What they may not have told you about pastoring

I hate to see a young pastor get disillusioned by his first experience or two.  But it happens, sad to say.

Those of us who have been in the field throughout all our adult years could wish someone had told us a few things about this work.  So, assuming we are speaking to beginning pastors, here are a few things we’d love to share…

One.  They might not have told you how much fun pastoring can be.   

The redeemed of God are among the greatest people in the world (most of them) and they can enjoy life to the fullest.  As pastor, you sometimes get to be in the thick of the fun.  They love to laugh, to have adventures, and to encourage each other.

As pastor, you get to dream up programs and ideas that will affect your community, touch lives, transform homes, and reach the future–and then put it into effect with a huge corps of sweet-spirited workers as your team.  How cool is that!

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My granddaughter, the waitress, is learning the hard way

“It’s not about you, honey.  Some people will love you more than you deserve, and some will despise you without ever giving you a chance.  You must not take it personally.”  –My advice to my Granddaughter

Erin just turned 21 and earns a living waiting tables at a nice up-scale restaurant in the Mobile area.  The other day, she came home in tears.

The restaurant had been crowded, with long lines of people waiting to get inside.  The kitchen was running behind and diners had to wait an unusually long time for their order.  Erin ran herself ragged all evening.  She specifically thanked people for their patience and apologized for the slow service.  She didn’t have a moment to catch her breath.

This particular table had two young men and a middle-aged guy.  They seemed nice enough.  Since the kitchen was running slow and they had ordered pizzas which had to be made from scratch, requiring at least a 30 minute time frame, several times Erin stopped by to thank them for their kindness and patience and to assure them the pizzas would be out soon.

Then, when they paid their tab, she found out a different side of them.

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Bogged down in minutiae: The occupational hazard of the pastor’s daily existence

“I feel like I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”

“I felt like I was being stoned to death by popcorn.”

Ask any pastor.

The size of his congregation is immaterial, but my observation is it’s the minister of the medium-sized flock who has it hardest.

The pastor of the tiny church has one well-defined set of jobs and the leader of the mega-congregation another entirely.  The first has a few well-defined roles while the latter may have a vast team of helpers so he can put his focus where his gifts are.

It’s the poor pastor in the middle who has little say-so about what he will do today.

The pastor-in-the-middle, that is the shepherd of the church running a 150 up to four or five hundred or more, depending on a thousand things including resources and available helpers, will always have more on his plate than he can get to.

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When to walk out on a sermon

On the morning of Sunday 19 May, 1940, Clementine Churchill returned early from a church service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, having walked out when the preacher delivered a pacifist sermon.  Winston told her, ‘”You ought to have cried, ‘Shame!’, desecrating the House of God with lies!'”   (Darkest Hour, by Anthony McCarten, p. 154)

It was Easter 1968. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, all of us–white and black alike–were hurting and confused, disturbed and concerned.  That Sunday I preached a sermon that addressed racism in America. I was 28 years old and in the first year of pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta.  I’ve long since forgotten the sermon, but will never forget a phone call I received that afternoon.

Mrs. Glenn Powell called. She owned a beauty shop in town which I had quickly learned was gossip central.  Mrs. Powell had made no secret of her unhappiness with my sermons or with me personally.

“Brother McKeever, what will you be preaching tonight?”  I told her.

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Pastor: Start afresh every year

“Now, team, this is a football!”  (Said to have been an opening statement from legendary coach Vince Lombardi after his team’s devastating loss the previous day.)

Coach Dabo Sweeney sits in the catbird seat.  As his team, the Clemson University Tigers, sits atop the latest football poll–making them number one in the nation–they are preparing to face the tough Miami Hurricanes this weekend.  Survive that, as they probably will, and Clemson will be set for the championship playoff, two games to decide the final ranking of the 2017 season.

This morning on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo,” Sweeney was asked how he gets players not long out of high school ready to face these tough challenges.  He said two things worth our consideration:

“I start over every year.”  “I try to get buy-in.”

A college coach trains his leadership just the way he wants them.  Finally, about the time they are functioning at peak level, they graduate.  A new group of freshmen comes in and the coach has to start over.

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The Facebook Syndrome: Alive and well in our churches

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Bertha was in her mid-forties.  She and husband Gary had gone to pastor in central Florida, and the women of their neighborhood had given a welcoming tea for her at a local upscale restaurant.  There were perhaps 20 or 30 in attendance.  It was an impressive event.

