Perhaps the hardest thing a pastor will ever do

Speak to the current moral dilemma facing the country (or dividing your community) without making matters worse.

That has to be one of the most difficult minefields a pastor ever has to tread.

One misstep and he’s a goner.

Twenty years ago, it was President Clinton’s infidelity that was dividing the country.  In the same decade it was the O. J. Simpson trial.  These days, the issue is sexual harassment (or any of its various manifestations: sexual molestation, intimidation, assault, etc.) by men in positions of power.

A man–always a man–runs for prominent public office and someone stands up and says, “He attacked me.”  Or, molested me.  Touched me inappropriately.  Took advantage of me.  Raped me.

The media flocks to the accuser and stories are written. Sleuths check out her story and some corroborate it while others trot out family members who say she is a chronic liar or family members of the accused to say they’ve never known him to do anything like that.

Then, next step.  Other women step up and say, “He treated me the same way.”

Quickly, the matter becomes page one across the country.  Leading the nightly news.  Fueling talk shows. Dividing everyone on Facebook.  Splitting families.

Defenders are enraged.  Supporters of the accusers are offended by the way their friends have accommodated themselves to the culture and forgotten Jesus’ call to defend the helpless and bless the children.

So, the poor pastor decides this matter must be addressed in next Sunday’s sermon.  What is he to do?

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When the church bully happens to be the pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God;  not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike.  But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him.  He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers.  His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon.  It isn’t.

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10 pet peeves about church from one who loves The Church

By “pet peeve,” we mean only a minor disagreement.  An annoyance. We find certain things irritating, but they are not deal-breakers.  No federal case, no mountains from a molehill.  Okay to disagree.  A personal thing is all.

One.  The pastor rises to begin his sermon, and says to the congregation, “Will you stand in honor of the Word of God?”

It sounds noble.  It is meant to inspire honor for Holy Scripture.

My question is: So, preacher, do you have them jump up every time you quote a verse of Scripture? Then, why do it at the first?  And if you say this practice is scriptural, which it is (Nehemiah 8:5), then why don’t you have them stand up throughout the entire sermon? The Bible says Jesus sat down to preach (Luke 4:20).  And somewhere it says the people stood up while he preached.

What it feels like–to me at least–is the preacher is trying to come across as holier than those who do not ask people to stand for the reading of the Word.  He saw some other preacher do it and thought it was a good idea.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, only that it’s unnecessary and may be motivated by less-than-noble motives.  But it’s not a deal-breaker. Do it if you feel strongly about it.  (Ask them to stand every time you quote a verse, however, and this will go south quickly! Smile, please.)

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Pastors and churches working together? Unheard of!

Need a text for this?  See below. We have several.

I hope the idea catches on.

This week I returned from Hearne, Texas, and a revival involving two churches some 5 miles apart.  Bethany Baptist, pastored by Randy Aly, and Elliott Baptist, Dale Wells pastor, are located several miles outside Hearne, population 4500.

This was their first attempt to join together in a revival, and my first as well.  Randy says he awakened one morning with it on his mind, and felt it was from God.  He called Dale and shared the thought.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We started on a Sunday morning in Elliott and ended  the following Sunday morning in Bethany.  During the week we had noon and nightly services in the same church, on alternating days.  A trailer with a sign reading “Revival here tonight.” was pulled back and forth between the churches.

Interestingly,  Tuesday night being Halloween, the Elliott church hosted “Trunk or Treat” instead of a service.  (A downpour limited the turnout, but a lot of people braved the elements for their kids’ sake. I sketched nonstop all evening.)  Then, Friday night being “football night in Texas,” we had no service.  But on Saturday, we picked back up with noon and night services.

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Lord, forgive us our platitudes and deliver us from our word-congestion

“Let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

We preachers know how to “multiply words without end.”

It’s our occupation, and it’s an occupational hazard.

They call on us for a few words and half an hour later, they wish we would sit down and shut up.

