The state denominational paper announces the retirement of Pastor Dental Bridges with the usual numbers: During his twelve years as pastor of Center’s Big Ol’ Church, Preacher Bridges baptized 112 people, received 325 by transfer of letter, and constructed a new educational building. Everyone was happy to see him come and happy to see him go.
I read the report on one pastor whose church was on the far side of rural route fourteen. “During his ministry, a new fence was built around the cemetery.” Well, it was something.
We used to hear of reports that went like this: “During his years at Emmanuel Church, the attendance grew from 36 to 2,100.” If you dug beneath the surface, it came out that 36 was the lowest number the church had during its interim period when they were pastorless and 18 inches of snow shut down the area one weekend. And the 2,100 attendance came the Sunday the church brought in the star quarterback from the college football team after they had won the national championship and they gave away autographed jerseys and free kisses from the cheerleaders.
You think I’m kidding. (Okay, maybe I am. A little.)
“…inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4).
Although the Lord makes the pastor the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2), he is not the Lord of the church. It is not about him.
The pastor is the messenger, the Lord’s servant. He is important, but not all-important.
Preachers should constantly say to themselves, “This is not about me.” And they should act like they believe it.
Believing “this is all about me” drives some preachers to post their photos on billboards around town inviting people to their services, to spend outrageous sums of God’s money to broadcast their sermons on television–as though no one else is doing the same thing as well as they— and either to puff with pride when the church does well or sink into despair when it doesn’t. I daresay there is not a pastor in ten who truly believes that “this ministry isn’t about me.”
We will save a further discussion on that for another time. At the moment, our focus is on the other side of that coin…
They criticized Paul’s preaching, if you can believe that.
They said, “He writes these fearsome letters, but his preaching is terrible.”
Well, okay, what they said was: His letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. (2 Corinthians 10:10)
And how did Paul feel about that? The same way you and I do when we learn what some are saying about our preaching.
He didn’t care for it much.
He thought it was unfair.
Pastor, if they didn’t like Paul’s preaching, it’s a lead-pipe cinch they’re going to criticize your sermonizing and mine.
It goes with the territory.
I find that comforting. A little.
At the end of every radio broadcast, the inimitable J. Harold Smith would quickly pray, “Father, take this message and use it for Thy glory. Amen.”
I’m not sure what he prayed at the start of his sermons.
Sitting on the front pew throughout the first half of a worship service, what I pray goes something like this: “My Lord. Thank you for this privilege. Please anoint my lips and speak Thy word. Give me good recall for this message. Set a guard upon my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. And Father, use me to draw people to Jesus. For Thy sake. Amen.”
I may pray all or a part of that, but that’s my constant prayer.
A friend says he heard that in the moments before Charles Haddon Spurgeon rose to preach, he could be heard whispering repeatedly, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve known of pastors who were basically ignorant of Holy Scriptures for one reason or the other, and who fed their sheep little to nothing from the pulpit. In this day, however, there is no excuse for a pastor not knowing his Bible. Resources literally bombard him from all sides, offering numerous ways to get help in learning this most precious of all Books.
When a pastor does not know the Word of God, he will….
One. Preach his pet scriptures over and over again.
Two. Surf the internet for catchy sermon titles and messages which he can recycle.
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…. (I Peter 5:2-3)
If anyone on the planet should hold to the highest standards in dealing with people, it should be those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alas. The Elmer Gantrys have always been among us. Those who are in the work for the basest of reasons: money, recognition, other kinds of gratification.
Unto whom much is given, much will be required. A warning if there ever was a warning to those who occupy the pulpits. (Luke 12:48)
Lack of integrity permeates our culture.
I had to cancel a credit card this week. The monthly statement showed six or eight fraudulent charges. Where did that come from and how did it happen? I don’t know, but no one is surprised anymore.
From time to time, pastors run situations by me for my response. Often it has to do with a conflict with a staff member. Particularly if either the pastor or staffer is new, conflict often arises. That’s why…
I suggest that pastors have some tried-and-true principles to govern their relationships with ministerial staff and the office staff. That is–to clarify–some bedrock rules you go by in your dealings with your team. In most cases, you have acquired these the hard way, by breaking them or being broken upon them.
Anyway. Here are a few I have lived with, just to get you started….
One. No leader likes surprises.
That’s why we have weekly staff meetings, to talk things out, to plan the calendar, etc. Once on a Sunday morning, the student minister announced to the church that the mission trip for next Summer would be to New Hampshire. Next morning in staff, I said, “At what point did we decide the youth would go to New Hampshire next summer?” He turned twelve colors, swallowed hard, and said, “Uh oh.” We had a head knocking–in love, actually–and he learned an important lesson. And yes, he took the youth to New Hampshire.
You do not know the way of the wind…. You do not know the works of God who makes everything…. You do not know which will prosper…. (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).
Today the pastor did a hundred things, some of which are eternal and some not. Some were gold, silver, and precious stones, while others were wood, hay, and stubble.
He visited three patients in the hospital, talked to strangers in the hospital lobby, to nurses in the hallway, to people he met along the way, and he studied for his sermons. He dealt with administrative issues in the church office, had to reprimand the church custodian for doing a poor job of cleaning bathrooms, and returned a dozen phone calls. He wrote something for the church website, accepted an invitation to speak at a civic luncheon, and had lunch with his wife. A neighboring pastor ran by for a few minutes to confer about a project they’re working on for the association, he answered someone’s on-line query about tithing, and he took a walk around the block. He leaves the Bible open on the table in his back office and stops by for a few minutes from time to time to read the text of next Sunday’s message or to look something up. He prays there and often, throughout the day.
When his head hits the pillow at night, he has a hard time remembering what he did or knowing what he accomplished.
Encourage one another. –I Thessalonians 5:11
When we posted “59 things not to say to a pastor,” my cousin Rebecca Kilgore Smith of Jasper, Alabama, suggested we should balance the sheet with a list of positive, encouraging things to say to pastors.
We sent out a call for help on that, and here is the result.
1. I’m praying for you. This was overwhelmingly the consensus for the number one encouragement for any preacher. But don’t say it if you’re not doing it!
2. I love you. And likewise, this was strong. Every minister should know they are loved.
3. Hebrews 6:10, my all time favorite scripture for a faithful servant of the Lord. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown to His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering.” It’s one thing to say “I remember,” but another entirely to say that “God remembers.” Great promise.
4. We are taking I Timothy 5:17 to heart, Pastor, and starting immediately we are doubling your pay. Ha. In your dreams.
I worry about pastors who never talk to their people about stewardship. Whether they call it tithing or simply giving to the Lord, Scripture is saturated with teachings, admonitions, and instructions. This is not an optional subject for the faithful pastor.
Our people are often overwhelmed by financial bondage. We owe it to the Lord and to them to teach Scriptural principles which will free them, will honor the Lord, will support God’s work throughout the world, and will result in Heavenly treasures for the givers.
When a pastor begins to plan a series of messages on money, here are two major considerations to keep in the forefront…