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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The pastor is the worship leader

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

(Note: I write as a Southern Baptist with little familiarity with how other denominations do their worship services.  Therefore, what follows may be of limited value to some of our readers.)

Some tasks we cannot shunt off to someone else. Some key responsibilities we cannot hire others to perform for us.  Leading the worship service is one of the pastoral essentials. The pastor is the leader.

This is not to say the minister will physically lead the hymns.  (In some churches, he does, but in most someone else does this.)  He will not pray every prayer or be the only one reading the Scripture or promoting upcoming events.  But ultimately, it all goes back to him.  The pastor is like the stagecoach driver.  He does not pull the coach but holds the reins to the six horses that do.

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Things a pastor does not tell

I had a phone call from my insurance man the other day.

Jim lives in another city and we never see each other, but his company is national and I saw no reason to switch homeowners insurance when he moved away.  He’s a solid Christian and I like him.

When Jim believes something, he can be tenacious.

He called urging me to vote for a certain candidate for the U.S. Senate.  I listened to him and when he insisted that I go to a certain website and watch a video, I made no promises.  That did not please him. Frankly, listening to claims and arguments and promises from political candidates is not on my list of favorite things to do.  The attacks and disclaimers are so arbitary and voters are rarely treated as though they have a lick of sense and the judgment of an adult that I try to skip them as much as possible.

Jim called later to see if I had listened to the tape.  I forget what I told him, but I tried to say gently that he had done quite enough.

A couple of days later, I went to the courthouse and voted absentee since I’ll be in another state in revival on election day.

I did not say and would not if asked, how I voted.

It’s no one’s business.

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What audience feedback means—especially to preachers

Billy Joel gets it.

This veteran entertainer does something I find fascinating.

According to The New Yorker (October 27, 2014), Joel “grew tired of having to look out at the fat cats in the two front rows, the guys who’d bought the best seats, and then sat there projecting a look of boredom that (says)…’Entertain me, Piano Man.'”

It was dampening his own enthusiasm, and that of his band, to have the non-responsive on the front rows. He wanted the fans nearest him to be enthusiastic participants in the evening’s activities.

That’s why “Joel’s people stopped selling the two front rows and instead send the crew into the cheap seats before the show to hand out tickets to people of their choosing.”

“Joel believes it helps buck up the band.”

I can believe that.

Every preacher knows.

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How much is preaching worth?

“I solemnly charge you: preach the gospel; persist in it whether convenient or not….” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

I’m worn out this Monday morning.  In the last 7 days, I have preached in Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama.  (That would be New Orleans, Charlotte, Charleston, and Albertville.)

In the process, I logged almost 2,000 miles in my little Honda CR-V. .

I met a thousand new friends, and was able to visit with and encourage many pastors whom I was meeting for the first time.

They paid me, too, in case anyone wonders. Actual money.

Several questions linger on this (very early) Monday morning….

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