One thing we must never do in ministry

A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them.  They will be right.

They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years.  They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there.  And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred.  They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated. 

The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level.  And shows no signs of abating.

So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose.  Flockless shepherds.  Ministers without portfolio.  Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant.  Pink-slipped.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

God bless you.  May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high.  No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).

May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants.  Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.

In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago.  Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.

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Letter to pastors in the hurricane zones

At this moment, Texas is in full recovery mode from Hurricane Harvey while Florida awaits Irma.  These are scary times.

For those of us who came through Katrina in 2005, nothing about this is fun.  We recall all too well the hundreds of deaths, flooded neighborhoods, destroyed churches, and uprooted lives.  God bless our friends who are in the wake of Harvey and the path of Irma.

I was the director of missions for the SBC churches of the New Orleans Association, which gave me a front row seat to all that had happened and what the Lord was doing.  With that in mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts for the pastors and other church leaders in these war zones…

You are about to see what God can do with thousands of His faithful people.

You already know His power; that has been amply demonstrated.  But the power of His people flocking into your area to help neighbors rebuild their lives may be more inspiring than anything you have ever imagined.  They will feed the hungry and knock themselves out ministering and giving, and your neighbors will be amazed that they ask nothing in return.  As a result, most will be more open to the gospel of Jesus Christ than at any time in their lives.

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Helpful preacher friends. Lord, save us!

My journal tells of a revival in our church in 1992.  After the final service, my wife and I took the guest evangelist and singer to lunch.  And there they proceeded to unload.

My journal…

“At lunch for one solid hour, they filled me with their suggestions for improving our work here.  Finally Margaret intervened and said, ‘You guys are overdoing it.’ I was about to overdose on their helpfulness!”

I don’t recall asking for their input.  And to be sure, they presumed upon the relationship.  I’m confident they felt they were serving the Lord well by suggesting ways we could get this big church off the ground and into the air.  And because they have been in full-time itinerant ministry for decades and have seen it all, they have definite opinions and convictions on what works and what doesn’t.  And they are friends, although not with a lengthy history. Anyway…

My well-meaning friends had no clue the forces I was contending with inside the membership of the church.  But, they wanted to help me, so I listened.  And praise the Lord for a good wife.  She spoke up and told them that was enough already. Smiley-face goes here.

She was right.  There is such a thing as overdoing a good thing.

These days, in retirement, I’m in a different church almost every Sunday.  I preach in big ones and little ones, taking them as the invitations arrive.  And frequently after ministering in a church, I do have thoughts on what the pastor can do to serve the Lord better there.

But unless I’m asked, I keep it to myself.

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Someone is praying for the preacher: Thank you!

I could tell the day I was no longer president of our denomination.  People across the nation had been praying for me, and now they were praying for the new guy.  I could feel the slackening off of the prayers.  It’s a terrible feeling. –From one of our past denominational leaders 

Her name was Mary Ann Adlar.  (Not sure about the spelling of her name.)  An invalid, her life was devoted to praying from her small cottage in the southern part of England. Sometime in the 1860s Miss Adlar heard of a man in America whom God was using mightily.  She began praying for Dwight L. Moody, that God would send him to her church in England.  Her beloved country was desperately in need of a Heaven-sent revival, she felt.

In 1872, an exhausted Dwight L. Moody came to England on a vacation.  He met the pastor of Miss Adlar’s church, and was invited to preach there.  There was such power in the service, Moody was invited to stay for a series of meetings.  Four hundred people came to Christ that week.  Moody asked the pastor whether someone had been praying. Surely they had, he reasoned.

The pastor asked around and found Mary Ann Adlar, the woman whose prayers brought a preacher across an ocean and brought revival to her church.

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Those frustrating times with church members

Any pastor can tell you about that.  Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some church members are not going to forgive you.  You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.

Those are the exceptions, I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent will kill you.

I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s people more than the precious times.  Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and hard words feed into my own insecurities.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times.  It’s human nature, I know. Help us, Lord.

Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….

