The worst part of being a pastor

“What’s the worst thing about being a pastor?” she asked. “What is your worst nightmare?”

She and I were Facebooking back and forth about the ministry when she broadsided me with this one.

She suggested possible answers. “People writing nasty letters complaining? giving you advice? criticizing what you wear?”

I laughed and thought, “Oh, if it were that simple. No one enjoys getting anonymous mail trying to undermine your confidence in whatever you’re doing, but sooner or later most of us find ways of dealing with that.”

“It’s worse than that,” I typed. Then I paused to reflect.

Hers was such a simple question, one would think I had a stock answer which had been delivered again and again. But I don’t remember ever being asked it before.

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How to clean out a garage–and unclutter your life

(This was first posted in 2009 as I was preparing to retire from the active, paid ministry. I’ve tweaked it a little. –JM)

Margaret and I were talking about my upcoming retirement from this position with our association. I said, “What do you want me to do when I retire?” She said, “Clean out the garage.”

And then? “The attic,” she said.

My wife has learned to lower her expectations concerning tasks around the house by her spouse of nearly 47 years.

The other day, our oldest son Neil was over. He’s being ordained as a deacon in our church on Sunday night, April 5.  We’re all excited; if ever a man had a servant heart, he does.  He said, “I decided that being ordained deserves a new suit, so I’m going to treat myself.” After suggesting a good men’s store, I said, “I’ll give you some financial assistance on that suit if you will help me clean out the garage.”

Sneaky, huh.

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At age 81, still as young as ever! (He said hopefully)

“They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14). 

This is an updated version of a similar article written on my 78th birthday. March 28 will be my 81st birthday.  I’m so thankful to still be young and energetic and both loved and in love.   So, here are 21 things that are keeping me young! 

One. I laugh a lot.  I love Genesis 21:6, “God has made laughter for me.”  Laughter is a vote of confidence in the Lord, that He is in control and has it all in His hands.  This means some of what you’ll hear around this house is pure silliness.  And I’m good with that.  Many years ago, as six-year-old Abby and I played at the swing in her front yard, she said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, Grandpa?” I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”  She said, “It’s a family tradition.”  (Abby marries Cody Erskine in two months. I may tell that story.  Cody needs to know what he’s getting into!)

Two. I take a full regimen of vitamins. In the mid-1990s, when I’d gone a decade without seeing a doctor, I accompanied my wife for her appointment and ended up becoming a patient too.  One day the doctor gave me a list of vitamins and minerals she wanted me to start taking.  As I left, she said, “Mr. McKeever, I think we have just prevented a heart attack in you.” Well, apparently so.  I have rarely missed a day taking them, although the precise list of what I take has varied a little over the years as successive doctors have tweaked it.

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Thank you, Father, for trusting me with the pain

“No suffering for the present time seems joyful but grievous; nevertheless, afterward….it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

“And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

I hated the pain at the time, Lord.

It’s no fun hurting, lying awake at night hoping for sleep that will not come, wishing for relief and seeing none on the horizon.  At those times I knew why some turn to drink or drugs or worse, but that issue was settled decades ago, Lord, that I would not be bypassing, shortcutting, or tranquilizing whatever you send me in this life.

Remember that time back in the 1960s when a few unhappy people were stirring up matters in your church, saying that I was pushing integration and was going to destroy their church?  Remember that?  I do too.  Oh, how I do.  That was no fun.

As though it were their church. That’s a laugh.  They’re long off the scene and Your church is still there. And integrated, too, I imagine. (smiley-face goes here)

Remember the time they spread the rumor that my wife and I were divorced and that there was deceit in my background, and I didn’t find out about it until it had circled the earth for a solid year?  That was painful, too.

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Two small articles that changed my life forever

The Commission magazine exists now only on-line but for many generations it arrived in the homes and churches of Southern Baptists all over the country. I’ve known and appreciated several of its editors and grieved when it went out of business. (It was the monthly publication of the SBC International Mission Board, headquartered in Richmond.)

Two things in that magazine changed my life forever. They were so tiny, I’m confident that the people who dropped them in had no idea how powerful they were and no inkling of how God would use them.

We need a cartoonist! 

The first was a tiny notice in the fall of 1976 announcing that a cartoonist was needed by the missionaries in Singapore. As a part of their urban strategy, they wanted to produce an evangelistic comic book and distribute to teens all over that island nation.

They needed someone to draw it.

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No one emerges from life unscathed

We all carry scars.  Like old lions lying in the sun.  Like old warriors trying to get it together one last time.

No one emerges from this life unscathed.

At age 80-plus I lie in bed in the early morning hours all finished with sleep but knowing it’s still too early to rise, just thinking about things.  My mind travels back to errors I have made along the way, mistakes of all kinds, big and little, consequential and not.  I try not to beat myself up over them, but frequently I offer up a prayer for the one I may have hurt or disappointed or neglected.

I’ve told here how my father in the last few years of his lengthy life (over 95 orbits around the sun!) dredged up something from his 18th year that still bothered him.  His mother had ordered him to leave home and live on his own..  (Grandma had a houseful of children, they were a coal-mining family, the boys were constantly fighting, while Carl–my dad–had been earning his own living for years and she needed some peace.  I suspect I’d have done what she did.)  Nothing we said eased Dad’s mind.  It bothered him that his mother did something so unfair.  Eventually time became his friend and as he eased into the sunset of life (I’m smiling at such an apt but dumb depiction of death!), this ceased to bother him.

When I lie there thinking of the past, my mind does not fixate on failures of others or my mistreatment by them.  I’ve been the recipient of blessings and grace galore.  No complaints here.  (When my Bertha–we will celebrate four years of marriage on January 11–brings my favorite dinner in, I sometimes say, “I must be one of the most deserving people in the world.  Either that, or I am daily showered with grace!”  I know the answer to that one.)

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The perfect way for a pastor to lead a different church

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Imagine this.

You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say.  It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about.  Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.

You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.

So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.

As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find  yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.

Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination?  Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”

And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”

This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.

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The pastor said, “No, we don’t believe the Bible.”

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)  “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

Show us what you do and we can decide for ourselves whether you believe the Bible.

My friend Kristin was commenting on meaningless questions some of our Facebook friends suggested should be put before pastor search committees (our previous article). Most, she said, are useless because they presuppose the answer.

Asking a search committee “Does your church believe the Bible?” is meaningless, because they’re all going to answer in the affirmative, and you’re no better off than had you not asked it.

“Wait a minute,” Kristin said, interrupting herself. “I just remembered a time when my pastor answered that differently.”

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Joe is interviewed by a national magazine. Sort of.

On the final page of a popular magazine–which shall go unnamed–a celebrity is interviewed in each issue.   I thought I’d give it a try and answer the questions myself. (At the end, I added a few more.)  Here goes….

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in the place God put me, doing the work He gave me.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Likewise, the best definition of hell on earth is to be out of His will.

What is your greatest fear?

Just that very thing: being out of his will.  I fear nothing so much as disappointing Him.  That could happen to any of us. None of us is immune to temptation. That keeps me on my knees every day.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

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Strategy for pastoral success: Make a mistake, a big one

In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.

The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.

This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.

This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.

My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:

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