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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Five more words to those new in the ministry

(Recently, we wrote an earlier article for “those just starting out in ministry” in which we made some suggestions on matters they should learn, skills they should have, and such.  Here is that article http://joemckeever.com/wp/5-starting-ministry/ for which this one is the companion.)

I began pastoring churches when John F. Kennedy was president.  That was a long time ago.  Then, 42 years later I moved from pastoring to become associational director of missions. After five years in that (DOM) work, I’m now in my 6th year of retirement, mostly an itinerant ministry, speaking in scores of churches every year.

I love preaching and serving churches, encouraging ministers and counseling church leaders.  It’s the greatest work in the world.

Do I wish I’d done some things differently at the start? You bet. And, I imagine most ministers feel that way for reasons unique to themselves. Here are a few of my “wishes” that come to mind, for whatever it’s worth to you who are at the front end of your call into the Lord’s service….

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20 questions a pastoral candidate should ask a search committee

After the committee has grilled the pastoral candidate and the tables are turned, what information should he want from them?

Pastors toss me this issue regularly.  Somewhere in the archives of our website, I’m sure we’ve dealt with this subject.  However, with over 2,000 articles and no index of these things, I suggest that they google “McKeever + (subject),” and see what comes up. Usually, if I’ve written on the subject, it’ll show up in the results.

That said, perhaps it’s time to say a few more things about this.

Here’s the situation.  You, the pastoral candidate, are sitting in a room with a committee of anywhere from 6 to 20 people. They have spent the evening tossing questions, real and theoretical, at you.  You are drained and everyone is ready for the evening to end.

But not yet.  Finally, the chair says, “And pastor, is there anything you would like to ask us?”

You bring out your list.

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Today’s headline: Teachers are arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student

“Now Eli was very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (I Samuel 2:22).

(From time to time on this website, we post warnings to ministers about the dangers of sexual transgressions and urge great care in relationships with everyone, male or female. Invariably, some people reply that the fault belongs completely with the lecherous ministers, or they wonder why I’m always blaming the women.  Nevertheless, the news today reminds us to keep trying to get this across. The battle is never-ending.)

There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately.

In a high school not far from where I live, two women teachers–both of them gorgeous and young, by the front-page photos–were arrested yesterday for inviting a 16-year-old male student to an apartment and having three-way sex with him.  Both women are English teachers, and one is exactly twice the age of the student.

The fall-out from this tragic event is enormous.  Lives are disrupted, the school is in turmoil, and families are torn up.

We have laws against this for good reason.

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Answering questions no one is asking; curing illnesses no one has

The first thing a salesperson seeks to do, whether standing at your front door or staring out of your television screen, is to convince you that you are in trouble without this product.

The opening lines of all those fund-raising letters we receive through the mail are phrased to alarm us. Something is bad wrong and here is the solution and you should do something about it. The recommended solution is to buy this product, subscribe to this service, or hire this attorney. Or, of course, send your money!

Sound familiar?

The September 22, 2014, issue of TIME features on its cover an arm with a computer display giving the number of calories consumed that day, one’s pulse,  conversations since climbing out of bed, and even how many steps the individual has taken.  And that’s just for starters.

The issue celebrates (and worries about) the new “Apple Watch,” the latest thing from those people who gave us the smartphone in my pocket at this moment.  This latest high-tech doodad hits the stores early in 2015 and will be all the rage, no doubt.

The text beside the cover picture reads: “Never Offline.  The Apple Watch is just the start. How wearable tech will change your life–like it or not.”

One paragraph in particular has stayed with me ever since reading the issue.

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How to repair a church in mid-flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

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Show us how it’s done, church leader!

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

In attempting something I’ve never seen done, I need to look over the shoulder of someone doing it.  I don’t learn how to do hard things just by reading plans.

The Air Force has instructor pilots.  They sit beside the student in the cockpit, showing how it’s done, then giving hands-on instruction when the pupil takes the stick.

The educational system has interns who sit in the classrooms of veterans and learn from them. Other occupations have apprentices, associates, and trainees.

Show me.

A word to the pastors and other church leaders among us:  Show us how it’s done. Be Exhibit A.

Give the young believers coming after you a pattern to follow, for some look in vain for instances of believers living what they are hearing.  Give the old crusty veterans a close example of one living out the Christ-life, for some have given up hope of ever seeing that.

Do you want us to go door to door, sharing the gospel or inviting neighbors to a church event?  Then, the week before, you get out there and knock on a hundred doors.  In doing so, not only will you be able to help your people later when instructing them, but it will free up your spirit more than ten hours of prayer.  Honestly. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.

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Misrepresenting things

“Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him….” (Colossians 3:9-10).

I hate to admit this, but it needs to be done.

Preachers sometimes misrepresent themselves. 

Some claim to have degrees that sound authentic but were bought on the sly somewhere because they know that laypeople in our churches are unsophisticated about that sort of thing but are impressed by high-sounding degrees. Some claim to have been places they merely flew over, to know people they shook hands with, and to be more than they are.  Some give the appearance that they know the original languages when they are merely quoting something they picked up in a book.

There is no substitute for integrity in those called to preach the Word and lead the Lord’s flock.

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Venturing into Boringland: How preachers can steer clear of the dreaded dead zone.

“Then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” (Luke 10:25)

Holly, a 7-year-old in a church I pastored, once turned to her mother in the middle of my sermon and said, “Mother, why does Doctor Joe think we need this information?”

Every preacher should have such a child listening to every sermon and giving such feedback.

What boring preaching does–universally, no exceptions–is answer questions no one is asking.

It may do more things than this–dead oratory violates a thousand sound principles–but put it down in huge letters, pastor: the sermon which is sedating your congregation is seen as completely irrelevant to them.

Whether it is or not is another matter.

My job as the pastor may mean making my audience see that this subject is one they should be dealing with and asking questions about.

On a typical airline flight, passengers ignore the instructions of the attendant as she talks about the use of the seat cushion as flotation device or how to inflate the life vests. However, if, at 30,000 feet the pilot announces the loss of an engine and the attendant begins to give instructions, she will have the clear and undivided attention of her audience.

One reason I suggest previewing the sermon with one’s spouse and children is that invariably one among them can be counted on to ask, “What is your point?”  “What is this about?”  Or, as Holly put it, “Why do we need to know this?”

In Scripture, we are left with the impression that Jesus’ best preaching was done on the spur of the moment as a result of questions.

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The wimp in me hates to be criticized.

“Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite?  Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him” (2 Samuel 16:11).

There’s something about us preachers that loves compliments and runs from criticism.

We preachers can be the biggest wimps on the planet.

Maybe it’s that way with everyone, I don’t know.

Let a preacher receive an anonymous note outlining what he’s doing wrong or a phone call dissecting last Sunday’s sermon and he is done for the week. He will be needing the attention of a good therapist.

We could learn a lot from politicians and others in the public arena. I’ve read that President Eisenhower enjoyed something like a 65 percent approval rating all eight years of his presidency, the highest of anyone since.  This means 35 percent of the America public thought he was a failure.  And yet, he is lauded as a winner.

Let 35 percent of the typical church give their preacher a vote of no-confidence and he’s enduring sleepless nights, unable to focus on anything, and scheduling himself for career counseling at his denominational headquarters.

All of this was prompted by two things.

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