Courage greatly needed–in the pulpit and in the pews

“The Lord is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6.  See also Hebrews 13:5-6)

I read that scripture–especially the Hebrews 13:5-6 incarnation–and smile.  Asking “what can man do to me?” is kind of like asking for it, isn’t it? Daring them to “bring it on.”  The answer of course is that man can do a great deal to you.  But the bottom line–and the point of the scripture–is that ultimately, with God being “for me,” it does not matter.

Nothing matters so much as our being one with the heavenly Father.

Can we talk about courage?  This is as rare as plutonium these days, particularly among the very people who should demonstrate it most readily, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Only two people in the church need courage: the one in the pulpit and the one in the pew.

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Some things, pastor, you do not want to know

“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).

Pastor, you do not want to know why that committee turned you down for that position you wanted so badly.

I’m rereading my daily journals for the decade of the 1990s.  Much of it I’d long since forgotten, so in many respects, it’s fun.  One thing struck me, however, about the year 1992.

I was looking for a way out of this church!

By “this church” I mean the one where I remained as pastor for nearly 14 years and to which I still belong.  It had come through a crisis 18 months before I arrived that almost resulted in its self-destruction.  The Lord sent me to half a congregation, millions of dollars in debt, a sanctuary that had had major problems from the beginning and needed considerable work, and a dysfunctional leadership team made up of some of the greatest souls in the kingdom as well as some of the strangest birds ever.

We were hurting financially and it appeared to be getting worse.  My wife and I were living in rented quarters and were cutting into the small savings we kept from selling our house in North Carolina.

Some of the leaders were unhappy with us from the first and looked for ways to undercut everything we tried.

Nothing about this was fun.

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How to get more from a sermon

“And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead” (Acts 20:9). 

Principle number one: Stay awake.

Okay, that’s all I have to say about Eutychus.  But we can use him as a poster child for people who get very little or nothing from a sermon, agreed?

If you live a long time and go to church regularly, you will hear thousands of sermons.  It seems therefore that at least one message should be devoted to the subject of how to get the most out of them.

Let’s let this be the one.

Tagamet and Pepcid A/C, Prilosec and Omeprazole, are popular acid blockers.  Take one before eating a pizza or other spicy foods in order to avoid heartburn.  The pills shut down the flow of stomach acid.  This is all right once in a while, yet it’s not recommended regularly for the simple reason that the digestive system counts on bile (stomach acid) to help in the digestion.  A few years back, doctors put me on a seven-day regimen of pills designed to destroy the H. Pylori bacteria in my stomach.  Two of the pills were antibiotics and the other shut off the flow of acid into my digestive system.  For one solid week, in order to heal my system, I was not getting full value from my food.

Let’s talk about people who do not get full value from the sermons they hear.

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“I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulation)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)

A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom.  In today’s Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer has scaled the mountain. He says to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”

The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”  Hagar says, “Lend me money.”

Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days.  The other day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

Our connection was difficult, so I suggested he use email.  Within the hour, there was his message.  He wanted me to know what good work he was doing for the Lord and how difficult it was.  I responded in a typical way, thanking him and saying I was praying Heaven’s blessings upon his work.  (And yes, I stopped at that moment and prayed.)

He didn’t waste any time. His next email hit me up for money.

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What to do about pastors who ride the church into the ground

Recently in this blog, we said pastors should be terminated abruptly if they are guilty of flagrant indecency, proven immorality, confirmed illegality, and serious heresy.

Several friends wrote to ask about pastors who are not guilty of those serious breaches, but are simply deadbeat preachers.

One said of her pastor, “He’s not guilty of any cardinal sins, but he simply stands by collecting a paycheck when the congregation has dwindled down from 250 to 50. All the programs and ministries are no longer functioning. Many changes were forced upon the people, changes they did not want.”

Her pastor receives a hefty salary while watching the church die around him and doing nothing about it.

She added, “When asked about all the people who were leaving–three-fourths of the church!–he says, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to be.’  And these are people who have worshiped there forty and fifty years.”

She wanted to know what I had to say about that situation.

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No one should value integrity and honesty more than a preacher. You would think.

