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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If you would bear His reproach, first be willing to lose your cool

“Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

Ministers considered “cool” by the world should be wary.

It’s a trap.

Let those outside the faith–i.e., friends and admirers with no appreciation for Scripture, no knowledge of the call of God, no gratitude for the blood of Jesus, or no concept of the direness of their own situation–compliment the preacher on his coolness, and it can be a form of quicksand.

“I’m not much of a church-goer, pastor, but I love watching you preach.”  “You’re not like all those other preachers–fat and bald and loud.  You’re handsome and slim and cool.”

Woe to the minister who eats up such a compliment.

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The one quality of a leader no one mentioned to you

I remember it like it was last week.

It was the mid-1970s and we were living in Columbus, Mississippi, where I’d gone to pastor First Baptist Church. A seminary professor who had taught some of us was in town for a few days, bringing a series of Bible studies in a local church. On Monday morning, we had gathered in my church and were sitting around drinking coffee and visiting.

The professor told us that Dr. Landrum Leavell had just been announced as the new president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was currently pastoring First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas. I knew him slightly, having met him a couple of times in the company of his college-age son Lan, whom I taught in Sunday School.

It seemed like a good choice to me.

The professor had his reservations.

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How a new minister can gain the trust of the congregation

Your assignment, new pastor, is to love God’s people and earn their trust.  Nothing else is more important.  Eventually, when they know you love them and are trustworthy, they will follow you.  But not until.

Elton was a new pastor of a small church I’m familiar with. To call him excited is an understatement.

Early in the process, Elton announced to the deacons they would hold an overnight retreat and talk about how things should be done. So far, so good, I suppose.

At the retreat, this new pastor informed his leaders that he would be calling the shots and making all important decisions and their job was to support him.

Elton was fired the next week.

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How to tell you’re no 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 most likely not doing anything of importance.  You are not a leader.

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

The new pastor comes to a church with a divine mandate. This is not pious talk. The preacher has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is. So, he proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service, do anything but what they should. Many of them stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.

Not always, thankfully.  But too often.

This was the last thing the pastor needed or expected.

Being human, he may begin to wonder: 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.  After all….

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I love old books–especially when they speak to today.

As a pastor, when I use a story found while reading a book 50 years or more older, the one thing I am dead sure of is that no one else is using it.  That’s just one of a dozen reasons I love old books.  Following is something I wrote in 2010 after reading one such book.

I confess. I am a bookaholic, what’s called a bibliophile. New books, old books, it doesn’t matter. Turn me loose in a convention hall where the public library is selling off their excess and I’m in heaven for two hours.

I particularly love the older books.

In Cincinnati, I discovered a used bookstore that filled several floors of an ancient downtown building. I could have moved in.

I know where to find the best used bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, and in Birmingham, Alabama, and never pass either city without a brief stop-in.

But there is reason to this madness. And it’s far more than a nostalgia kick. (There is that too, but it’s not the major thing.)

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They’ve asked you to speak in church. Here’s what you need to know.

This is about what laypeople need to know about speaking in “big church.”  You’ll understand that by big church, I mean you’re addressing a large group in the sanctuary.  And laypeople means non-preachers.

Many non-clergy are outstanding (pun intended) on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers and other educators come to mind.  But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his,her element when suddenly thrust in front of the whole church.

They walk onto the platform (let’s not call it  a “stage”) and stand at the pulpit, then look around.  Wow.  Things sure look different up here, they think. They open their mouth and begin to speak.

Anything can happen.

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Yes, it does matter who gets the credit!

Sitting in front of the television as Hollywood was handing out its annual Oscars, I wondered something.

Who decides who steps to the microphone to acknowledge and receive these coveted awards?

When a movie’s name is called as the winner of “best picture” or some other category in which a number of people have collaborated, who decides which member of that crowd stands, walks to the front, accepts the kiss from Penelope Cruz, and addresses the billion people who are tuned in?

Do they work this out in advance? Is it spontaneous? Do people get their feelings hurt when the wrong person steps up and takes credit?

Michael Curtiz directed “Casablanca,” the incredible movie which took home several Oscars from the 1944 prom. He was named best director and the movie best picture of the year.  The film was done by Warner Brothers.

There were three Warner Brothers–Albert, Harry, and Jack. It seems to be the universal assessment that  Jack was the rascal in the bunch. Once Jack talked his brothers into selling the studio to a Boston firm, then the next day repurchased it so it would belong exclusively to himself. The rest of the family never forgave and never forgot.

An executive who worked on “Casablanca”–I’ve forgotten his name–tells  what happened at the awards ceremony when “Casablanca” was announced as best picture of the year.   “I was rising to my feet when I noticed Jack Warner already on his way to the front. He accepted the Oscar like he had had anything to do with this movie. It was my movie. I’m the one who made ‘Casablanca’ happen!”

A generation later, the man still had not forgotten the offense or forgiven Jack Warner.

A line attributed to Ronald Reagan says, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” (Other people, including Walt Disney, also get credit for saying that.)

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10 lessons on church leadership, all learned the hard way

This is not the final list. I’m still learning.

Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, not what I might have expected.

In no particular order….

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.

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To a friend going into denominational work

In a sense, I could be writing this to myself some 15 years ago as I transitioned from pastoring (for 42 years!) into the office of the Director of Missions for the SBC churches of Metro New Orleans.  These days, it applies to friends such as Louisiana’s Dr. Steve Horn, who left the pastorate of FBC Lafayette to become Executive of that state’s SBC churches or Dr. Shawn Parker, who left FBC Columbus MS for the Executive office in Mississippi. 

You’ve been pastoring churches all your adult life.  And now the Lord–with the assistance of an executive search committee–is moving you out of the pastorate into a denominational office where your constituency will be churches and pastors instead of deacons and Sunday School teachers and the WMU.

I have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.  And maybe a scar or two.

Eighteen months into my five-year tenure with the New Orleans Baptist Association, Hurricane Katrina flooded our city, ruining  vast neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents while destroying many of our churches.  Every day was a challenge. The blessings came in waves, the frustrations never left.

I came by these grey hairs honestly.

Ideally, in your new position you will have just enough difficulties to challenge your strengths without crushing you, and enough encouragement and prayer support to compensate for your weaknesses without making you self-satisfied or complacent.

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