Pastor, what to do when your competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches. Is all the rage.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  (Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.)

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

Which just made it harder on his competition, the pastors of nearby churches.  They could not in good faith dismiss the guy as unworthy or a superficial rock star.

“Being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord…” (18:25).  “He vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (18:28). 

So, they couldn’t fault his preaching.  Apollos was a good preacher and what he said was dead on. Christians were impressed and his opponents distressed. But still….

Continue reading

Seven prayers of a lazy pastor

I know a lot about lazy preachers, at times being one myself. Every “prayer of a lazy preacher” below I have probably prayed in one way or another, to one degree or other.

It’s easy to point at do-nothing pastors as being the anomaly and call for them to leave the ministry and stop being a blight on the name of the Lord. But in truth, many of us who work hard and long in serving Him are basically lazy and have to fight the urge to vegetate all the time. And, don’t be surprised if some of the real over-achievers found in the Lord’s work fight the same battles and are always working to compensate for those Beetle Baileyish desires to rest and then rest some more.

Consider these prayers of a lazy preacher....

1) “Lord, give me a great text for tomorrow’s sermon, one no one else has ever noticed before and a clever interpretation of it, one no one else would have ever seen.  No rush. Just in the next hour since we leave for the ball game at six. Amen.”

2) “Lord, I pray for Mrs. Jackson there in the ICU. Please let her live just a little longer so I can enjoy the ball game tonight. I promise to (ahem) try to see her tomorrow sometime so the family won’t feel I’ve failed them. Thank you.”

Continue reading

On finding yourself in a burning building. Or sinking ship.

“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be…” (2 Peter 3:11)

The issue of faith–to believe or not to believe–says John Ortberg, “is never just a question of calculating the odds for the existence of God.  We are not just probability calculators. We live in a burning building.  It’s called a body. The clock is ticking.”  (“Know Doubt,” p.32)

Ortberg doesn’t mind mixing metaphors.  We live in a burning building; the clock is ticking.

So true.

Yes, and the Titanic which we call Earth is sinking (with too many people occupied with re-arranging deck chairs). The universe is winding down.  The sun which supports life on earth and is the center of our solar system has an expiration date, scientists say.

The physical creation has a shelf life expiration date.

A plethora of metaphors come to mind, all directed toward establishing one giant fact: You and I should not be planning to live forever, in this body or on this earth.

These abodes are temporary.

It is true that these are all we know. I’ve never lived outside this body or anywhere but on this planet. And that’s where faith comes in. There is something else out there, something better, something higher, more solid, more lasting, awaiting the redeemed in Jesus Christ.

Continue reading

Ten reasons for ministers not to resign abruptly

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)

From time to time I receive notes like this:

“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”

Nothing about that feels right. I want to call to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or or a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your everloving mind?!”

I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.

I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.

Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….

1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.

You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.

So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?

I have something to say to you, my friend.

Grow up.

Continue reading

The worst kind of Christianity

I know what it is to bore myself with my own preaching.

It’s not putting words into His mouth to say that one thing the Living God utterly despises is limp, weak-as-tea ministry rendered by insipid, bored disciples who would rather be doing anything in the world than that.

I have been guilty of this. And if you have been in the ministry for any length of time, my guess is you know about this kind of failure also.

You possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My Name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:3-4)

The church at Ephesus was doing a hundred things right and one big thing wrong: they had lost the heart for God they had at first. They preached and taught, they ministered and served, they prayed and witnessed. But their heart was not in it any longer.

And to God, that negated the entire thing.

Remember how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)

If you think that sounds like what the Lord said to another church down the road a few miles, you would be correct.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

Lukewarm religion. Passionless Christianity.

The worst kind.

Continue reading

My second favorite story

I bemoan the death of mail-out church bulletins. The internet–and maybe the busy lives of church members–was the culprit.

Years ago, we preachers would receive as many as thirty or more bulletins from other churches every week in the mail. A secretary in each church was assigned to type up the congregational news, pastoral announcements, and such and put in the mail, usually by Wednesday or Thursday, with the assurance it would be in the mailboxes of the members no later than Saturday.

Most of us received only the mailouts from churches and pastors we knew well, or admired greatly and wanted to keep up with. A few I took because the minister or secretary (or both) could be counted on for a great story. Here is one story taken from a church bulletin that changed my life….

The date is Saturday night, December 6, 1941, the eve of “a date that will live in infamy.” The speaker was Roy Robertson.

My ship, the West Virginia, docked at Pearl Harbor on the evening of Dec. 6, 1941. A couple of the fellows and I left the ship that night and attended a Bible study. About fifteen sailors sat in a circle on the floor. The leader asked each of us to recite our favorite Scripture verse. In turn, each sailor shared a verse and briefly commented on it.

I sat there in terror. I couldn’t recall a single verse. Finally, I remembered one verse: John 3:16. I silently rehearsed it in my mind.

Continue reading

A pastor who makes us think!