When one preacher asked why his hosts had not called on him to say grace throughout the entire week they’d been together, the man replied, “Because we want to eat tonight!”  (I was there and I heard it.)

 
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The most significant thing a pastor will ever do

The title is a come-on, to give me the chance to say one huge thing to every pastor:  You have no idea what ranks as the most important part of your work.

You think you do.  You think it’s speaking to the Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday night.  Or helping plan a community Thanksgiving service.  Or guest-teaching a class at the seminary.  And it may be.

You think it’s that great sermon you preached a couple of weeks back, the glow from which is still warming your memory.  The one which brought several new families to join your church.  Or, maybe that mission trip to Tanzania last year.  Or the revival last month.

Could be.  Or not.

The most valuable ministry thing you have done just may be the time you stopped to encourage a homeless man and bought him lunch.  Or that time you gave a new family a tour of the church.  Or even the prayer you prayed for a missionary family in northern Italy this morning.

You never know.

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Things impossible for most pastors to do

One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice to the White Queen. “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” –From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

I write this mostly tongue in cheek.  But not completely.

Try not to appear to be bragging, pastor.  It’s unbecoming to you.

Having pastored six churches over 42 years and having preached for over 55 years, I know how what I am doing or thinking, fearing or dreading, anticipating or remembering tend to work themselves into what I am preaching.

In fact, it seems to require the strength of Samson to keep these things out of our sermons….

If a pastor jogs or works out, it is impossible for him not to work that into a sermon at least monthly.  “As I was jogging yesterday morning, I’d just completed my third mile….”

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10 ways pastors can save their sanity

Alternate titles for this might be: Ways to Prevent Burnout.  Or, How to Pastor the Saints Without Losing Your Religion.  How to Mind God’s Work Without Losing Yours.  How to Enter the Ministry Rejoicing and End the Same Way.

Okay. With me now?   This list is as it occurs to me, and is neither definitive nor exhaustive.  You’ll think of others.

One. Pace yourself.  You’re in this for the long haul, not just till Sunday.  Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.  Among other things, this means you should not stay in the office too long, should not stay away from home too much, and should not become overly righteous.

Say what?  The “overly righteous” line comes from Ecclesiastes, something they say Martin Luther claimed as one of his favorites.  “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise.  Why should you ruin yourself?”  (7:16).   I interpret this to mean: “Don’t overdo it, pastor.  Keep your feet on the ground, and your humanity intact.”  It’s possible to be so religious you become a recluse, so devout you come to despise lesser humans, and so righteous you become a terror in the pulpit.  Stay grounded, friend.

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What you left out of your sermon, pastor

“Preach on sin, Pastor!”  When the old gentleman urged that bit of counsel upon me, being young and a know-it-all, I assumed he wanted me to harp on the ways of drug addicts and murderers and terrorists, sins no one in our congregation was committing.  But I know now what he was saying.

The old man was right.

Preachers who love the Word and are committed to the Lord’s people–well, a goodly number of them–have found that it is pleasant to the hearers and strengthening to his job security to leave out the sin business.

I’ve noticed this a lot.  And it’s not just one or two preachers.

Here’s what happens.

You preach a great text and share some wonderful insights you’ve gleaned. And they are good.  You end your sermon, satisfied that you have fulfilled your assignment from the Lord.   Little old ladies–God bless ’em!–brag on you at the exit, and you go home pleased with yourself.

But not so fast.

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What to do when your pastor stirs the pot

“….according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal….”  (2 Timothy 2:9)

Pot-stirring: To take a stand on a controversial issue.  Known colloquially as “opening a can of worms.”  Rocking the boat. Rubbing the old cat’s fur the wrong way.  Upsetting apple carts.

Expect it.

It’s a poor pastor who doesn’t stir the pot from time to time.

They didn’t crucify Jesus for sweet-talking the 23rd Psalm, for explaining the symbolic meaning of items in the Tabernacle, or for spending six months on the Greek verbs.  He took a stand on what matters most, and when people didn’t like it, He held His ground and paid the ultimate price.

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