Throughout the afternoon, an elderly lady across the table kept staring at Bertha.  Finally, in her quavering voice, the woman said, “My dear.  You are soooo lovely!”

Bertha smiled and thanked her.

A short time afterwards, Bertha was walking home from the tea with one of the women who was a neighbor.  The woman said, “Oh, by the way, the older woman who told you you’re so lovely, she is actually almost blind.  I thought you would want to know.”

Bertha has no memory of how she responded to that.  My own opinion is there is no answer to it.  It’s a show-stopper.

Why, we wonder, did the neighbor feel it important to shoot down the older lady’s compliment?  What kind of mentality prompts one to do such a thing?  Why couldn’t she be content with the pastor’s wife receiving a compliment?  (And a fitting compliment at that.  Bertha is my bride now of nearly 11 months, and people still remark on her loveliness.)

Facebook users see it all the time.

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Perhaps the hardest thing a pastor will ever do

Speak to the current moral dilemma facing the country (or dividing your community) without making matters worse.

That has to be one of the most difficult minefields a pastor ever has to tread.

One misstep and he’s a goner.

Twenty years ago, it was President Clinton’s infidelity that was dividing the country.  In the same decade it was the O. J. Simpson trial.  These days, the issue is sexual harassment (or any of its various manifestations: sexual molestation, intimidation, assault, etc.) by men in positions of power.

A man–always a man–runs for prominent public office and someone stands up and says, “He attacked me.”  Or, molested me.  Touched me inappropriately.  Took advantage of me.  Raped me.

The media flocks to the accuser and stories are written. Sleuths check out her story and some corroborate it while others trot out family members who say she is a chronic liar or family members of the accused to say they’ve never known him to do anything like that.

Then, next step.  Other women step up and say, “He treated me the same way.”

Quickly, the matter becomes page one across the country.  Leading the nightly news.  Fueling talk shows. Dividing everyone on Facebook.  Splitting families.

Defenders are enraged.  Supporters of the accusers are offended by the way their friends have accommodated themselves to the culture and forgotten Jesus’ call to defend the helpless and bless the children.

So, the poor pastor decides this matter must be addressed in next Sunday’s sermon.  What is he to do?

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When the church bully happens to be the pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God;  not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike.  But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him.  He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers.  His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon.  It isn’t.

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10 pet peeves about church from one who loves The Church

By “pet peeve,” we mean only a minor disagreement.  An annoyance. We find certain things irritating, but they are not deal-breakers.  No federal case, no mountains from a molehill.  Okay to disagree.  A personal thing is all.

One.  The pastor rises to begin his sermon, and says to the congregation, “Will you stand in honor of the Word of God?”

It sounds noble.  It is meant to inspire honor for Holy Scripture.

My question is: So, preacher, do you have them jump up every time you quote a verse of Scripture? Then, why do it at the first?  And if you say this practice is scriptural, which it is (Nehemiah 8:5), then why don’t you have them stand up throughout the entire sermon? The Bible says Jesus sat down to preach (Luke 4:20).  And somewhere it says the people stood up while he preached.

What it feels like–to me at least–is the preacher is trying to come across as holier than those who do not ask people to stand for the reading of the Word.  He saw some other preacher do it and thought it was a good idea.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, only that it’s unnecessary and may be motivated by less-than-noble motives.  But it’s not a deal-breaker. Do it if you feel strongly about it.  (Ask them to stand every time you quote a verse, however, and this will go south quickly! Smile, please.)

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Pastors and churches working together? Unheard of!

Need a text for this?  See below. We have several.

I hope the idea catches on.

This week I returned from Hearne, Texas, and a revival involving two churches some 5 miles apart.  Bethany Baptist, pastored by Randy Aly, and Elliott Baptist, Dale Wells pastor, are located several miles outside Hearne, population 4500.

This was their first attempt to join together in a revival, and my first as well.  Randy says he awakened one morning with it on his mind, and felt it was from God.  He called Dale and shared the thought.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We started on a Sunday morning in Elliott and ended  the following Sunday morning in Bethany.  During the week we had noon and nightly services in the same church, on alternating days.  A trailer with a sign reading “Revival here tonight.” was pulled back and forth between the churches.

Interestingly,  Tuesday night being Halloween, the Elliott church hosted “Trunk or Treat” instead of a service.  (A downpour limited the turnout, but a lot of people braved the elements for their kids’ sake. I sketched nonstop all evening.)  Then, Friday night being “football night in Texas,” we had no service.  But on Saturday, we picked back up with noon and night services.

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