Scars from the ministry: They come with the territory.

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.

“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.

At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face.  “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me.  Wow.  Tough clan.

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon.  The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant.  We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

I bled and bled.  And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.

The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face.  At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.

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“I need to apologize to our old pastor,” he told me.

Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state.  The other day he told me what happened.

First, as a layman he was put on the search committee to find the new preacher.  Then, they elected him chairman of the team.  And then, he began to gather information to present to prospective pastors.

“What is our salary package?” he asked the church treasurer.

The old gentleman had controlled the purse strings for that little congregation for several years.  So, we should not have been surprised when he told Bob, “We don’t want a preacher who thinks about those things.  He should settle with the Lord if He’s calling him here, and come no matter what it pays.”

Bob said, “I don’t think so.  The laborer is worthy of his hire, Scripture says.”

Because Bob wanted to do this right, he insisted that the church pay an adequate salary with benefits.  And did what was necessary to put it together into an acceptable form.

And then, something interesting happened.

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Bullying the pastor into preaching your message

“The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them forth, and said, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).

Preach the Word.

Preach the Word as the Lord leads.

A denominational website reprinted an article of ours recently.  Most readers were appreciative but one guy left comments telling us what to preach.

“You ought to be preaching on racism,” he said.  “The churches are full of it.”

He came back later with a post script.  “After the church shooting in South Carolina, the sale of Confederate flags and guns went through the roof.  Yet the churches were silent. This is sinful.”

The writer is the kind of guy who probably thought our article on “godly mothers” was tame and harmless.  A real manly  preacher would roll up his sleeves and wade into the hot-button issues, wouldn’t he?  Enough with these sissy messages on love and humility, servanthood and Christlikeness.  Let’s stir up something, make some people angry, take a hard stand.

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The pastor considers hiring an assistant. Uh oh.

I have been an assistant pastor and as pastor, I have had assistants. They can be a great help in time of need.  And they can be a pastor’s biggest headache.

I wish I’d had one in a certain church.  I regretted having one in another.

In his book “The Twelve Caesars,” Michael Grant says these rulers of the Roman Empire were one-man shows for a long time.  Their burdens were heavy and their duties endless.  Most caesars worked very hard, he said.  They desperately needed advisors, consultants, and assistants.  But therein lay a huge problem.  How does one bring on board someone to be his assistant, an up-close and personal consultant, who is in on all the important issues of the day, without him being caught up in all the intrigue, the dramas, the personal animosities and rivalries.  How to find out who is loyal.

An assistant can be the pastor’s best friend; an assistant can do a great deal of damage.

I asked a pastor about a staff member he was having issues with.  “Are you afraid of him?”  He answered, “I’m not afraid of him, but I’m afraid of the damage he can do.”

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When church members insist on their rights.

“Why not rather be wronged?” (I Corinthians 6:7).

Ask any pastor.

We hear it all the time.  Variations on this theme are endless…

–“All these years we have belonged to this church and given our money to support these preachers, and now when we need him, he’s in Israel on a holy land tour!”

–“I went by the church.  I needed to see the preacher then, not the next day.  And you’re not going to believe this, but he was on his way out the door, headed to his son’s little league game!  And me a member of his flock.  What kind of preachers are we getting these days?”

–“The preacher needs to apologize to me for what he implied in that sermon on Sunday.  I know he was talking about me, even though he used someone else’s name.”

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The former pastor cannot help the new pastor much. But he sure can hurt him.

“May those who come behind us find us faithful.”  –Steve Green

The pastor who follows me at a church is pretty much on his own there.  Which is to say, there is little I can do for him, other than to pray for him.

The best thing I can do for a new pastor is to have served well during my tenure and done my level best to disciple God’s people, leaving behind a healthy congregation.  But after I leave, there is little more I can do for that church or its new shepherd.

My words of affirmation to the new guy are nice, but nothing more.  My words of commendation to friends in the congregation are basically meaningless since the pastor is on site and they are getting to know him for themselves.  From here on in, he will be having to find his own path, set his own agenda, work out his own relationships with key leaders, and find ways of dealing with those who want to exert influence they do not possess.

I can pray for him.  But there’s very little more I can do.

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The former pastor comes back for a wedding or funeral. Is this okay?

Short answer: If it’s okay with the Lord, your wife, and the present pastor, go for it.

Smiley-face goes here.

But I’m not into short answers, as you may know.  So, let’s look at the subject…

I suppose I’ve broken every rule and violated every common sense suggestion here. My apologies to every pastor who preceded me and those who came after me.  Wish I’d been more thoughtful and much wiser.  Thank you for always being kind and gracious to one who didn’t always get this right.

The retired pastor comes back to do a funeral.  The former pastor returns for a wedding.

Yes or no?  Good or bad?

That is the question before us today.

As the new pastor of a church in North Carolina, I went over a year without being asked to do one wedding.  As painful as that felt, I understood it.  Young people want a minister whom they know and have grown up with to do their ceremony.  In fact, the only reason I was doing funerals that first year is we had an assistant pastor, an older gentleman who had been at that church a decade or longer, and I was assisting him.

These are realities of pastoring.  The preacher who expects to move to a new situation with no transition period is not being realistic.

That’s the main reason they keep inviting the former pastor back.

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Why do retired pastors hang on to become a problem? I think we know.

The longtime pastor was given a great send-off.  Lots of honors and festivities, a nice gift, and a couple of plaques for his wall.  Great things were said of him and spoken to him. Only one thing was wrong.

He didn’t leave.

He held on.  He stayed in his house, kept running by the church office, continued inviting church members to his home, kept his ear to the ground to learn what was going on with the new pastor, accepted lots of funerals and weddings, and in general, made a nuisance of himself.

Meanwhile, the new pastor is having the dickens of a time settling into his proper role in the church.  It’s not the ghost of the old preacher that haunts him, but the man himself.  The old guy is everywhere.

Then, as church members called or dropped by to complain about the new preacher, the oldster listened sympathetically.  Their unhappiness confirmed his suspicions that the new pastor would not be as loving, as dedicated, as gifted, as attentive, as compassionate, blah blah blah, as he.

Lord help us.

Our previous article on this website brought up the subject of retired preachers hanging around.  But there’s more to be said on the subject.

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Pastors, someone else is always “on deck.” Do your job, then get off.

“He must increase; I must decrease” (said by a very powerful preacher about the One who took his place in the minds and imaginations of the crowds).  –John 3:30

Watch how Barnabas acted when Saul of Tarsus gradually moved ahead of him so that their team became Paul and Barnabas.  Acts 13.

When I said we would be writing about retired pastors who stay on to make life miserable for their successors, people began sending me their horror stories.

You don’t want to hear them.  They are too painful.

One old guy refused to vacate the pastor’s office, so the new pastor was given a house trailer as his office until the old fellow died.  Solution: The lay leadership developing a spine.

Another old guy made sure to elevate himself in the minds and hearts of the church members so that his successor would not be able to live up to the standard he had set.  Then, he sat back smiling while people tore the young pastor apart for not doing that very thing.  Remedy:  The lay leadership rising up and speaking the hard truth both to the former pastor (and encouraging him to move his membership) and to the congregation (get your eyes off men and onto the Lord!).  That did not happen.  The younger pastor carries scars to this day.

I am a pastor.  I love pastors and pray for a long list of them often.  I am a friend of pastors and sometimes their counselor/advisor/mentor.  I believe in the role of the God-called shepherd, and I encourage church members to honor their minister and obey Hebrews 13:17.

But that is not to say all preachers get this right.

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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 attending 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 those dark streets to her apartment, every plane going over seemed ready 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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