10 signs you’ve been at that church too long

This is about one thing: How to tell when the pastor or church staff member or the chairman of a committee or a church officer has overstayed his/her welcome.

There are always clues, if you look for them.

One church I pastored had a vivid illustration of what happens when a member holds a position so long they begin to “own” it. Behind the sanctuary, on the same block, sat the synagogue, a lovely brick building that serves the scattered Jewish congregation in monthly services.  Across the street from the synagogue sat the funeral home, owned by one of our church’s deacons. One day that deacon told me, “Preacher, we could have bought the land the synagogue is sitting on for a pittance 40 years ago.”

He said, “When the house that used to sit on that property came up for sale, the people wanted $30,000 for it. I was willing to raise the money and buy it. I knew we would be needing that property in the future.”

“The trouble was that old Mr. McDougal,  the church treasurer who had held that job for decades, vetoed it. He said that was just too much money for that piece of land and we would not pay it.”

The treasurer vetoed the purchase.

Continue reading

Cheap Shots: Don’t do it, pastor!

A cheap shot in sports is when you catch your opponent off guard and give him an illegal hit that hurts him badly. The referee usually flags you for it and the crowd boos. Even your own fans are embarrassed that you would stoop to such.

To our shame, preachers do it all the time.

Not all preachers, but some of us make a practice of finding a weak spot in our targeted sinner, one undefended, in his most vulnerable area, and letting him have it.

It was Super Bowl Sunday, a couple of years back….

A friend on Facebook messaged me privately about his intended sermon. He was going to let the congregation have it that day about their addiction to sports, football in particular. He was upset and planned to preach about this modern-day form of idolatry.

He asked for my thoughts about his intentions.

I did not accuse him of hitting below the belt–the very essence of a cheap shot, from the boxing world–but I could have. (You could say I avoided a cheap shot myself by not doing that.) Instead, I suggested an alternative approach.

Continue reading

Your sermon’s skeletal system: Putting meat on those bones

 

Warren Wiersbe called the sermon outline the “recipe” for the message. If you have that and nothing more, he said, you do not have a meal for your people; you have a recipe for them. Still much to do before they can be fed.

I like to think of the outline as the skeleton. It will need fleshing out, and then, most importantly of all, it needs the breath of life breathed into it.

 

No preacher should make the mistake of thinking the first part–the fleshing out of the message–can be done on our own while the second part–giving it life–is God’s business. It’s all about His presence and power and equally about our faithfulness.

An influential pastor, writing in the most recent issue of a popular preaching magazine, shares some great insights regarding the sermon outline which I’d like to pass along and comment on. (For good reason I’m not naming him or the magazine. We should not get hung up on whether we agree or disagree with a pastor on everything in order to learn from him.)

Continue reading

To a friend going into denominational work

In a sense, I could be writing this to myself some 15 years ago as I transitioned from pastoring (for 42 years!) into the office of the Director of Missions for the SBC churches of Metro New Orleans.  These days, it applies to friends such as Louisiana’s Dr. Steve Horn, who left the pastorate of FBC Lafayette to become Executive of that state’s SBC churches or Dr. Shawn Parker, who left FBC Columbus MS for the Executive office in Mississippi. 

You’ve been pastoring churches all your adult life.  And now the Lord–with the assistance of an executive search committee–is moving you out of the pastorate into a denominational office where your constituency will be churches and pastors instead of deacons and Sunday School teachers and the WMU.

I have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.  And maybe a scar or two.

Eighteen months into my five-year tenure with the New Orleans Baptist Association, Hurricane Katrina flooded our city, ruining  vast neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents while destroying many of our churches.  Every day was a challenge. The blessings came in waves, the frustrations never left.

I came by these grey hairs honestly.

Ideally, in your new position you will have just enough difficulties to challenge your strengths without crushing you, and enough encouragement and prayer support to compensate for your weaknesses without making you self-satisfied or complacent.

Continue reading

Secrets pastors don’t want you to know

A deacon told me he and his wife witnessed a fist fight their first Sunday at our church.  The story comes at the end of this.

Now, perhaps a better title of this should be “Secrets some  pastors perhaps don’t want you to know.”

It goes like this…

Let’s suppose  you are considering joining Clearview Springs Church.  The ministers and leadership are glad to welcome you.  Your presence can fill a pew, your offerings can fund the work, and your efforts can enhance the ministries.  So, yes, they want you.  And that’s why the pastor might keep certain things from you, at least when you are visiting.