I knew Lawrence well and spent a lot of time with him.  He pastored some sizeable churches and was often in demand as a guest speaker.

I must have heard him give his testimony a dozen times or more.

Lawrence did not come from a Christian family.  He was around 10 years old when his family moved into that neighborhood in some east Texas town.  As the family was still unloading the truck and setting things up, a man knocked at the door.

Introducing himself as a deacon in the local Baptist church, the man told Lawrence’s mother that he taught a Sunday School class of boys. “Did I see a tow-headed boy running around here somewhere?”

“That would be Lawrence,” she said as she called for him.  “This man wants you to go to Sunday School with him.”

As the deacon extended his invitation, Lawrence listened and nodded. He would say later, “I had already learned the way to deal with church people was to agree with them.”

He had no intention of going to that or anybody else’s Sunday School class.

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Another pastor was terminated this week.

(I hope you will read all the way through to the comments at the end, and a couple of add-on notes we felt were necessary to add.–Joe)

The preacher friend sent me a note to say that the virus had spread to his church too.  He’ll soon be moving back to his home state and trying to start over.

I asked for a favor. “Sometimes when you feel up to it, write me about what happened to you. What did the committee say, what were their reasons?  What did you do and what do you wish you had done?”

I  hate this.

It’s like divorce.  Nothing about it is good. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils and you do it for your own survival but it’s still awful.

But a divorce is a defeat.  A divorce sends a message to the world, the kind of message we don’t want to be sending.

When churches elect to terminate a pastor forcibly, they’d better have some good reasons, is all I can say.

From all I know of Scripture, the Lord does not take kindly to those who mess with His messengers and those who tamper with the unity of His body. Both issues are on the table when a church decides to oust a pastor.

Technically, I suppose, my friend was not fired. But the little group of members brought considerable pressure for him to resign. “If we take it to the church and the congregation terminates you, there won’t be any severance.”

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Periodic accountability calls: a necessary part of the church ministry

“And they came to Capernaum, and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33)

“Thanks for dropping by, Darren. Hope you’re having a good day.”

“Darren, I want to ask you a couple of things. When we get through, you can say anything to me you’d like and tell me what I can do to help you in your ministry.”

“First, Darren.  Tell me about the announcement you made from the pulpit Sunday morning.  When you told the church about the youth mission trip you’ll be leading this summer.  That was the first I’d heard of it.”

Uh oh.  Darren has committed a serious breach.  He has run ahead of his leadership and has put the pastor in a tough spot.  The youth are all excited over the upcoming trip Darren has told them about.  If the pastor stops it in its tracks, he’s the ogre. If he gives his okay to something not even discussed in staff meeting, he’s setting a terrible precedent for the rest of the ministers.

The pastor is calling Darren on the carpet, although in a gentle way.  But don’t be fooled by his graciousness. Darren is in trouble and he knows it if he’s smart.

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If you would bear His reproach, first 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, the call of God, the blood of Jesus, or the direness of their situation–compliment the preacher on his coolness, and he can be in danger quick.

Woe to the minister who loves such a compliment.

The moment he takes that to heart, he begins ordering his life by the coolness factor.  If he preaches a certain doctrine, his friends will not appreciate it, so he conveniently finds other topics, perhaps without even realizing what he is doing. If he speaks up for a particular value, they will find him suddenly uncool, so he mutes his radicalness. He wears his hair and arranges his clothing and selects his speech in accordance with what will make him appear cool.

It’s a seduction.

Such is the way of the insecure preacher, one loving the approval of the world rather than seeking to please the Lord Jesus Himself.

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You’re doing a funeral, pastor. Offer comfort.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

First, let’s make the point that nowhere does Scripture say preachers have to preach funerals.  In fact, there’s not a word in the Bible about the necessity to even have funerals.

But there is a great deal about comforting the grieving and hurting.

We who are called into the ministry must not claim this funeral prerogative as our divine right.  If we are invited to “preach a funeral,” someone wants the comfort we are able to give because of Jesus Christ.

Don’t miss that.

And try not to abuse the privilege.

Most preachers get this right. They know a funeral is the saddest time for a family and that they are there to do one thing: to bring the comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again, most pastors seem to get this right.

However….

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