What skills does a bi-vocational pastor need?

Paul was a tent-maker.  James and John, Peter and Andrew were all fishermen.  Matthew was a tax-collector.

Were they bi-vocational in their service for Christ?  Did they support themselves by working for a living while they spread the Word?

More and more, I hear pastors say that bi-vo is the way to go.  By supporting themselves they can start a church from scratch without having to solicit funds from supporting congregations until they become self-sustaining.  By supporting himself, a pastor cannot be held hostage by a church bully–or a committee of controllers–who insist that he do things their way to keep from losing his job and throwing his family into financial crisis.

What are the skills a bi-vocational pastor would need most?  Most, I expect, are the same abilities and strengths he would need in a full-time pastorate.  For instance…

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Five skills a mega-church pastor must have

Someone once said a mega-church pastor must be willing to live on $300,000 a year, be considered a celebrity in the community, and put up with an all-paid country club membership.

I’ll pass, thank you.

The skills a mega-church pastor actually does need will depend on the congregation, I expect, but would include:

  1. Strong preaching strength. This will be the pastor’s sole contact with most of his people. So, he’d better get this right.
  2. Administrative ability. In most cases, there will be an executive leadership team represented by four or five heads of ministerial teams. They meet with the pastor once a week to set directions for the church and make important decisions, then each one gathers his own team to plan their work.

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Let the pastor take charge of his own education

Ruth Bell Graham once said many wives are frustrated from expecting their husbands to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.

That same principle works on so many directions.

Many a pastor is disappointed in his Bible college or seminary education as a result of unrealistic expectations.  Those theological schools buy into this error by periodic polling of their alums to ask, “What do you wish we had taught you?  What subjects should we have included? What skills did you need for which you were unprepared?”  Soon, the provosts and deans assemble a new package of courses and give it its own name–“Masters of Divinity with Specialty in Whatever”–and life goes on.

I guarantee you that the next generation of preachers will also produce a list of subjects their school should have taught.  It’s the nature of the beast since life is always moving forward, cultures change, people are never static, and one more big reason. Maybe the biggest of all.

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Does “touch not my anointed” refer to preachers?

Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.  –I Chronicles 16:22. (Psalm 105:15) 

A pastor who wants a free hand to come and go as he pleases chafes when told he is accountable to the membership or must report to a certain committee. The very idea!  He pulls out Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22 and uses these as a battering ram on his people.

He bellows, “God’s Word says, ‘Touch not Mine anointed!’  It says, ‘Do My prophets no harm.'”

Then, he gives his twisted interpretation to his misconstrued favorite passage.

“This means no one in the church and no group is allowed to criticize the pastor.  God’s messengers answer only to God!”

The only problem with that is it just isn’t so.

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Lazy writing, uninspired preaching

Earlier today, I posted a note on Facebook concerning a Ralph Compton western novel I’m in the midst of.  Apparently the protagonist, a fellow named Nathan Stone, is riding a super horse.

The novelist has Stone leaving New Orleans heading toward “Indian Territory”–which must mean Oklahoma–and at the end of the first night, he beds down below Shreveport at Winnfield, Louisiana.  “Wait just a cotton-picking minute,” I thought and checked the google map.

From New Orleans to Winnfield is 250 miles.  Can a horse carrying a rider do that in one day?

The author had them arriving at their destination in two more days.

A few friends opined that this is a novel, it’s fiction, and the author can do anything he pleases. It’s called artistic license.  But not so fast…

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To get the creative juices going

(Confession: This subject is never far from my mind, and this article was months in the writing.  I send it forth not because it’s finished or has “truth,” but in order to light a match under someone else’s thinking.)

I slipped out of the house this afternoon with no particular destination in mind.

I drove to the mall, a mile from my house.  I’d not been inside Dillard’s Men’s Store in six months, and I’m always on the lookout for their sales.  The “Gold Label” dress shirts are the best anywhere, but I buy them only when they’re half price or less.  Today, I bought two shirts that had originally sold for $115 for $9.95 each.  Even if they don’t work out–always a possibility with me–I’ll pass them along to nice people at Goodwill.