Some things the pastor would rather you not know; some he doesn’t want anyone to know, period.

Continue reading

How pastors can keep from falling into sin. (The rest of us too!)

….considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Galatians 6:1

A young pastor was shot to death by the cops in a drug crackdown. From all reports, he was not buying or selling the stuff. So how did he get involved and how in the world did it lead to his death?

Everyone wonders; every pastor needs to know, and we all need to learn from this guy’s mistakes.

Undercover cops had been monitoring the behavior of a few suspicious characters who were dealing dope in that neighborhood. When they spotted a young man with a woman in his car, recognizing her as a druggie, they approached the car with guns drawn. Now, bear in mind, these law enforcement officers were not wearing uniforms. Undercover cops often look like the very criminals they are shadowing. So, in a panic, the car speeds away and almost hits one of the narcs. The law enforcers interpret that as assault with a deadly weapon, we are told. In a sense, it’s like handing them a license to kill. So, they did. They shot the young man who turned out to be a pastor. He died in the hospital later.

No drugs were found with the man of God or in his system. The woman in his car tested positive.

Continue reading

You’re not really the boss until you fire someone. True or not?

On Blue Bloods, the popular CBS series about law enforcement in New York City, a co-worker tells Erin Reagan, Assistant DA, “You’re not really the boss until you fire someone.”

So she did.

The show didn’t say whether she enhanced her position with the team by that act. It’s only a one-hour program and they have multiple storylines.

I’ve wondered about that ever since, whether it’s true that  one is not really the boss until someone is canned.

I think the idea is something like this:  The new boss notices an employee who is shirking his/her duties.  The other employees watch to see how the boss deals with it.  If the boss lets it ride and does nothing, the message goes forth that quality work does not matter, that you can get by with less than your best.  But, if the boss deals promptly with the unfaithful employee, co-workers see that he expects excellence and will deal with ineptitude.  And that’s a good message to convey.

Over six pastorates and one five-year stint in denominational work, I’ve hired a lot of people. And fired several.  But firing them did not make me the boss.  I was already that.

Continue reading

How the large church can help the small church, whether it wants help or not

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  — Romans 15:1  (Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. –From The Message, a paraphrase)

I wrote on Facebook something like this:

Sometimes one of our churches is bigger than all the others in their town or county combined.  When that happens, the church leadership has to make a decision.  One, they can say, “We don’t need you small churches.  We’re number one.”  Or, two, they can turn around and help the smaller churches.  One of these choices is Christlike and the other carnal.

The comments came in, in a predictable manner, opting for the obvious second choice.  Someone said, ” Yes, but sometimes the small churches do not want your help and resist any attempt to encourage them.”  True enough.

So, the question is what to do when a large church is willing to assist and encourage the smaller churches but are rebuffed in the attempt? Are there ways for them to show Christlike care and compassion even when the smaller churches are not receptive?

Continue reading

The one trait great pastors and coaches have in common

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil. –Job 1:1

Job, you have instructed many.  You have strengthened weak hands; your words have upheld him who was stumbling; and you have strengthened the feeble knees.  –Job 4:3-4

Authenticity: Job had it.

It’s my observation that in sports the best coaches and in church the most effective pastors are all authentic.

They are the real deal.

They don’t try to be someone else.  While they have surely picked up traits and lessons and insights from others, they do not do their imitation of other people.  They are themselves.

The word–I love finding the root meaning of words–comes from autos, meaning “self,” and hentes, Greek for worker, doer, author.  So, we might say “authentic” means “coming from the author” or “genuine.”

The Bible is authentic.  It comes from the Original Author (of all things!).

What started me thinking about this was a sports discussion on the radio one morning recently.  A former UCLA coach made the observation after the LSU-Alabama slugfest back in November, that both coaches, Nick Saban and Ed Orgeron, are authentic.  They are originals, copying no one, imitating no one, just being who they are.

Continue reading

Five questions every preacher should stop and ask

It’s good to stop and look around sometimes and ask ourselves some questions.  We can think of a hundred such questions to ask ourselves: Where are you going? How did you get here?  Are you doing what the Lord intended when He sent you here?  Can you do it better?  How can you do it better?  Are you preaching grace, the cross of Jesus, forgiveness and love or something harsh and unyielding?  How would someone who had never heard of Jesus react to your message?

On and on. There is no end to the questions.  But I am not suggesting that we burden ourselves with a constant barrage of self-doubt. Only that once in a while, we should stop and take inventory.

Here are five questions that occur to me for every minister to ask ourselves…

Continue reading