A strong dose of leadership

Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.

Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.

–”He acts bossy.”

–”He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”

–”The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”

–”We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”

–”We didn’t vote on that program.”

Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.

–”We didn’t know where we were going.”

–”The staff seemed directionless.”

–”We were just floundering.”

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Requirement for a pastor: The ability to teach!

“An overseer (episkopos) then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach….” (I Timothy 3:2)

Most preachers would rather preach than teach.

Even the names say that, don’t they?  We call pastors “preachers,” not “teachers.”  And yet….

In seminary, we used up an entire class period one day trying to figure out the difference in preaching and teaching.  By the end, we had given up.

Each of us has our own understanding of how they differ. Here’s mine.

Think of preaching as exhorting and proclaiming in order to change lives; think of teaching as imparting information and insights in order to inform the mind and change the heart.

Teaching can be an important but minor part of preaching, and exhorting may be one component of good teaching. But the major chord of preaching is proclaiming, and the major thrust of teaching is conveying insights and truths.

“Yes, but….”

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How to tell if you’re ready for the next level of service in the Kingdom

“Now, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.  And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God’” (Luke 16:15).

The director of missions (a local denominational leader, for readers unfamiliar with Southern Baptist terminology) told me about a visitor he had one day, a fellow making himself available to pastor a church.

The DOM (I’ll call him Will) said, “Tell me about your present church involvement.”

The visitor said, “I’m not actually involved in a church at the present time.  I’m just visiting around.”

Will: “How long have you lived here?”

The man: “Five years.”

Will said, “May I ask why you haven’t joined a church and become active?”

The man said, “Because my presence would intimidate a pastor.”

Will said, “My friend, I would never recommend you as a pastor of a church.  Not in a million years.”

The visit ended quickly.

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When church committees begin to jump the track

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees formed a council and said, ‘What do we do? For this man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all will believe on him” (John 11:47-48).

After watching the Lord Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, the religious leaders were faced with a choice. They could either do what the common folk were doing and worship Jesus, or not.  My friend Josh Carter, pastor in Memphis, points out what they actually did: they formed a committee.

By creating a committee, we hand off the assignment–the decision on what to do and how to do it–to a group of “others.”

Sometimes that works out.  Often it doesn’t.

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Great opportunity; many obstacles; where’s the door?

“For a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9).

(See the postscript for a story illustrating this text.)

Ain’t that the way?

You spot a great opportunity, the adrenalin flows and your heart races. You seize it and begin to make plans to do this wonderful thing in a big way, when suddenly, out of the blue, you’re blindsided by opposition and adversaries.

“Dear Lord, just as soon as you send a huge opportunity with wide-open doors and no problems in my direction, I’ll be back.”

Just as soon as everyone is on board and the naysayers are all gone, as soon as my mama agrees and the vote is unanimous, and when the resources are in the bank and old Mr. Crenshaw quits fighting it, yessirree–we’ll be right there to do this thing you’ve laid on our hearts.

That’s how our heart feels. That’s the counsel our fears give.

Paul was in Ephesus and having a great ministry, one lasting several years. This work was characterized by all three facets he mentions in this verse–great opportunities, open doors, and many obstacles.

Sounds like life, doesn’t it?  Great opportunities, open doors, many obstacles. It is indeed.

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Pulling rank: What some pastors do which Jesus never did

Standing with a group of pastors, chatting and fellowshiping and shooting the (sacred) bull–smiley-face goes here–one of them came out with something like:

“I told him I’m the pastor of the church, that God sent me here as the overseer, and if he doesn’t like it, he can find another church.”

That brought nods of approval, even from a couple who knew they would never have the gumption to say such a thing. Even if they feel it.

But that pastor is wrong.

Dead wrong.

If anyone on earth had the right to pull rank on other people, it was our Lord Himself.

Yet, He never did.