…and in that law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

In his book Eat This Word, Eugene Peterson says that word “meditates” reminds him of something he saw his dog do in the Northwest woods where they were living. One day his dog dragged a huge bone up to the house. Clearly, it came from the carcass of an elk or moose, he said, and that little dog had certainly not brought the animal down. But that pup sure did enjoy that bone.

What the dog did was to gnaw on it day after day, eating it away little by little. Sometimes, the canine would bury the bone under leaves and later dig it out and resume its worrisome process of ingesting that huge bone. Eventually, he had consumed the entire thing.

That is what the believer is to do with the word, Dr. Peterson said. Think about it, consider it from every angle, take in all he can today, then lay it aside for the moment, only to bring it out later and gnaw on it again until it has become his.

Two groups can be found in every church: those who enjoy being prodded into thinking and those who insist that their spiritual food be predigested so it goes down smoothly.

My observation is that only the first group will grow spiritually. The unthinking group is content to remain spiritual infants.

The unthinking member demands simple sermons, easy lessons, no gray areas, all Scripture interpretation to be neat and orderly with no room for differences of interpretation, and no challenges to his beliefs, his position, his world.

The unthinking has a difficult time with Jesus. Our Lord refuses to abide by their demands, just as He did with every group He ministered to in the First Century.

The pastor’s challenge is to move members of the second group into the first category–to show them the delights of reflecting on God’s Word, thinking about His message, studying their Bible lessons, and then to incorporate God’s truths into their lives.

Consider this example.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered that way?‘ (Luke 13)

The Lord proceeded to answer his rhetorical question with a “No, but unless you repent, you too will all perish,” but clearly, He wanted them to think about this.

“Do you think?”

Then, stressing the point, Jesus called to their mind a similar tragedy with an identical truth. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:1-5)

Well, Lord, pardon me, but…well, you see…we don’t actually like to think about these things. Can you just lay it out there in black and white and we’ll simply quote you and run along.

Sorry. He refuses to play into our laziness, to cater to our inertia.

Continue reading

The pastor’s scariest time

I sit there listening while my pastor friend tells what he’s going through in his church. And sometimes all the alarms go off. I realize he is in a dangerous place in his ministry.

Not always, but sometimes, I can tell him this. If I sense a leading from the Holy Spirit or if he and I already have a close enough relationship, I’ll interrupt him.

“Brother Bob, can we pause the narrative here a moment? I need to point something out to you.”

“My friend, you are exposed. You are a sitting duck. Life has drawn a target on your back. Satan has his gun-sights on you.”

“You’d better do something big in a hurry or you’re going to get in bad trouble.”

He sits there stunned, without a clue.

“What do you mean? I’m doing everything I know to work my way through this.”

Continue reading

Five of the last gifts you should ever give your pastor

Not being into psychoanalysis–or for that matter, not being into picking up on subliminal vibes from people even a little–I do not know all the reasons why good people do some of the dumb things they do.

Take church people and how they relate to their preachers, for instance.

Sometimes members of the flock do nice things for their shepherd in cruel ways. They offer good gifts but on looking closely, you can see the hooks attached. They offer sweet praise with barbs on the end.

Do they know what they are doing? Are they aware that in doing these things they only add to the burdens of their spiritual leaders? Do they know they’re being cruel?

I expect most of us would disagree with our answers on that. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here are several “gifts” no pastor wants or needs or should ever receive from those who value his ministry and wish to encourage him.


1. Anonymous criticism.

“Pastor, could I have a word with you? Pastor, you need to know that some members of the congregation are upset about that sermon you preached last Sunday.” Or, that program you started. Or that staff member you are bringing in. Or that family you singled out for praise.

Some members of the congregation. Or even worse, a lot of church members. Translation: “My wife and I.”

Continue reading

How the preacher can sound really smart

“I speak as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart.  True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress.  He is a messenger, delivering the word of God, then getting out of the way.*

However, a less than solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers.  An insecure, insincere preacher–one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor–might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That’s where we come in.  We can help.

Herewith then is our list of tricks which a poor preacher might want to employ.

Tongue in cheek, of course.

One. Insert the occasional Hebrew or Greek word into your sermon.  This is not hard to do, now that we have the internet.  If you really want to sound smart, after saying, “Now, in the original, the Greek word is” whatever, then you will want to say something like “in the pluperfect aorist tense, of course.”  No one will know you have no clue what you’ve just said, but it doesn’t matter. It sounds good, and that’s the point.

Two. At least once in every sermon, say “As my seminary professor used to say…”  You’ll find great quotes on the internet to attribute to the anonymous teacher.

Three. Google Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, and find something good he said.  (He said a lot of quotable stuff, so this won’t be hard.)  In quoting him, be sure to pronounce his name correctly, otherwise the one person in the congregation who knows who he was will badmouth you and your efforts will be for nothing.

This also works for the German preachers Helmut Thelicke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Unfortunately, it does not work for Joel Osteen or John Hagee.

Continue reading