Fearmongering: The cheapest kind of preaching

“Men’s hearts will be failing them from fear” (Luke 21:26).

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).

When I was a kid–sometime in the early 1950s–I recall going to a revival meeting with my grandmother in Birmingham.  The preacher scared the living daylights out of everyone with his prophecies about the future, his warnings about Russia and Communism, and his forecasts about what was about to happen.  Later, as Grandma and I walked down the dark Birmingham streets to her apartment,  I felt that every plane going overhead was about to drop an atomic bomb on us.

Scary preaching is foreign to the New Testament.

The great apostle actually thought teachings of the Lord’s return and the believers’ victory over and escape from this world should comfort us.

But listen to the typical prophecy preacher.   So many will use passages about the Lord’s return and the end times to strike terror into the hearts of the faithful.  They speak of the martyrdom of millions of the faithful, of the havoc to be wreaked throughout the world by the Lord’s death angels, of the Beast and the Antichrist and the desolation of abomination.

Matters of which they understand little.

God’s final warning!  The end is near!  Signs of the time!  The Antichrist is alive and living in New York City at this moment.  The United States in Bible prophecy!  Nuclear war predicted in Bible prophecy!

Sound familiar?  If you’ve observed the religious scene for the last 20 years or more, you’ve heard it all.  Turn on the television and you can hear it today.

There’s a reason for this.

Fear-mongering is a well-calculated plan to get religious but ignorant people into their organizations or onto their mailing lists, and then motivate them to open their bank accounts.

After all, fear works. Fear motivates.

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Pastors’ No-No: Overuse of the first person singular

The fellow who developed something called “My Pillow” wants everyone to know “I did it.”  “When I invented My Pillow,” he says, and goes from there.  You get the impression he locked himself in a garage and didn’t come out until he’d figured out all by his lonesome how to make this new kind of pillow.  He comes across as a solo act.

In the TV ad, he says, “I do all my own manufacturing in my home state….”

The man is in love with the first person singular pronoun.  I, me, my.  A four-year-old saying “I can do it by myself” comes to mind.

And yet, the ads show a lot of people working in the man’s factories.  He is not doing this by himself, whether he realizes it or not.

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How the pastor can participate in community services and make it work.

“Work for the welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf, for as it prospers (“in its shalom”) you will prosper (“you will have shalom”). –Jeremiah 29:7

“Pastor, we’re asking all the churches in town to join together for a prayer rally for the election coming up soon.  Can we count on First Church to participate?  And by the way, we’d like you to be the featured speaker.”

Or, “We’d like you to extend the welcome, and set the direction for the service.”

Or “lead the invocation.”

What to do, what to do.  Accepting this will require time that I do not have.  This will be outside my comfort zone.  This will not have any immediate benefit to my church.

Sound familiar?

My two suggestions are: 1) When you possibly can, accept.  It’s good for churches and pastors to work together.  And, 2) whatever you agree to do, work to make it excellent.  You are representing the Lord, your church, and your family.

After being in the ministry for over 55 years, with most of it spent in pastoring six churches, I cannot count the number of community Thanksgivings services, Easter sunrise services, and citywide prayer rallies I have attended.  Today I had a small reminder about the importance of those time-consuming events about which we sometimes wonder whether they’re worth the trouble…

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Speak up for your pastor.

Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel.  And while you’re at it, let them know that I’m your servant” (My paraphrase of I Kings 18:36).

A friend said to me, “Whenever I heard someone running the pastor down, I tell them to pray for him.”   I said, “May I make a suggestion?  While I appreciate your telling them that, a better thing would be to tell them strongly that you disagree, and say why you love your pastor.  They need to hear this.”

Yesterday, when my wife returned from her annual doctor’s appointment, she told me something fascinating.

On her way out of the office, two assistants spoke to her. “Isn’t he wonderful?”  “We have the best doctor in the building.” Bertha agreed.  We love Dr. Paul Vanlandingham.

I found myself wondering what if the church staff did that when people come into the office?  “Don’t we have a wonderful minister?”  “We’re so blessed to have such a godly pastor.”  “The Lord has blessed us by giving us such a spirit-filled leader.”

That sort of thing.

What if the ministerial staff said something similar as they interact with church members and others during the week?

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What pastors are trying to do

“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus….” (I Timothy 4:6).

On a crowded airplane, dad and his two-year-old son sat some rows back while Mom had to sit across the aisle and up several rows.  When the plane reached its cruising altitude, Dad lifted Junior above the seats so he could see his mother.

“See Mommy?  There’s Mommy.  Wave at Mommy! See?”

