Does it matter how the preacher dresses?

(I posted a paragraph on Facebook calling for pastors to dress “to inspire confidence”–and not look like they’d been out hitchhiking all night. It’s important to note that I did not say he should wear the uniform of the previous generation–a coat and tie–but merely to “dress one step in front of most of the men in the church,” whatever that means.  Twenty-four hours later, we had 245 comments. Clearly, people have strong feelings about this.)

“If I see you standing at the pulpit wearing a suit and a tie, I’m out of there.”

I smiled at that.  The fellow who said it is so dead-set on making sure the church does not put too much emphasis on appearance that he…well, puts too much emphasis on appearance.

As I write, the television set in this motel room is running the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses.  At some point I noticed something about the men candidates for nomination for president.

All were wearing suits and white shirts and ties.

Why?

Watch any newscast. The anchormen are wearing suits and ties.

How come?

This cannot be accidental.  It cannot be because they are stuck in a rut.  Nor can it be because they are trying to flaunt their wealth or impress the world.

These people never do anything–repeat, never do anything!–without good cause.

So, why do the candidates and the anchor people dress up when they go to work?

We will pause here while you consider your answer.

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Note to pastors: Your audience is always changing.

Al Maury pulled the old beat-up Volkswagen bus into the bank parking lot on Decatur Street and killed the engine.  As the six seminary students bailed out, he opened the rear door and took out a microphone-on-a-stand and flipped a switch, turning on the transmitter.  “McKeever, you’re preaching tonight!”

Oh my.  A baptism by fire. Thrown into the deep water without a life preserver.

We were preaching on the streets of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter.

The very thought struck terror into my heart. And yet, I had volunteered for it.

The year was 1964 and I was a new student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  All first-year students were required to participate in one “field mission” ministry.  Each Tuesday, the student body gathered in Frost Chapel for a report and testimony time.  Choices for these ministries included helping start-up churches, hospital and nursing home ministry, the New Orleans Seamen’s Service, neighborhood mission centers, after-school tutoring, and such. Determined to rise above my fears of cold-turkey witnessing, I had chosen the scariest thing on the list.

Street preaching.

Yikes.

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My “Super Bowl” sermon 20 years ago

(My journal for January 1996 records this message as the one I preached on Super Bowl Sunday, January 28.  After reading these notes, you may be interested in the post scripts.  Every pastor will understand the final one…and will shake his head in amazement at the littleness of some people in church…in every church, let us emphasize.)

Title:  THE GOSPEL FOR SPORTS-AHOLICS

Text: Hebrews 12:1-2  “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, national day of worship for a country crazy about sports. I’m a sports fan too, altho’ a bigger baseball fan than anything else.  For one thing, you can carry on a nice conversation with your neighbor and they don’t have cheerleaders and there is very little rowdiness.

Margaret and I have been amazed to see that the second word our grandson (Grant) learned was ‘ball.’ I’ve said to his mother Julie that if he grows up to be involved in all kinds of sports, don’t be surprised, that apparently he came to us that way.

It will interest you to know that much of the world has always been sports-crazy. We know about the Olympic Games–which were started in 776 B.C.! The rest, as they say, is history.

The Apostle Paul knew about sports and apparently loved them as most men do.  Tonight we will look at I Corinthians 9 where he talks about sports as illustrating some spiritual points.

Here in Hebrews 12:1-2, a great sporting event is going on.  This one is the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls. And you and I are playing in it.  I want you to see 5 things….

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“I wasn’t lying exactly, just misrepresenting the facts.”

“Do not lie to one another, seeing you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).

The current issue of Vanity Fair magazine (February 2016) carries a story to keep you thinking for a week or two. You read it and think, “What? How could this happen?”

One of the producers of Meredith Viera’s NBC program fell in love with the famous heart-transplant surgeon on whom they were doing a feature.  Paolo Macchiarini was amazingly accomplished, stunningly successful, and fabulously rich.  He was handsome, suave, and a charmer.

The producer, Benita Alexander, on her second marriage at the time, promptly forgot her altar vows and fell head over heels for this surgeon, who wined her and dined her. Soon, they were flying all over the world, living a life of luxury, and making plans for a wedding of their own.