Then, I stopped at McDonald’s which is a few blocks  from home.  Inside I ordered a small caramel mocha and sat in  the back reading a “business” book I’d bought on sale in Office Depot several weeks ago.  That book and one other, bought for 3 dollars each, had been waiting in the trunk of my car for the right moment .  Today was that moment.

Note: I love to read outside my field.  I’ll find an insight that works for a sermon or has an application for pastoral ministry, and feel confident no one else is using it.

Tracey Kidder’s “Truckload of Money” tells about an entrepreneur who made a billion dollars with his computer savvy, then went out and started over.  The insights on every page about how he dealt with people are easily worth the price of the book.

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What wears pastors down, ages them prematurely, and uses them up too quickly

Betrayals.  Disappointments.  Constant conflict.  Second-guessing everything you say.  Griping.  Negativism. 

Like herding cats.

It takes a toll.

Most church members have no clue that the constant murmuring (the KJV’s favorite word for it) among the flock is offensive to the Heavenly Father and burdensome to the shepherd He has sent. 

Moses is a great case study for us.  For forty years–think of it!–he gave faithful leadership to the people of God who, far from appreciating him,  were relentless in their eroding, grinding, burdening undermining, questioning, and outright opposition.  Scripture gives a reason for this:  Among the flock was a group of strangers, aliens to the faith. 

They were the main problem. 

Scripture says when they left Egypt’s slavery, “A mixed multitude went up with them” (Exodus 12:38).  Some translations call them “rabble.” Since the Hebrews were not the only slaves of Pharaoh, when God threw off the shackles it must have been like a massive jailbreak.  All who could flee the country did so.  And since this Moses fellow seemed to have a glorious destination in mind, with no other place to go, many of the “mixed multitude” decided to accompany the Hebrews..

This bunch became the source of a thousand problems for Moses. 

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Five things pastors can learn from schoolteachers

The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  (2 Timothy 2:2)

We were told in teacher-preparation classes in college…

–If you are teaching your class  and the superintendent of education suddenly enters the room and quietly takes a back seat to observe, go right on with what you were doing.  Teach that lesson as though you know more about it than anyone on earth.

–If you do a good job, the children may not remember you in future years, but they will carry skills and knowledge that make them better people the rest of their lives.  “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

–If you are in this work for the money, find another profession.  In time society may realize the true value of what you do, but don’t hold your breath.

–Your work does not begin and end with the ringing of the bell.  This is a calling and it involves your entire life.

–You are one factor in a never-ending succession of people passing it on.  Someone taught you. But someone taught those who taught you.  Those whom you instruct today  will in turn teach others.  Do not be the weak link in that precious  chain.

Now,  apply that to the church and those called to preach….

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They’re having a convention and asked you to pray the invocation

This happens to every pastor:  Some civic (as in ‘nonreligious) outfit calls and asks you to lead a prayer at their gathering.  Sometimes it’s the city council or state senate, sometimes it’s a convention or some club’s gathering.  Invariably, you are faced with the decision on what to say and what you should not say.  Here is what I did.

In 1994, I was in my fourth year pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, in metro New Orleans (across the street from the New Orleans International Airport).  I received a phone call one day informing me that when the American Dental Association held its annual meeting in our city a few months hence, they wanted me to offer the invocation.  I was surprised and honored. 

The caller said I would have three minutes for the prayer. She added, “And Pastor, please make it interdenominational.”  In my journal I wrote: “Had she said to omit the name of Jesus, I would have declined the honor for the sake of principle. As it was, I felt I could do something that would satisfy everyone.”

My secretary Peggy kept referring to it as  an “innovation,” instead of ‘invocation.” 

The day came.  It was a huge hotel in downtown New Orleans.  Perhaps 700 to 1,000 people in the room.

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During his years as pastor of this church….

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.)

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