How an experienced preacher can improve his speaking

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’  But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am a youth.  For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

Short answer:  Work at it.

Longer answer:  Read, listen, attend, ask, study, change, improve.

I used to have a professional speaker in my church.  When I asked her for advice, she declined.  I was disappointed. I would loved to have had some helpful pointers from her.  (Many years later, we are still in contact and to my pleasant surprise, she remembers only how effective I was.  I’m thankful for her poor memory!)

I bought a magazine at Barnes & Noble the other day.  OnPoint costs like a hardbound but is a slick quarterly from the Harvard Business Review.  The entire Summer 2019 issue is devoted to  “How to Become a Fearless Speaker.”

I paid $20 bucks for it.

If I get one or two great ideas, it’ll be an excellent investment.

And that’s another point worth remembering, pastor:  Always be open to improving your technique.

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Cruisin’ for a bruisin’: Ministers who are asking for trouble

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty;  only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  (Galatians 5:13)

When you rescue an endangered brother, “consider yourself, lest you be tempted,” said the Apostle.  He knew the danger of going into “those places.” (Galatians 6:1)  Therefore, we are to “make no occasion for the flesh,” which is the KJV reading of our text.

To “make occasion for the flesh” is to plan to fail.  The fellow who has been sober for months keeps a six-pack handy “just in case.”  The dieter has lost 50 pounds and is so proud of herself, but “just in case,” she keeps a stash of Twinkies in the back of the pantry.  The godly young man who has recommitted his life to Christ rejoices that he is finally free of the lust that drove him so long.  But “just in case,” he keeps some DVDs hidden where only he can find them.

Planning to fail.  Sound familiar to anyone?

“We are not ignorant of (the devil’s) devices,” said the Apostle.  (2 Corinthians 2:11)

There are so many snares out there, set by the enemy to trap the faithful.  The object is to put him/her out of business.  “To steal, to kill, and to destroy,” said our Lord in John 10:10).

A trap never looks like a trap.  It is baited, whether the object is to catch a mouse, snare a grizzly or humiliate a servant of God.

The middle-aged couple sitting before me to be sketched drew up closer.  “May we give you a prayer request?”  I quit drawing and said, “Sure.  What’s up?”

They told me their adult children were serving a church in the area.  That congregation is going through a major crisis right now.  “Last Sunday the pastor resigned.”

But he didn’t resign to go to another church.

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Ten ways pastors can enlarge their minds and grow in unexpected ways

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press forward….” (Philippians 3:12)

Are we correct, servant of God, in assuming you see areas of your life needing growth?

You’re like the rest of us and still have a long way to go?

I have no snake oil remedies to sell, no self-improvement program for you, no quick fixes.  Just some ideas that God has used in my own life, that might be helpful in yours.

One.  Attend lectures.

Find out if anyone in your area–a college, the chamber of commerce–has a lecture series in which outstanding personalities speak on various subjects, and buy a season pass.  You’ll not be able to attend every session, nor will you want to, I predict, but you’ll end up hearing some fascinating people and have your mind stretched in unexpected ways.

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The subtle way we preachers brag

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the mighty man glory in his might;  nor let the rich glory in his riches.  But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I am a preacher, bear in mind. So, I know how it’s done.  After all–pay attention now–I pastored six churches for forty-two years, some of them large, influential churches.  Why, in one of my churches, I had a deacon who was a commissioner of the F.D.I.C., appointed by President Reagan.  And the sister of Dr. Billy Graham was a member.  In fact….

Okay.  See what I’m doing here?

Bragging in a subtle, indirect way is  an art not taught in seminary, but picked up along the way, believe me.

Yes, friends, you too can learn how to brag on yourself in an indirect, humble way!!

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If you are lonely in Kingdom work, you have only yourself to blame

And He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7)

When the Apostle Paul gave us his list of burdens and hardships in the service of the gospel, loneliness was not one of them.  2 Corinthians 11 speaks of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and hardships galore.  At the end, he adds one more all-inclusive category: “my deep concern for all the churches.”

But not loneliness.

Paul was not lonely.

We rarely see Paul by himself.  In Antioch, he was one of five leaders. On his first missionary journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark and possibly others.  On his second journey, Silas was his companion, along with Timothy, Luke, and others.  The last chapter of his letter to the church at Rome lists twenty-five saints by name to whom he was sending greetings, along with “his mother and mine” and “his sister” and “all the saints who are with them.”  Then, he names eight brethren who are with him at that moment: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

Paul was no loner.  Nor was our Lord.

Jesus chose twelve “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). (The exception, we need to add, would be Gethsemane when He said, “Could you not pray with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) )

Then, why, someone please tell us, are so many pastors loners, trying to lead the church, prepare life-changing sermons, and bear the burden of a thousand responsibilities all by themselves?

It was not meant to be this way.