First, the church member who is mad at you needlessly

On returning from an out-of-town engagement, a staff member told me I needed to call Selma, that she was angry about something.  Selma was married to a deacon, a  good guy, and they were not high maintenance but generally supportive.  I could not imagine her being angry with anyone. I called her immediately.

“My sister is in the hospital and none of you have come by to visit.”  That was her complaint.

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Pastor, you’ve been asked to pray at a convention of some kind

Every pastor gets invited to offer invocations at public gatherings.  It goes with the territory.

I once prayed at the grand opening of a big box home-and-hardware store.  As a thank-you, they gave me an electric Stihl saw.  Not being a woodworker, I passed it on to a neighbor.

Once in a pastor’s office I noticed the wall covered with plaques and degrees and framed certificates.  Not only was his high school diploma on display, but when the local supermarket thanked him for praying at their grand opening, he framed that letter too.

Okay.  Here’s what happens.  The secretary of the city council or school board or state legislature calls.  “Pastor, would you say the opening prayer at next Wednesday’s session?”  Before the call ends, you may expect them to say something like, “And pastor, please make the prayer inclusive.”  Or interdenominational.  Or non-sectarian.  What she means is a) don’t preach to us and try to convert people in your prayer and b) if you must include Jesus, try to be gentle about it.

In other words, be nice.

You would think no one would have to tell a preacher to be considerate of others when he prays.  But these public prayers have been abused by so many preachers, it’s necessary.

Now, if they tell me to leave Jesus out of it–in just so many words–I tell them I will not be able to help them, but “thank you so much for asking.”

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Why you didn’t get that church job you wanted

This is merely one possible scenario, but I’ve seen it happen several times.

We had interviewed Brian and all the background checks and references were great.  We liked him, were impressed by the work he was doing in his present church, and knew God was going to continue doing great things through him.

He liked us, and possibly felt some leadership from the Lord.  If we had called, I expect he would have accepted.

But we backed off. We did not call him to our staff.

My journal tells how he responded when I informed him.

“I told Brian we had learned 100 good things about him.  But the bottom line is I don’t have inner peace about this.”

He asked what in particular was the hangup.  I said “Nothing. It’s just that I feel a sense of unease, that it’s not right.”

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It was all just a misunderstanding, pastor!

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Ask for more information before you jump.

Sometimes when something just seems wrong–this could not be!–it is wrong.

Here’s the story, from my journal of the 1990s. I had forgotten this.

I had been out of town for the weekend, and my assistant had preached.  We had four additions to the church and everyone praised the preaching of Dwight Munn.  And then, I began going through my mail…

An offering envelope from Byron (last name) had been placed in my mailbox.  He’s a new member, a super nice guy, a pathologist, and was engaged to marry Carol, who was equally nice and as lovely as anyone has a right to be! Inside the offering envelope was a note. A rather angry note.

The writer–presumably Byron–was criticizing all the announcements in the service, particularly the two made by the wives of a couple of staffers.  The writer said it’s enough to welcome new members at the end of the service, but nothing more should be said.

As I say, the tone was angry.

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When church isn’t fun any more

My journal records one of those pressurized times some 20 or more years ago.

Consider that the church was still recovering from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation but an all-consuming debt.  Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during the fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event.  I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return to health and usefulness.

It was hard.

I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd another congregation that was divided.  So, without doubt I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflicts with church leadership and carping from church membership.

Naïve, huh?  Probably so.  People are going to look and act like who they are.

Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious,  and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise.  When I tried to do a few things I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.

The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a forum during which the guest would speak and be questioned.  Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.

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If I were starting ministry again, what I would do

If I were a young man just beginning to minister for the Lord, I would want to make sure I did these things…

One. Stayed close to the church.  Loyal to it, involved in it, faithfully preaching that the church is the only institution the Lord formed, and I would work through the local church.

Two.  I would want to get as much formal education as possible, and do it as fully and completely as possible.  This means, I would move my family to the campus just as we did the first time, and get to know the professors and students personally.  The bonds formed in class and in between class periods last a lifetime.  Thereafter, I would continue getting as much education as I could, and if some of that was online, that would be fine.  But the basic seminary education, I would do on campus.

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