What to do in a “trial” (candidate) sermon

The prospective pastor walked to the pulpit, took the measure of the congregation, and began. “There is a powerful lot of wondering going on here today.  You are wondering if I can preach. And I am wondering if you know good preaching when you hear it!”

I know a good Flip Wilson story that fits here, but I’ll tack it onto the end of this.

Now…

Not all pastors are asked to deliver a “trial” sermon to the congregation they hope to serve.  Some are appointed by a bishop and some are chosen by elders or a committee. We Southern Baptists usually use the procedure listed below.  Of the six churches I served over 42 years of ministry, only one brought me in without the people having heard me preach.  The other five administered the usual “trial.”

The procedure goes like this….

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Why we must not quit when God’s people mistreat us

“Even though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

We hear of it too frequently.

“He used to be a pastor. But the people in the churches were so mean–undercutting him, criticizing, backbiting, slandering, and then kicking him out–that it ruined him forever.  He vows he’ll never enter a church again.”

“If this is how God’s churches are, I want nothing to do with any of them.”

“Makes me wonder if the Lord even cares.”

The variations on that sad theme are endless.

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When should a pastor resign?

As I write this, a phone call came yesterday from an embattled pastor.  He’s under constant duress from a group of leaders who want him out for whatever reasons–some real and some contrived–and are growing impatient with his inability to find a place to land.  His question to me was whether he should resign. And if so, should he ask for severance, and for how long, and should he couch the terms in words to protect his future job prospects from being endangered.

I wish I could say this is a rarity.  But I receive such calls almost weekly.

Here are some thoughts on the subject….

A pastor may resign any time he chooses. Whether he should or not is between him and the Lord who sent him to that church.

A pastor should resign only when the Lord chooses or if he is forced to do so.

Scripture knows nothing about pastors jumping from one church to another, about pastors climbing the ecclesiastical ladder in order to enhance their resume, or pastors being forced out of a congregation.

Welcome to the church of the 21st century.  We have all those things and more.

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The temptation to misuse the Lord’s congregation

“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25,30).

It’s His church.

It’s important for pastors to keep reminding themselves there were good reasons why God did not give them ownership of the flocks which they are tending.

“…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” is how Paul puts it (Ephesians 5:27).

“…that we might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” is how Peter put it (I Peter 2:9).

“…as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” is how John put it (Revelation 14:4).

The congregation belongs to Christ. Not to its pastors.

The pastor must keep reminding himself. “They belong to the Lord.  Not to me.”

–They were not given you as an audience for your preaching.  They are that, but this is not their primary purpose. So, when they come to hear you and then get up and leave, you may be tempted to see this as God’s plan.  It isn’t. They are to be far more than an audience. 

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The scripture half of the Lord’s pastors tend to overlook

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. (Men) will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake….  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…. Do not think that I am come to bring peace on earth…” (Matthew 10:16ff)

(Note: Invariably, when I write something in support of the Lord’s servants who have been mistreated by the Lord’s congregations, someone will reply calling my attention to the sins of preachers.  As if I did not know.  I will readily admit there are some men in the ministry who need to be out, who are bringing reproach on the name of Christ and shame to His church.  But most of the pastors I’m acquainted with who have been driven from their pulpits were guilty only of crossing the wrong people.)

Suddenly, that great church which the pastor was enjoying and had been bragging about to his colleagues turned on him and wanted him gone.

Without warning it seems, those precious people who had welcomed him so warmly just a couple of years back have now joined the vicious mob clamoring for the pastor’s head.

That wonderful deacon fellowship which had devoted themselves to serving God’s people and ministering to the needy suddenly arose and announced their intention to oust the pastor.

That sweet family to whom the pastor ministered again and again misinterpreted something he did (or believed something they heard) and began to devote themselves to seeing that he was fired.

Why, Lord?  Pastors and their families wonder that.

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The prayer of the embattled pastor

“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).

What Elijah prayed on Carmel, I pray.

It is entirely in order for the Lord’s messenger to pray that the people to whom he was sent will recognize that God is God and fully in charge, and that he himself is the Lord’s servant, on mission from Him.

I prayed that prayer during the worst time of my life when a little group of self-righteous and mean-spirited members clamored for my resignation. I was going through the fire, being tried as I rarely had.

The prayer felt like the dying gasp of the weakest child in God’s family.

Did God hear the prayer?  Did He answer?

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The pain that never goes away in pastors

“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)

Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.

Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.

Some pain never leaves.

The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.

Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors.  The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times.  The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own little foretaste of hades.

So, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.

It’s not even a choice he makes.

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What puts gray hairs in preachers’ heads

“Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

When Paul was naming his burdens and enumerating his scars, after speaking of imprisonments and beatings, shipwrecks and nakedness, he adds one that surprises some people: the daily care of the Lord’s churches.

It’s every bit as burdensome as the others, believe me.

Most of us do one church at a time; Paul had them all on his heart.

A pastor can have 500 wonderful members who appreciate his efforts and who pray for him daily, but be worn to a nub by a few people with axes to grind but with neither scruples nor accountability.

A pastor friend at the end of his rope told me, “I feel like I’m being stoned to death with popcorn.  I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”

All those little nagging things that we laugh at have a way of accumulating, until eventually, they become more than you can bear.

This is from my journal some years back….

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A pastor’s pain

“I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me….” (Isaiah 1:2)

Abandonment.

Desertion.

The pastor loves that family and longs for them to do well. Their children are so fine and exhibit incredible potential. He knows their names.  He prays for them, encourages them, and goes out of his way to support them.  And they seem to respond. They flourish spiritually and seem to love the Lord, love their church, and love him. And then…

One day, they up and leave.

The pastor is told, “They’ve joined that new startup church down the highway.  The one where the pastor is so critical of us and our denomination.”

He never hears a word. They just disappear from his radar and he never sees them again.

It’s not that they stabbed him in the back. They did not pull a Judas and betray him.  They just walked away with nary a word.

That hurts.

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15 things young preachers need to know about seniors

“They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green…” (Psalm 92:14).

All generalizations are false. Including this one.

Every rule has its exceptions. Including this one.

Even so, I’m going to make some general statements about seniors.  Readers will think of exceptions. But by and large, these statements have been found to be solid and trustworthy throughout long years of ministry.

One: Seniors are not against change; but they dislike abrupt change.

There are no 1948 Packards in your church parking lot.  No 1952 DeSotos.  But the seniors driving those Camrys and Corollas did not one day trade in that Packard for the Toyota. There were a series of incremental steps in between–like, first buying a 1955 Fairlane, then a 1962 Chevelle, followed by a 1972 Bonneville, and so forth.

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