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Parasitical goings-on in church

Have you ever heard of an insect called an ichneumon? Me either. But George Will wrote about it in his syndicated newspaper column this week in analyzing why Detroit declared bankruptcy a few days ago.

The ichneumon insect inserts an egg in a caterpillar, then the larva which hatches from the egg proceeds to gnaw the insides of the caterpillar. Eventually, it has devoured almost every part of the worm with the exception of the skin and intestines, while it carefully avoids injuring the vital organs.  The ichneumon seems to know that its own existence depends on the life of the insect on which it feeds.

George Will writes that government employees’ unions have been living parasitically on the city of Detroit. They were not as smart as the ichneumon insect, he says,  because they ended up devouring their host.

One way the Holy Spirit calls my attention to lessons He has placed in front of me is I find the story (the article, the fact, whatever) fascinating. If I cannot get it out of my mind, if it will not go away, if it keeps returning to bug me, then  all the signs are present.

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12 things I tell the deacons

No one is more surprised than I that the Lord has me leading all these deacon training conferences and retreats these days. (I’ve done five so far, with two or more to go. A couple had to be canceled for various reasons.)

I love deacons and treasure the relationship with quite a few from the six churches I served over four decades.. My oldest son is a deacon and served as chairman of our church’s group the last two years.


I carry a few scars from battles with deacons.  I encountered a dozen or so along the way with mental health of the worst kind, some with stunted and deformed theology, and one or two who thought they were rightfully entitled to rule over the universe.   This website carries some forty or more articles written on the ministry of deacons over the years. Frequently, those painful experiences and harshest collisions produced the  best lessons and, of course, the most interesting stories.

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Let’s get ‘er done, church!

(If we wait until we can do everything perfectly, we will still be sitting here when the Lord returns. Let us be up and doing.)

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23).

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

A minister who was interviewing for a position on the staff of my church said, “If I come as your (whatever the position was), I would not make any changes for the first year, but spend that time building relationships.”

That was it for me.  We have work to do, I thought. Relationships are good, but they may be built and must be maintained in the midst of doing the work the Lord has given us.

Stephen Dill Lee, well-known Confederate general who later became the founding president of Mississippi State University and served as a deacon at nearby Columbus’s First Baptist Church, once resigned from the church’s deacon board. He said, “When I was in the service, my approach was always to charge, charge, charge. Go forward. But these deacons don’t want to do anything.”

The minutes of the deacons from those years, the early 1900s, indicate that some prevailed upon General Lee and he agreed to stay on. Then, he chaired the church’s building committee that tore down the 1838 sanctuary and built the 1908 edifice which still stands.  He was a get ‘er done leader.

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Recipe for misery: Dream up problems.

“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain? (Jeremiah 23:28)”

Some people are so frustrated when nothing bad is happening around them that they manufacture it out of nothing.

They dream up trouble.

I don’t normally remember dreams, but this one I did.

A few weeks ago, I took an afternoon nap of nearly three hours. That week, I’d been attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas, some six hours away. After driving there Sunday and returning home Wednesday, in between, I had sketched nonstop for some 25 hours total and was worn to a frazzle.

In the dream, Margaret and I were adults riding the school bus home for some reason.  As the driver stopped in front of our house, Margaret got off while I busily set about gathering up all our packages. I told the driver I’d be just a minute.  As he pulled away, I called to say I was still on board and that I had asked him to give me a second. He said, “I didn’t hear you,” and  added that it was now against the rules for him to stop the bus and let me out.

That’s how I ended up riding with him back to the bus barn. While there–remember, this is just a dream–some employees of the school system came outside to inform me that they were entitled to “one-tenth” of the money I was supposed to fork over for my release.

I awakened with a strong sense of the unfairness of this system, feeling that someone needed to get in touch with the school board members because surely drivers are allowed to let people off at unscheduled stops. Besides, employees are not allowed to scam their captured riders.

“It’s just a dream,” I kept saying until the frustration dissipated.

That was so silly. “Where did it come from,” I wondered.

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