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Too toxic to keep, too popular to fire: What to do about that difficult staff member

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

I once asked a pastor friend, “Are you afraid of (a certain member of his staff who was causing him grief)?”  He said, “No, I’m not afraid of him.  But I fear  the damage he could do if I were to fire him.”

Therein lies the dilemma:  What to do about a team member  too powerful to fire but too difficult to keep.

Read on.

I’ve been reading H. W. Brands’ The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. Dr. Brands is a highly respected professor of history at the University of Texas. Back when Brands taught at Texas A&M, Stephen Ambrose brought him to New Orleans for the 1998 conference on the Spanish-American War. My son Neil and I took in the conference and have been big fans of Professor Brands ever since.

In April 1951, Truman fired the most popular general in American history, becoming in one act the most reviled President in memory. During this period of his presidency, historians agree that Truman had become  one of the most unpopular presidents in history.  Interestingly, however, history vindicates Truman in his decision to dismiss the egotistical and out of control general.  You will search long and hard to find a military historian who thinks that MacArthur should not have been fired.

Someone asked Dwight D. Eisenhower once, “Didn’t you serve under General MacArthur?” (Ike had been his right-hand man in the Philippines in the 1930s.)  He answered, “I studied dramatics under him for eight years.” He is quoted as saying, “MacArthur could never see another sun, or even a moon for that matter, as long as he was the sun.”

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Why we appreciated Warren Wiersbe so much

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, Bible teacher/pastor par excellence.  (1929-2019)  

Some years ago, when Dr. Wiersbe and I were swapping correspondence, I did him a cartoon which he put on his office wall.  Now, most of the Bible study books he had published–one for every New Testament book and a lot of the Old–were part of the “Be” series.  Be Real.  Be Joyful.  Be Faithful.   His autobiography was titled “Be Myself.” So, my cartoon showed his tombstone.  Under his name, it read: “Be Dead.”

At the time I thought it was funny, and he must have also. (That was at least 30 years ago, when you’re still young enough to joke about these matters. I hope someone has thrown that thing away.)

I’m not sure how or when I first heard of Dr. Wiersbe’s teachings on cassette tape.  It would have been in the mid-1970s.  I was serving the First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS and always searching for good resources for preaching material.  His sermon tapes were a pure delight.  Once I took a two-day retreat to a lake house and did nothing but listen to his tapes. At the time he was pastoring Moody Church in Chicago.

One day, sitting around talking with a couple of neighboring pastors, I was amused to hear one of them say, “I’ve found the most wonderful source of sermon material.  I’m reluctant to mention it to anyone because I’m enjoying it so much.”

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What a sharp staff member looks like

(Sometimes when a church staff member comes across as unmotivated and directionless, it’s because no one has taken him/her under the wing to mentor them in how to be sharp and do their work well. We send this little piece forth to encourage staffers to seek out mentors and veteran pastors to become such.)

Sometimes a visiting preacher can tell the pastor something about a staff member he was too busy to notice.

We were hosting an evangelist friend for a weekend of meetings. That Saturday night, we had bought  20 huge pizzas for a hundred young people.  After the meal, my friend would address them about their relationship with Christ. As  they were eating and fellowshipping, the evangelist took me aside to point something out.

“Joe, look at your student  minister.”

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12 things pastors should make a habit of doing promptly–and 5 they shouldn’t!

Do these things promptly…

  1. Confess sins.  “Keep short accounts with God,” it’s called.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Write notes of appreciation.  “Great song Sunday.”  “I hear great things about your class.”
  4. When inspiration for a sermon or an article  comes in the middle of the night, it must be recorded then or, count on it, you’ll never remember it.  Keep a pad by the bedside.
  5. When you agree to do a friend  a favor–write a letter of recommendation, call on a patient in a hospital, whatever–do it immediately or you will never do it.
  6. Jot down a story, illustration, or thought for a sermon that occurs to you.  If you’re in the car alone, look for an exit and get off the highway so you can write this down.  I’ve sometimes asked my wife to make a note for me as we drove.
  7. Pray for someone when prompted by the Spirit.  When I spot someone who reminds me of a person I knew years ago, I take that as an impulse to pray for them.
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If I were to preach a sermon on homosexuality

“And such were some of you.”  (I Corinthians 6:11).

On a social-media platform the other day, pastors admitted their reluctance to address homosexuality for the obvious reasons: it is such a hot-button issue, good people differ, and the historic Christian position is becoming more and more a lightning rod.

I’m a Southern Baptist.  I’m a Bible-believing conservative follower of Jesus Christ.  I find nothing in Scripture to support homosexuality or a lifestyle consistent with that practice.  Not a word.  (I need to say that up front because some might question this from what follows.)

Pastors need to address such issues as homosexuality, transgender, and same sex marriage in their sermons.  No church wants or needs a steady diet of it, to be sure, but neither should we shy away from these hot potato issues.

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