The brethren brought (Saul) down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (his home town). Acts 9:30.
So, the great soon-to-be Apostle Pau, but presently still Saul of Tarsus, went home and made tents. Perhaps he moved back into his old room. We can hear his parents saying, “For this we sacrificed for him to attend the rabbinic school in Jerusalem? Why isn’t he working?”
Saul was waiting on the call from the Lord. Hadn’t the Father called him? Hadn’t he prepared himself? Wasn’t he effective in preaching? So, what’s going on here?
Saul had no idea what the Lord was up to. Later, he would write a lesson learned by hard experience: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Is this normal?”
As a guest preacher, I can clear my mind before rising to preach and start fresh. This is the high point of my week, and in most cases nothing has happened to cloud my focus or burden my spirit. I am going to give this my best.
Pastors of congregations, however, are often in an entirely different situation.
As a pastor enters the sanctuary to begin the worship service and preach the sermon which has weighed heavily on his mind and heart all week, this is not the only thing on his mind. Things happened at his home earlier this morning, in the car driving to church, and during Sunday School. Then, someone stopped by his office with a complaint or a problem, a staff member did something poorly (or wrong) in the early part of the worship service, and several musicians are absent today. A family is not sitting where they normally do, we have several new people–that’s good; sure hope they like us!–and a light bulb is out over the balcony. The pastor knows this service is the high point of the week for many and the sermon should be that for him. But this is Sunday, a full day of work for the leader of the congregation. The budget planning committee meets this afternoon at 3, the deacons at 4, a class at 5, and the preacher will be bringing another sermon at 6. Someone wants to have an after-church fellowship tonight, and he has to leave town early tomorrow to attend a convention in the state capital.
In the service, the pastor sees he picked up the wrong Bible for the sermon today–he prefers that other version of the text–he wonders where his notes are, and he’s uncertain about point three of his sermon.
Make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. –Luke 16:9
Whatever else Luke 16:9 means, it implies that by building friendships in good times, those connections will be there in the future when you will be needing them.
I didn’t start out to write this. But it will not leave my mind. So, I’m going to give it a try.
A preacher friend wondered why my schedule is so filled and his has too many blank spots. Mostly, of course, I don’t have a clue. There may be a hundred reasons I’m not aware of. Or, it could simply be the work of the Lord and nothing more complicated than “the will of God”. However, after we swapped notes back and forth, I ended up making a few suggestions to help him get more preaching opportunities: Find your niche; work up a few sermons on the primary things the Lord has taught you over the years; keep working to improve those few sermons, and preach them as often as you can; write a book on a subject that meets a need in the church; stay on your knees; keep growing.
The last thing I would have said to him or anyone else is that I’m smarter or a better preacher or more talented, or some such foolishness. I don’t believe that for a minute.
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. –2 Timothy 1:7
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. –2 Timothy 2:1
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. –2 Timothy 4:1-2
“They’re almost to the point of giving me my walking papers. The animosity from some of our leaders is so thick you could cut it with a butter knife. What do I do now? How do I stand in the pulpit and preach? And what should I preach?”
If you’ve never preached the gospel while sitting throughout the congregation were people who hated you, arms folded and brows furrowed, you’ve missed out on one of the great experiences of the Christian life.
If you’ve never feared for your job for nothing more than preaching the whole counsel of God, you’re in a minority, pastor.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!'” –Mark 1:3
Last night as I write, at a dinner hosted by our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for alum and supporters in central Mississippi, our distinguished President, Dr. Chuck Kelley, was introduced by Dr. Ken Weathersby. Weathersby is officially “vice president for convention advancement of the SBC’s Executive Committee.” He’s distinguished, a great preacher and former professor, and someone you’d love to know.
As he finished and Chuck was rising to speak, I thought, “I want Dr. Weathersby to introduce me!!” The friend to my left said, “What a great introduction!”
The privilege of introducing is not to be taken for granted.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Anyone doubting that should stand outside a typical church on a Sunday morning and listen. “I like the way he preaches.” “He makes me feel good.” “I don’t like what I hear.” “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.” I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.
What I want in a church. What we’re looking for. Why we’re considering leaving.
“As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).
How are you going to grow your church, pastor?
If your church is not growing–i.e., reaching new people and discipling those God sends–your church is on the decline. People die, people move away, some will grow lax and drop out. No church is static. The pastor who sees his role as maintaining the status quo, keeping those who pay his salary happy and placated, is on a mission to disaster.
Every pastor needs a plan or strategy–a prayer, a personal program, a scheme or something!–for reaching outsiders and bringing them into the congregation and growing this church.
“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
For good reason the Lord sends new, young pastors to the tiniest congregations. There’s so much to learn.
God bless all those little flocks which have to endure the green, inexperienced shepherds, many of whom go right on making the same mistakes as every pastor before them.
Their patience is amazing. (Sometimes I feel like going to the first three churches I served and saying, “Would you please forgive me?”)
Perhaps the biggest lesson which pastors have to learn before they’re able to do their best work for the Lord is this: You’re not ready to pastor a church until you get over yourself.
“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)
“My husband is always confident–and sometimes right.” –What Mrs. Mark Devers says about her pastor-husband
My wife Margaret–a pastor’s wife for 52 years–was watching a panel discussion of some type or other in which four pastors’ wives were discussing their lives, their homes, and their husbands. One said, “My job is to keep him grounded. I tell him all those people at church see you as some kind of saint, but I saw you this morning in your underwear.”
The audience laughed; Margaret was offended.
She was embarrassed for that husband/pastor. “It was unbecoming to him,” she said. “She could say that sort of thing to him in private, as a tease, but should not say it in public. It was wrong.”
Wish we could take a poll at this point, and ask every spouse of a minister to register whether they agree or not.
“…who loves to be first among them” (III John 9).
I’ve known them in quite a number of churches. They have no trouble identifying themselves as the force to be reckoned with around this church.
If you are the visiting preacher, their words to you before or after the service will be an announcement, not a comment. You will know you have heard from the control room of the universe. You have heard the voice of God. This man is in charge around here.
No one has to tell you. You just know.
This one calls the shots. Rules the roost. Throws his weight around. Is the power behind the scene.
He loves to have the pre-eminence. (See Diotrephes in III John, above.)