thing the pastor expected.

Because he’s human, he begins to wonder many things: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?

My answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course.

Salt is an irritant. We have been sent into this world as its salt (Matthew 5:13).

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Why racial issues are so difficult for God’s people

“Work for the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray on its behalf. For as it prospers, you will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

America is having a racial crisis.  Again.  Or, perhaps more accurately, the same crisis we have had for decades continues to the present day.

Here are some thoughts on the subject regarding the Lord’s people….

1) If you and I are of different races, we will see racial matters differently.

2) If your racial group is dominant and mine is in the minority, expecting us both to feel the same about racial matters is unrealistic.

3) When a racial incident breaks out, mature Christian people should measure their words and actions very carefully. None of us living hundred miles away know all the facts and anything we say is likely to be hurtful.

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20 things a pastor can do to get past a rough time

Some power clique in the church is on your case.  Some church member is leading a movement to oust you.  The church has a history of ousting pastors every so often and it’s time, and some members are getting restless.

Or, perhaps, as the pastor, you did something wrong and it blew up in your face.  People are calling for your head.

Or, you failed to act and some cancer has gained a foothold within the congregation and your job is in jeopardy.

What do you do now?

It would be foolish to try to offer a panacea here, a cure-all for what ails the church, a fix-all for what troubles the pastor.  I will not attempt that. But here are 20 steps which many pastors can take to right the ship and set it back on track (to mix metaphors)….

1)  Don’t hesitate to apologize if you need to.

“I blew it, folks. I’m sorry.”

Apologies should be as public as the act was public.  If you did one person wrong and it’s known only to that one, go to him/her and admit what you did and ask for forgiveness.  If your mistake was churchwide, stand in the pulpit and take your medicine.

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Non-leaders: How to spot one a mile off

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders as opposed to giving them.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his earthly work was finished and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

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Eight questions a pastor should ask before taking a public stand

The pastor stands in the pulpit, clears his throat, and waits for the undivided attention of the congregation. His silence signals the membership that something big is up, that what the preacher is about to say will be long remembered.

He begins, “As most of you know, the local school board has decided that Gideons International will no longer be allowed to distribute New Testaments to the children in this district. This greatly concerns me. I will admit that I am angrier than I have been in a long time.”

Seated in his congregation are three of the six members of the local school board. As the preacher continues, they can feel all eyes turned in their direction. They become fidgety and wish the pastor would “just preach the Bible.”

In another community, the pastor announces his opposition to the United Way budget which devotes a portion of its income to Planned Parenthood. A few miles up the interstate, the pastor is wrestling with whether to speak out on corruption inside the police force.

Across town, a pastor wants to address the racial divide that is paralyzing this country.  He has deep convictions and something to say.  He’s been waiting for the Spirit’s leadership on when to preach on it and what to say.  The time, he feels, is now.

Sound familiar?

These are major decisions leaders of the Lord’s churches must make. The stakes are high, the issues are important, and the ramifications may be severe. Going public on controversial matters can make or break a pastor’s ministry in a church.

Let’s remind ourselves that nowhere in scripture are we commanded to address every evil, take a stand against every wrong, or be the moral authority on every sin.

The pastor who attempts this will have time or energy for nothing else. He has to be selective and discerning, wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.

Here are questions pastors should ask before taking a public stand on issues dividing the community.

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The five people you can count on most

If you would take a leadership role in the Kingdom of God, you will be needing fellow workers. You will not be able to do this alone nor will you be asked to do so.

The question will arise as to whom you can trust. You will have to decide the quality of the men and women with whom you are surrounded, particularly in determining your inner circle of leadership and responsibility.

Paul answers this for us by citing the examples of Onesiphorus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Stephanas, and, if you will, Aquila/Priscilla.  See what he said…

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