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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When the pastor finds an opportunity too enticing, a temptation too overwhelming

“Enjoy your glory and stay at home” (2 Kings 14:10).

In 1994, Joel Gregory wrote a book about his short-tenure as pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church.  He gave it the ominous title: “Too Great a Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church.”

The title will make sense to many pastors reading this as it surely does to me.  When that mega-church came calling, begging Joel to become their pastor and follow the likes of W. A. Criswell and George W. Truett, there was no way he could turn them down.

He could have, of course. But he just couldn’t.  That’s because the temptation was too great.

I came close to taking the pastorate of a great church about 10 years earlier than Joel, one that would have ended just as disastrously for me.  As it turned out, the former pastor had two spies on the search committee, men who reported every action and every interview, and he was the one who vetoed me.  When I get to Heaven, I intend to seek him out and thank him.

Assuming he’s there.

My story of “too great a temptation,” however, is not about a church that came calling but a denominational opportunity that opened up and I could not resist.

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Staying on time and up to date

“Felix became frightened and said (to Paul), ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).

What are you putting off which you should have done today?

It happened to me again tonight.

A Facebook friend texted asking for a drawing of him for use in his ministry of speaking and entertaining.  I said I’d give it a try.

A half-hour later, he had the drawing in hand, both in black and white and in color.

Two things come into play here.  One, he caught me when I was not busy, and two, I hate to agree to do something and then have it weigh on my mind.  Let’s get it done.

When I was pastoring, I hated to have something on my mind that I needed to do–a visit to make, an article to write, studying to do, a staff project to get underway–and kept pushing onto the back burner.

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7 things newly retired preachers need to do.

(Do not miss the post script at the end.)

Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.

Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”

But they’re dead wrong.

Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”

There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.

Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card.  These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.

However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.”  (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)

At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.

We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.

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The easiest texts are often the hardest to preach

“Be ye kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).

For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons.  Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:

John 3:16.  The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness (see above).

That’s why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts.  They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and light on them.

Perhaps it’s easier to get their minds around such, I don’t know.  One of my first sermons was suggested by “a house in a cucumber patch,” from Isaiah 1:8.  That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines.  Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.

Why didn’t I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection?  Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge and I felt so small.

I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.

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Preacher: You’re a speaker on a full program. Find out whom you are following.

Among the recent tributes to the late comic genius Robin Williams was a story he told about the time he preceded Bob Hope on the Johnny Carson show.

For reasons unknown, Hope was late arriving. Instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine.  People were beside themselves with laughter.

Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.

Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”

As Bob Hope was introduced and settled into the chair to the right of Carson, Johnny said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?”  Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”

No one in his right mind would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.

Sometimes preachers find themselves on the agenda in a meeting where multiple speakers are doing their thing.  Woe to the one who has to follow the most popular preacher in the land.

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The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

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The two times the pastor is most vulnerable

“Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).

We’re all vulnerable.  Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (I Corinthians 10:12).  The brother who gave us that reminder was himself constantly being knocked down, but getting back up.  If anyone knew the subject of vulnerability, Paul did (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

After telling young Pastor Timothy of a coming time when people would not stand for sound doctrine and strong preaching, but would “turn away their ears from the truth and will prefer myths,” Paul said, “But as for you, be sober in all things (that is, clear-thinking), endure hardship (expect it, and plan to get through it), do the work of an evangelist (keep telling Heaven’s good news), and fulfill your ministry (do not let any critic pull you off course).”  (With my interjections, that’s 2 Timothy 4:5).

I find it amazing and truly heart-warming how such reminders to a minister twenty centuries ago fit us so perfectly today.  That’s one more reason, out of ten thousand, why you and I live in this Word. There is nothing like it anywhere.

Now, returning to our subject of the minister’s vulnerability….

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Why preachers bang their heads against the wall and some counselors quit

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.  Our New Orleans Advocate runs it a day or two later.

Ten years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

He did none of the things Ms. Singletary had suggested.

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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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