However you treat the Lord’s pastors, He takes personally.

Whoever receives you, receives Me.  Whoever listens to you, listens to Me.  Whoever rejects you, rejects Me.”  (Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16)

Pastors are reluctant to preach this because it sounds self-serving.  “People, the Lord in Heaven is taking note of how you treat me.  Whatever you do to me, Jesus considers it the same as though you were doing it to Him.”

He’ll not be saying that.

So, I’ll say it for him.  Because it’s true.

Consider this.  “A king arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding.  And they were not willing to come.  Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready; come to the wedding.”  But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.  And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.”  (That’s Matthew 22:1-6)

We must not miss the reaction of the king in the Lord’s story.  “But when the king heard about it, he was furious.  And his sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”  (Matthew 22:7)

However the people treated the king’s messengers, it was the same as doing it to him.

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Does your church need an ethics commission?

Many a pastor and/or staff member would still be in ministry today had they sought the counsel of church leaders on some practice they were contemplating.

Can the pastor start a business on the side and still receive full pay from the church? Is it all right if he markets something to the church?  Or to the members?

May the pastor’s wife be paid for all the hard work she’s doing?  How much should the pastor be reimbursed when the allotted money did not cover his expenses for a church mission trip?  What if a company doing business with the church offers to build the pastor a swimming pool (or garage or bird house!) in appreciation?

Get advice, pastor.

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Pastor, at the funeral of an unbeliever…

Recently, when I sounded forth on how pastors should conduct funerals for saints, a friend pointed out that a harder assignment is officiating at the services for an outright unbeliever.  He looked forward to my points on that.

I was tempted to say, “Yeah. Me too!”

But, as always, I appreciate a good suggestion for an article in this blog, particularly something that would help pastors and other church leaders.

We will begin with questions which pastors frequently ask among themselves concerning the funerals of unbelievers…

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Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

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What a good sermon introduction looks like. And what it does.

I said to a pastor friend, “I wonder if you’d allow me to offer a tiny word of criticism on last Sunday’s sermon.”  He sat up straight and beamed. “I’d welcome a criticism!”

This good man is even excited to have someone do this.  Wow.  (He said later that everyone compliments his preaching, but sometimes he’d appreciate a helpful suggestion.  I had two thoughts: Any right-thinking pastor would do that, but at the same time, we don’t want a constant barrage of suggestions or criticisms.  Just one or two along the way at helpful intervals would be quite sufficient, thanks.)

I said, “You jumped off into the deep end of the pool with us.  Within two minutes after you began the sermon we were in over our heads.  That makes it hard on a congregation to keep up and follow you.”

He kept listening.

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Pastor, at the funeral of a believer…

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors.  And their works do follow them”  (Revelation 14:13).

“I tell my students, when you’re standing at the graveside of a saint, make the message clear and plain. Because you’ve got the only message in town!” –Ken Chafin, longtime seminary professor, teacher of evangelism, pastor 

I’ve been going to funerals a lot lately.

Not conducting them, but going as a mourner.

I’ve reached the point in life where almost weekly I learn of the deaths of longtime friends and former parishioners.  This week, it was an 86-year-old member of a church I served in the 70s and 80s.  The week before, the deceased was the widow of a colleague I’d served on a church staff with in the early 1970s; she was 92.

I always pay attention to how the ministers do their funerals.  Always want to learn to do this better.

And that brings me to this.

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Pastors: Get all the education you can, then never mention it again!

“Beware of Pharisees.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.  But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers; and do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  And do not be called leaders, for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 23

Pastor, given a choice–and you always have  a choice–try not to look and act like a Pharisee.  For my money, the best way–the very best way in the universe–is to use this phrase: “When I got my doctorate…”

I’m not sure why that sets me off, but it does.  And I haven’t the slightest idea whether it’s only me or the rest of the universe.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that phrase is completely unnecessary and is inserted only to call attention to oneself, to make sure the hearers fall to their knees in abject horror.  “Oh my, you have a doctorate?! You must be of superior intelligence, far beyond most mortals.”  “Forgive me for thinking you put your pants on one leg at a time!”

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When the search committees say no: The question to ask

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?”

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Just before the pastor enters the pulpit

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.

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How to have a wealth of friends when you are old

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.

Okay.

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.

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