Meredith Viera said about the surgeon, “He’s the doctor who does the seemingly impossible, going where no other has yet dared.”  The New York Times had done a front page feature on the man.  He was clearly somebody.

So you’ll know, the narrator talks about the conflict of a producer having a relationship with the subject of their feature, but I’ll leave that for other people. There was something else about the story more fascinating.

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You’re a pastor and you’ve found the work tough? No sympathy here, friend.

It’s supposed to be tough.

Why do you think God has to call people into this work? If it were easy, they’d be lining up to volunteer.

The Christian life is tough to start with. “In this world you will have tribulations,” our Lord said. Then, He added, “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Then, the Lord calls certain ones of the redeemed to stand apart from the flock and to become “point men.”  His undershepherds.  Overseers of the flock.  Examples to the rest.  And frequently, His spokesmen.

Targets. In the crosshairs of the enemy.

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Pastor, you are in charge. So, take charge.

Now, nothing which follows should be interpreted to encourage pastors to become bullies or know-it-alls.  Scripture teaches servant-leadership, as exemplified by the Lord Jesus in John 13.  However, our burden here is those pastors who are passive and hesitant to take a strong stand with their people, church leaders, and their staff.

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you,  serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly; not for dishonest gain but eagerly; not as being lords over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock…” (I Peter 5:2-3)

You are responsible to the Lord for the flock, pastor. Numerous scriptures make that plain.

Some will not like that.

Some will accuse you of being heavy-handed.

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What every pastor’s wife–and one in particular–wishes to say to the deacons

Every pastor’s wife I know would like to say to the good and faithful deacons:

“Thank you.”

“Thank you for loving the Lord, for loving this church, and for loving your pastor and his family.”

“Thank you for praying for us, for being in your place of service on Sunday, and for taking care of the members during the week.”

“Thank you for your servant heart and for not seeing yourself as my husband’s boss, only as his support and helper.”

“We are richer and the work is better because you are faithful.”

Sadly, all spouses of pastors cannot say that. But they wish they could

When the wife of a pastor friend suggested an article on “What preachers’ wives would like to say to the deacons,” I said, “Write me what you would tell them,” and I’ll see what I can do.

Here it is–her list, completely untouched, just as it arrived a few minutes ago.

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Five things effective pastors should never do

(The article starts off serious and goes downhill from there. Rather than a complete revamping it to make it one thing or the other, I decided to leave it the way it is.  So, halfway through you’ll want to take out your sense of whimsy and make sure it’s in good working order.)

Don’t ever resign your church in a fit of passion. In a rush of anger.

Do that and you’ll inflict great harm on the church and ruin all the good will you have accumulated by years of faithful service.

That’s a huge no-no for preachers.

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Perhaps the first lesson: “Lose the perfectionism.”

“Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The goal is perfection.  Of course.

However, you will not attain it in this life.

That does not change the goal. It just means we keep trying, keep aiming high, and never stop getting up from our failures and trying again.

What we have here is a paradox: The goal is and always will be perfection, but we are not to be perfectionists.

We are sinners. Flawed humans of whom it is said, “There is none righteous, no not one.”

That’s the reality.  We fall short.

The goal is heaven. But we are earthlings.

But we are going to heaven. We will see Him. We will be like Him. And we will finally be perfect.

That’s Scriptural. It’s the reality.

But in the meantime, we’re here.

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The best way to conclude a sermon

Everyone has opinions about sermons.  Those of us who deliver them are always looking for the most effective way to get one across.  The great majority of people–those who have to listen to them!–have opinions also.  Most say they want the conclusion as close to the introduction as possible, but I suspect that’s mostly a tease.  Surely anyone who bothers to get dressed and drive to church and sit through a worship service wants the sermon to be worthwhile and to do its “perfect work.”  So, we all have interests in this.

Most preachers spend far more time on the introduction than on the conclusion, and I think that’s a mistake.

Would a sales person spend all his time planning a pitch for the product without a thought as to getting the customer’s name on the dotted line?  That signature is the whole point.

The response to the sermon is the point of the message.

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