An odd skill pastors must learn if they are to survive

Pastors must learn to live with loose ends.  Unfinished tasks.  Dangling threads that need to be tied up.

When they lay their heads on the pillow at night, God’s shepherds can think of 38 things left undone and needing attention tomorrow….

Someone needs a call returned, a member needs a visit, a sermon needs more preparation, a program needs planning, a colleague needs encouragement, an employee needs to be held accountable, the pastor’s child needs some dad-time, his wife has been wanting to talk about several issues, he had hoped to begin his physical fitness program this week, the nursing home has invited him to hold a service, the seminary wants him to speak, the denominational committee needs to meet and hear his report, and he should have prayed more today. The family that buried their father last month needs a follow-up visit.  The postponed dental appointment should be rescheduled and his CPA has a question about his taxes.

“There’s always something,” said Rosanne Rosannadanna (the old Saturday Night Live program).  There is indeed.

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Something that should never happen to any preacher ever again

“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and who is unjust in what is least is unjust in much” (Luke 16:10).

Once I read the story, I never forgot it.

Some preacher in Texas was waxing eloquent (what the kid called “waxing an elephant”) and told of the author of the 1960-ish book “I’m OK, You’re OK” having soured on life and committing  suicide.  It underscored some point he was making and he drove it home.

He got the story, he told a court of law, from an evangelist whom he had heard at some camp meeting or something.

The evangelist, who was sued by the author, sheepishly admitted that he had gotten his facts wrong.

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To anyone mystery-shopping my sermon

Over the years I have benefited from the occasional helpful criticism of my preaching.  And, may I add, my preaching was not helped at all by the sniping from another segment of the audience.

Smiley-face here.

Mystery-shoppers are people who, with the pastor’s full acceptance, visit your church as first-timers and later file complete reports on a hundred aspects: Their impression on arriving at your campus, whether the signage was adequate, if someone greeted them in the parking lot, whether they spotted trash or clutter on sidewalks, the friendliness of your people, condition of the bathrooms, and of course the service itself: the choice of music, the flow of the service, the arrangement of the platform, and the sermon.

Ah, the sermon.

It’s a rare pastor who wants you to unload on him about his preaching.

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Every pastor ought to see a counselor occasionally.

“Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise in later life” (Proverbs 19:20).

You need a counselor.

Particularly if your work is demanding, the stress heavy, your schedule filled, and you’re finding the needs around you overwhelming, it would be good to sit down and unburden yourself with a friend with gifts for wise counsel.

I don’t mean a shrink necessarily.  Perhaps it’s only a friend who knows the Lord and His Word, and has insight into human nature with a gift for discernment.  Usually, that means a professional counselor, whether they call themselves “pastoral counselor” or “adolescent therapist” or something else.

Don’t get hung up on titles. And don’t be overly impressed by framed certificates on the wall.  Wisdom is where you find it.  “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” (Psalm 1:1).

I tease preachers about getting pedicures.  I’m in favor of it, by the way.  Some of them tease me in turn, saying I have to turn in my “man card” as a result of my monthly visits to the nail parlor in our neighborhood.

But I’m serious in saying every pastor would benefit from seeing a counselor from time to time.

So you will know, I came to this position late.

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Sloppiness in ministry: Not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

Last night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: turned on the television. Usually, I’ll read or just lie there thinking until sleep returns. But last night, I channel-surfed and ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami. Facts eventually indicated he had murdered her and buried her body in an abandoned golf course near home, then driven south. His plan had been for the police to focus on south Florida rather than his hometown.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

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Disaster in the making: The worst advice ever for young ministers

“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity…” (I Timothy 4:12)

People love to give advice to young adults just entering the ministry.  I’m sure they think they’re helping.

I was a senior in college when the Lord fingered me for the ministry.  When my coal miner Dad got the news, even though his experience with church leadership was minimal, he had advice for his number three son. “Start off pastoring small churches.  That way you learn how to do it before moving on to the bigger places.”

As if I had a choice.

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Feeding the monster: Why you do not want to be pastor of “that” church

(If you read this and come away thinking I’m against big churches, then you missed the point. When I read this to my wife, she said, “You’re talking about yourself.” No doubt.) 

You’re walking down the street enjoying the day. Suddenly , you become aware that a celebrity car–one of those Lamborghinis, let’s say–is slowly cruising down the avenue.  It is a head-turner.  You’ve never seen anything like this.  What must it cost, you wonder.  A fortune.

And can you imagine the upkeep on such a thing?  To replace a part would mean importing something from Mars.

You cannot afford it, and don’t even want it.  You just look at it in fascination the way you would if the Space Challenger were passing overhead.  “Gol-lee.”

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When the leadership wimps out, what’s a pastor to do?

“But as for you, keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The deacons in Church A promised the new pastor that if he would come, they would deal with a difficult situation they had been condoning and which was destroying the witness of the church.

A man and woman in leadership positions were co-habiting as husband and wife, though unmarried.  The deacons agreed that it was unscriptural and could not be condoned and that they would address it.

Six months later, the pastor resigned.

He was informed that the deacon leadership had no intention of acting. “We’re cowards,” the chairman said.

That’s when the pastor tried to deal with it himself.

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Why I rejected sound advice

“Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).  “Victory comes with many counselors” (Proverbs 24:6).

Sometimes the poor relationship we have with someone may color our reaction to something wise they share.

The challenge is to listen to everyone, even our severest critics.  Taking their counsel on something of worth may end up being the first step in building a bridge of reconciliation.

This particular church member had rejected my ministry and was working behind the scenes to oust me from that church.

So when he made a suggestion that actually made sense, I was not in the mood to accept it.  Had he suggested we buy giant-sized blizzards at the Dairy Queen, his treat, I’d probably have scoffed.

Here’s what happened..

He said, “Joe, look at old Mr. Mossback.  He has no business being a greeter in this church.  The man could star in a horror flick.”

He was right.

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The most stressful part of pastoring, and why it doesn’t have to be

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).  But three times a week?

My wife and I had this conversation an hour ago.

I was remarking on the demanding weekend looming before me this Friday morning.  Tomorrow morning, I drive 400 miles to North Alabama for the funeral of my oldest friend and former classmate.  Later, following the funeral and after visiting with family for an hour or two, I drive to Meridian, Mississippi to spend the night. On Sunday, I will drive to Bryam, Mississippi to preach (and sketch, as always) in the morning and to Louisville to preach/sketch for a afternoon-evening missionary event  On Monday, I will drive home and teach at the seminary all that afternoon (a four-hour class, filling in for a professor friend).  In all, probably 1200 miles.

I said to her, “I’m so glad I’m preaching familiar sermons.  If I had to invent new sermons, the stress would be enormous.”

Margaret observed, “Most people don’t realize that’s one of the greatest stresses of the pastorate–having to come up with three new sermons every week.”

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