Show us how it’s done, church leader!

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12).

In attempting something I’ve never seen done, I need to look over the shoulder of someone doing it.  I don’t learn how to do hard things just by reading plans.

The Air Force has instructor pilots.  They sit beside the student in the cockpit, showing how it’s done, then giving hands-on instruction when the pupil takes the stick.

The educational system has interns who sit in the classrooms of veterans and learn from them. Other occupations have apprentices, associates, and trainees.

Show me.

A word to the pastors and other church leaders among us:  Show us how it’s done. Be Exhibit A.

Give the young believers coming after you a pattern to follow, for some look in vain for instances of believers living what they are hearing.  Give the old crusty veterans a close example of one living out the Christ-life, for some have given up hope of ever seeing that.

Do you want us to go door to door, sharing the gospel or inviting neighbors to a church event?  Then, the week before, you get out there and knock on a hundred doors.  In doing so, not only will you be able to help your people later when instructing them, but it will free up your spirit more than ten hours of prayer.  Honestly. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.

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Misrepresenting things

“Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him….” (Colossians 3:9-10).

I hate to admit this, but it needs to be done.

Preachers sometimes misrepresent themselves. 

Some claim to have degrees that sound authentic but were bought on the sly somewhere because they know that laypeople in our churches are unsophisticated about that sort of thing but are impressed by high-sounding degrees. Some claim to have been places they merely flew over, to know people they shook hands with, and to be more than they are.  Some give the appearance that they know the original languages when they are merely quoting something they picked up in a book.

There is no substitute for integrity in those called to preach the Word and lead the Lord’s flock.

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Venturing into Boringland: How preachers can steer clear of the dreaded dead zone.

“Then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25)

Holly, a 7-year-old in a church I pastored, once turned to her mother in the middle of my sermon and said, “Mother, why does Doctor Joe think we need this information?”

Every preacher should have such a child listening to every sermon and giving such feedback.

What boring preaching does–universally, no exceptions–is answer questions no one is asking.

It may do more things than this–dead oratory violates a thousand sound principles–but put it down in huge letters, pastor: the sermon which is sedating your congregation is seen as completely irrelevant to them.

Whether it is or not is another matter.

My job as the pastor may mean making my audience see that this subject is one they should be dealing with and asking questions about.

On a typical airline flight, passengers ignore the instructions of the attendant as she talks about the use of the seat cushion as flotation device or how to inflate the life vests. However, if, at 30,000 feet the pilot announces the loss of an engine and the attendant begins to give instructions, she will have the clear and undivided attention of her audience.

One reason I suggest previewing the sermon with one’s spouse and children is that invariably one among them can be counted on to ask, “What is your point?”  “What is this about?”  Or, as Holly put it, “Why do we need to know this?”

In Scripture, we are left with the impression that Jesus’ best preaching was done on the spur of the moment as a result of questions.

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The wimp in me hates to be criticized.

“Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite?  Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him” (2 Samuel 16:11).

There’s something about us preachers that loves compliments and runs from criticism.

We preachers can be the biggest wimps on the planet.

Maybe it’s that way with everyone, I don’t know.

Let a preacher receive an anonymous note outlining what he’s doing wrong or a phone call dissecting last Sunday’s sermon and he is done for the week. He will be needing the attention of a good therapist.

We could learn a lot from politicians and others in the public arena. I’ve read that President Eisenhower enjoyed something like a 65 percent approval rating all eight years of his presidency, the highest of anyone since.  This means 35 percent of the America public thought he was a failure.  And yet, he is lauded as a winner.

Let 35 percent of the typical church give their preacher a vote of no-confidence and he’s enduring sleepless nights, unable to focus on anything, and scheduling himself for career counseling at his denominational headquarters.

All of this was prompted by two things.

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When the pastor finds an opportunity too enticing, a temptation too overwhelming

“Enjoy your glory and stay at home” (2 Kings 14:10).

In 1994, Joel Gregory wrote a book about his short-tenure as pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church.  He gave it the ominous title: “Too Great a Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church.”

The title will make sense to many pastors reading this as it surely does to me.  When that mega-church came calling, begging Joel to become their pastor and follow the likes of W. A. Criswell and George W. Truett, there was no way he could turn them down.

He could have, of course. But he just couldn’t.  That’s because the temptation was too great.

I came close to taking the pastorate of a great church about 10 years earlier than Joel, one that would have ended just as disastrously for me.  As it turned out, the former pastor had two spies on the search committee, men who reported every action and every interview, and he was the one who vetoed me.  When I get to Heaven, I intend to seek him out and thank him.

Assuming he’s there.

My story of “too great a temptation,” however, is not about a church that came calling but a denominational opportunity that opened up and I could not resist.

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Staying on time and up to date

“Felix became frightened and said (to Paul), ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).

What are you putting off which you should have done today?

It happened to me again tonight.

A Facebook friend texted asking for a drawing of him for use in his ministry of speaking and entertaining.  I said I’d give it a try.

A half-hour later, he had the drawing in hand, both in black and white and in color.

Two things come into play here.  One, he caught me when I was not busy, and two, I hate to agree to do something and then have it weigh on my mind.  Let’s get it done.

When I was pastoring, I hated to have something on my mind that I needed to do–a visit to make, an article to write, studying to do, a staff project to get underway–and kept pushing onto the back burner.

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7 things newly retired preachers need to do.

(Do not miss the post script at the end.)

Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.

Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”

But they’re dead wrong.

Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”

There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.

Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card.  These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.

However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.”  (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)

At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.

We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.

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The easiest texts are often the hardest to preach

“Be ye kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).

For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons.  Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:

John 3:16.  The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Salvation by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness (see above).

That’s why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts.  They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and light on them.

Perhaps it’s easier to get their minds around such, I don’t know.  One of my first sermons was suggested by “a house in a cucumber patch,” from Isaiah 1:8.  That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines.  Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.

Why didn’t I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection?  Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge and I felt so small.

I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.

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Preacher: You’re a speaker on a full program. Find out whom you are following.

Among the recent tributes to the late comic genius Robin Williams was a story he told about the time he preceded Bob Hope on the Johnny Carson show.

For reasons unknown, Hope was late arriving. Instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine.  People were beside themselves with laughter.

Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.

Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”

As Bob Hope was introduced and settled into the chair to the right of Carson, Johnny said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?”  Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”

No one in his right mind would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.

Sometimes preachers find themselves on the agenda in a meeting where multiple speakers are doing their thing.  Woe to the one who has to follow the most popular preacher in the land.

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The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

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