Your great preaching is not going to build your church!

This is the burden of my heart.

Get out of the office, pastor, and knock on some doors.  Later, you can get your people to doing it.  But first, you do it.

Do it by yourself, if you must.  Or take someone with you.  Do it by appointment or cold-turkey.  But do it.

That is as profound a way as I know to build a great church.

Visit your church members, visit your leaders, visit them in their places of business.  Visit your neighbors, the homes around your church.  Visit people who visit your church.

Write letters to them.  The personal kind.  Handwritten, maybe two sentences.  Just to say you’re thinking about them, praying for them, thankful for them.

Get out of the office and get with the people.

Pastor Bobby Welch, longtime shepherd of the great First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, was teaching a soulwinning program to several hundred in the chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Stepping out of the boat: Something Simon Peter did a hundred times

Sometimes it’s scary obeying Jesus.

The incident recorded in Matthew 14–in the darkest part of the night,  the Lord came walking across the wind-tossed sea to the disciples and Peter is allowed, nay encouraged, to leave the boat and walk to Him, managing to take a few tentative steps over the sea before his fears got the best of him–turns out to have been the story of the rest of Peter’s life.

In a manner of speaking.

Leaving his comfort zone to come to Jesus, stepping out of the metaphorical boat and onto the watery surface where no visible means of support presented themselves, thus risking everything, is what Peter did–or was called on to do–again and again for the rest of his life.

One.  Peter, will you confess Jesus?  “Well, normally I would–but today it’s scary!”

He was warming himself at the fire in the courtyard while, not far away, the Lord was on trial. Three times Peter has the opportunity to confess Jesus.  The problem is that was a most scary thing to do.  He would have been hanging himself out there for all to see, he would have made a target of himself, and it would have been uncomfortable.  Luke tells us what happened at the end….

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Deciding what kind of man you want to become

Every male coming into the world will become a man, if he lasts long enough.  But sometime along the way he should stop and ask, “What kind of man do I want to become?”

“Quit you like men” is how the old version of I Corinthians 16:13 reads.  Modern translations has it saying: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong….”

Be a real man.

Be a man like Jesus.

He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone (Matthew 14:23). 

Our text is the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  In this passage, we have several stark contrasts in manhood.  We have King Herod Agrippa, we have the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have a disciple named Simon Peter.

Take a look at them…

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What the pastor prays for himself

“Pray for me–that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth….” (Ephesians 6:19). (Also Colossians 4:3 and I Thessalonians 5:25)

Everyone prays, we’re told.  And, doubtless, every follower of Jesus Christ prays for other people.  But we must be faithful in praying for ourselves.

Here are three prayers of mine from key times in my life…

The first:  I prayed for balance in my ministry and personal life.

This prayer is from an old journal of mine.  It’s undated, so I have no idea what was going on, what prompted it, and when it occurred.  It seems timeless, and knowing my own heart, this has been something I have longed for since the beginning…

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The pastor needs a sabbatical: How to tell and how to get one

In the academic world, professors receive sabbaticals every so often–the word implies seven years, so that’s probably the norm–during which they pursue some program of continuing study approved by their superiors.  The idea is for them to be continually growing in their effectiveness as educators.

In the ministry, a sabbatical might be for six weeks up to a few months.  Most churches are set up to be pastor-dependent and need their main guy at home to keep the program on track and the people focused.

But if they plan well, this can be a win-win thing for everyone.

In 42 years of pastoring six churches, I received two sabbaticals, each for six weeks.  The first, in the late 1970s, was spent in continuing education.  I began by driving to Chicago for the Moody Bible Institute’s annual Pastors Conference, a full week.  I remember a hundred things about that wonderful week to this day. This was followed by four weeks on a college campus in Kentucky during which outstanding Christian leaders spent a week each with us (Carl F. H. Henry, Ray Steadman, etc). The first weekend–confession coming up!–I drove to Cincinnati for two Reds baseball games, heard a debate between Madalyn Murray-O’Hair and a Church of Christ minister, and visited Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.  (I was getting my money’s worth!)

The second sabbatical came twenty years later, in another church, another state, and involved visiting churches across the land.  I sat in the services of seventeen churches and interviewed a bunch of pastors, then returned home to make some long overdue changes in how we were doing church.

I strongly recommend sabbaticals, both for the ministers as well as for the churches.  It gives the preacher a time to rest and grow and learn and listen. Any church will reap excellent benefits from that happening to their minister.

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What a seminary degree will not do

Consider this a love note to some unemployed preachers.

Not all, mind you (I’m trying to stave off a ton of irate letters).  Just some.

I have all this education and training.  Why won’t churches call me as pastor?”