Junior sees nothing but a sea of faces.

“See Mommy?  Tell Mommy I love you. Say hi to Mommy.”

Nothing.  Junior still has not found his mother.

Then, just as Dad is about to tire of this, the little boy exclaims, “THERE SHE IS! THERE’S MOMMY! HI MOMMY! HI MOMMY!”

The entire plane overhears and everyone smiles. Junior continues, “HI MOMMY! I LOVE YOU, MOMMY!”

Dad finally distracted his small son with a book.

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The pastor and his mother

Most pastors I’ve known have admitted that they were particularly blessed by their mothers.

I certainly was.

Lois Jane Kilgore McKeever grew up in church, met my dad when she and her sister were singing in church, and kept her six children in church until they were grown. (Of her four sons, two became preachers. Ron and Joe together have logged more than a hundred years serving the Lord.)

In those early years Mom got no encouragement from her husband (my wonderful dad), but she had us all ready on Saturday nights. My older brothers would pull out that number 2-1/2 washtub and fill it up.  We all bathed in the same water.  The joke was that the last kid died in quicksand.  Sunday mornings, we would walk a mile from our house to the church.

We were poor, but we were freshly scrubbed and our clothes were clean.  Lois McKeever was forever cleaning and cooking and washing clothes and cleaning house.  She kept the radio on to gospel singing and preaching, and could sing the prettiest alto you will ever hear.

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To marry them or not? It can get complicated.

Every pastor is faced by the dilemma of whether to marry certain couples.  And I’m not referring to the scarier twosomes that come in, where the immediate answer is “Sorry; not in this lifetime.”  Some of the decisions get complicated real quick.

I had honestly forgotten about this one until it popped up in my journal from 20 years ago. A friend recently filled me in on the rest of the story.

A highly respected pastor friend called me from another state.  A couple from his church wanted to be wed in my city, some 200 miles away.  Would I be able to do the ceremony?  A simple enough request. That happens a lot.   New Orleans, where I lived from 1990 until October of 2016, seems to be a wedding destination for a lot of people. One time the bride’s family was from New England and the groom’s folks lived in Texas. So, New Orleans was a convenient spot for everyone to meet in the middle.

So, nothing complicated about this request, I assumed.  The wedding would be at a hotel and my congregation would not be involved at all.

I cleared the date on my calendar, called the groom and we set up a time for the bride and groom to visit in my office.

A day or two later, in chatting with someone from that pastor’s city I happened to mention in passing that I would be doing this wedding.  She said, “Oh no.  You are?  You don’t know?”

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Expectations: The pastor informs a new church staff member

Let’s say you’re the pastor of a growing church.  The church has just brought in a new minister to assist you in leading the congregation.  He/she might be a worship pastor, minister of music, student minister, or in charge of education or pastoral care.

One of the best things a pastor can do with the incoming minister is to make him/her aware of your expectations.  You will want to think them through and write them out, then share them after you both have agreed that God is leading him/her to your church.  Give the person the printed copy and don’t lose your own.  This may be necessary if the time comes when you have to deal with a rebellious or lazy staff member.

In sharing these, do it graciously, not dictatorially as though you are going to be looking over their shoulder all the time.

You could even follow this by asking for their expectations concerning you.  I guarantee you they have them.  They will expect you to deal with them as ministers of the gospel, to give them room to do their job, to pay them well and protect them on their off days, and to support them when the criticism is unfair.  If  the new staffer is expecting something from you which was not spoken and never implied, you want to know that up front before you get too deeply into the employment process.

What follows are things I shared with our staff members in six churches over forty-two years.  Some of them evolved, while some of them were there from the first.  The list is not complete, but only things I recall at this vantage point…

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The highest compliment a pastor can give

“But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:40).

“Tom, I need your help.”

“Ed, can you drop whatever you’re doing and meet me this morning?”

“Roger, I’ve got a tough visit to make and was wondering if you could go with me.”

Pastors don’t ask just anyone for this.

A preacher friend tells of the call he received in the wee hours of the night.

“A woman in the church was waving a gun around and threatening her family.  In recent weeks, we had been trying to help her with certain problems.  As I headed out the door for her house, I dialed the number for a deacon friend.”

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“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I”M NOT ANGRY!” he bellowed.

“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).

“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).

My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.

Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century.  What did the Lord want us to be doing, where to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work with our leadership.  For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative.  No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed.  To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.

My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class.  They were a delightful group.  They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church.  Then someone asked the question of the day.

A young woman said, “I can understand someone not liking a pastor’s style.  But why are these people so angry?”

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