He was angry at God, at all churches, and at the system.  He sported a college degree and two diplomas from seminary, the last entitling him to call himself “Doctor.”

And yet he was unemployed.

His resume’ shows two years each at several churches.  Not a good record.

“The old churches are blackballing me,” he said. “I’m thinking of suing them.”

At one point he said, “I’m giving up on the organized church.”

Now, a casual observer may think I’m betraying a confidence here.  I might be, except for one overriding thing:  I’ve heard this same complaint, in one form or other, at least a half-dozen times over the years.

There’s a lot of this going around.

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How to pastor emphatically

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matthew 10:27).

“The disciples went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

“Nobody ever enjoyed the presidency as I did…. While president I have been president emphatically.”  –Theodore Roosevelt, quoted by David McCullough in “The American Spirit”

The Lord does not want your spare time and loose change.”  –Pastor Brent Thompson, last Sunday at Heflin (AL) Baptist Church.

The Lord wants His people to live life emphatically.  “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,”says Ecclesiastes 9:10.

We are to seize the day, live each moment, and to delight ourselves in Him.

Listen to Paul as he seeks to motivate and energize young Pastor Timothy:

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Writing about those painful personal experiences

“If you have known pain, you have a story.  Tell it.”

“This will be written for the generation to come; that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

Humanity is indebted beyond calculation that in the distant past God told some people to write about their pain.

–Job went through the death of all his children, the loss of all his possessions, and a skin affliction that tormented him.  We have no way of measuring the grief and misery he knew.  On top of that, he was left with a nagging wife and given three burdensome friends.  Eventually, he or someone wrote the story. And we are forever in their debt.

–The story of Joseph in Genesis is a favorite of many.  Sold into slavery by his brothers, he was betrayed and framed and thrown into prison where he was essentially forgotten.  And yet, God brought him out with a mighty hand.  We are so glad someone wrote this.  Moses, we are told (see Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27).

–Someone wrote about Moses’ temper, the Israelites’ shenanigans, and David’s unfaithfulness.  They wrote about Jeremiah’s hardships, Thomas’ doubt, and Paul’s sufferings.  And yes, they recorded Moses’ faithfulness, David’s songs, and Jeremiah’s courage.  Thankfully!

We’re glad they thought to record the dark side.  Think how much poorer we would be had the writers of history chosen to record only the pleasant, “uplifting” events and experiences and left out what Oliver Cromwell called the “warts and all.”

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Some things I have learned about leadership–and have the scars to prove

“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

People do not want to follow.

Sorry about that.

Ask anyone clamoring for high political office.  They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as your followers.

So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.

Better to become their servant.  Everyone loves to be served.

However, not everyone wants to serve.  Only the best and the strongest can serve.

Serving is hard work.  Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness.  Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summons.

That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society.

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Something I tell students about writing

“This will be written for a generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

What qualifies me to teach writing is not that I’m all that great of a writer myself.  But I love good writing, I work at learning to do it better, and I know some things on the subject worth passing along.

Consequently, I sometimes get invited to speak at writers’ conferences.  As I did this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. (The Southern Christian Writers Conference, the child of Dr. David and Mrs. Joanne Sloane, has been around for nearly 30 years and each June, the first weekend, enrolls nearly 200 students.  Meeting at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church, the SCWC brings in editors and publishers and all sorts of successful writers to teach.  Oh, and they also bring me in.  Just goes to show, I suppose.)

The text from Psalm 102:18 is the Scripture that fuels their writings, the Sloanes say.  After all, we’re told, more people of the future will read our stuff than will our contemporaries.  In a sense, we’re writing history.

Writing a journal is like taking a 30-minute slice of your today and sending it ahead into the future.  I’m big on journaling.  Journals, we are told, are not so much for our children–who presumably are living the same life we are and have little curiosity about how we view today–as for our grandchildren and theirs.  In time, my journal will be looked upon as something of a record of “the life of an ordinary Baptist preacher in the 1990s.”  I’ll not be around to know it, but in doing those journals–I’m through with journal-keeping except on this blog, something that I wouldn’t exactly call journaling–it has often been with a view toward the future.  There’s a strong witness for Christ throughout all 56 volumes.

Anyone can write; you don’t even have to know good English.  However, if you want people to read what you’ve written, knowing how to make subjects and verbs agree and the difference in they’re, there, and their will come in handy.  Most of us cannot long abide poor writing, so while we may read a few pages, we soon lay it aside because of the assault on our brains.

Therefore, however (I love to put those two words together!), you can get on with writing, without waiting on a certification in proper English usage or the muse to inspire you.  Just do it.

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