Easter Foolishness

Here are twelve things we church leaders do on Easter Sunday that undermine our own effectiveness in reaching people for the Lord Jesus….

1) We fuss at those who come.

“Well, good morning! We would like to welcome those of you we’ve not seen since Christmas!  Hope you had a good winter!”

2) We put on a “dog and pony show” instead of preaching the gospel.

Never forget that what we use to attract people to our church will be required to keep them. So, if we put on a spectacular to get people in but follow it with our normal run-of-the-mill uninspired preaching/singing/etc., we are doing no one any good.

Continue reading “Easter Foolishness” »

When to fire a preacher and change the locks on the door.

It never fails.

We’ll write something about pastors who are under pressure from wrong-headed church members and how they should stand tall and be strong, and someone will respond with a “Yes, but” scenario.

Their preacher is a terror, they’ll say. Or an embezzler or adulterer or a bully of the first rank.  Several have told me how their pastors have serious illnesses which have incapacitated them for ministry, but who insist on clinging to their pastoral jobs (along with the paycheck) to the detriment of the church. “People are leaving in droves,” they say.

What to do?

You get the impression that people think this is a new thing. Or that being as pro-pastor as I am (unabashedly!), I do not see that some preachers should be sent to pasture and immediately. (My cartooning mind wants to make a remark about sending a pastor to pasture, but I think I’ll pass.)

Nothing about any of this is new.

Continue reading “When to fire a preacher and change the locks on the door.” »

Seven of my eight grandchildren now have drivers licenses. Oh my.

On my birthday last week, granddaughter Darilyn sent a message from her home in North Carolina. “I have gotten my drivers license today.”  I said, “For my birthday you sent me another worry?”

What I found out later was that the same week, Darilyn’s cousin (and our second granddaughter) Jessica had gotten her drivers license. The next Monday, our youngest granddaughter JoAnne got hers.

Yikes.

Only 12-year-old Jack is still unable to drive. The rest of our eight grands–Leah, Jessica, Grant, Abby, Erin, Darilyn, and JoAnne–are all qualified (by the state at least!) to slip behind the wheel of an automobile and drive it anywhere.

Nothing moves one’s prayer life to warp speed like seeing his child or grandchild pull away in the family automobile.  The prayer is usually a constant repetition of the same panicky words: “Oh, Lord, protect her!!”

It’s time for Grandpa Joe to put in writing what he would like to say to each of the grands, if we could sit down for a session on the subject of “your new drivers license.”  Here goes….

Continue reading “Seven of my eight grandchildren now have drivers licenses. Oh my.” »

Why we do not like to live by faith

“Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And then there is this: “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

Faith is not natural to earthlings.

We want to see, to know, to be certain. We shy away from struggling with nebulous concepts such as belief and doubts, convictions and educated guesses and worrying about whether we have enough faith.

Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer of a generation ago, whose television program “Cosmos” riveted the nation, was firm and outspoken in his atheism. However, his numerous Christian friends witnessed to him and tried to reason with him.  One asked his wife, “Doesn’t Carl want to believe?” She answered, “No! He wants to know!”

Reading that many years ago, I remember thinking, “Of course he does. We all do. But God has not set things up that conveniently for us.” Scripture says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “We walk by faith, not by sight” (Hebrews 11:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:7).

Continue reading “Why we do not like to live by faith” »

A strong dose of leadership

Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.

Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.

–”He acts bossy.”

–”He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”

–”The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”

–”We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”

–”We didn’t vote on that program.”

Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.

–”We didn’t know where we were going.”

–”The staff seemed directionless.”

–”We were just floundering.”

Continue reading “A strong dose of leadership” »

When to submit, when to insist

“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

I leaned over to my grandson in church yesterday and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform was the usual dozen or so musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo.  The music was great.

What I thought was, “What if we had given in to the critics? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse–now the dean of the Warren Angell School of Fine Arts at Oklahoma Baptist University–and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

Knowing “what time it is” is the hard part.  For God’s children, that’s a function of the Holy Spirit.

Continue reading “When to submit, when to insist” »

How to remember people’s names (Pay attention, preacher!)

“The (shepherd) calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out” (John 10:3).

The evangelist had held a revival in my church one year earlier, just before I arrived as the new pastor, and it had gone well. Since we had been seminary classmates and the congregation appreciated his ministry, I invited him to return a year later for a repeat engagement.

He walked in and began calling people by their first names.

I was floored.

I said, “James, how many meetings have you been in since you were here last year?”  The answer was something like 36, as I recall.

I said, “Then how in the world can you remember the names of our members?”

“I work at it,” was all he said.  (Looking back, I wish I had not let him off so easily but insisted on learning what he did.)

His words stuck with me.  A few months later, I preached a revival in Edison, Georgia, in a congregation that ran 130 in the morning service.  By the end of the week, I was calling all the people–every person in the building–by their first names.

Pastor Gene Brock said, “I wish I had your ability with names. How do you do this?”

Continue reading “How to remember people’s names (Pay attention, preacher!)” »

Twelve social skills needed by every pastor

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

A retired seminary professor, now ministering in a different church every weekend, posted an interesting little note on Facebook…

That day, he had been wondering whether the host pastor had appreciated his sermon. So far, the preacher had not said a word. But as they walked toward the parking lot, the pastor said, “Before you go, would you like a cup of coffee?”  Thinking the pastor wanted to visit a bit, the professor said, “Sure, that would be fine.”

The pastor said, “You  will notice a McDonald’s on your right as you leave town. They serve a great cup of coffee.”

Not exactly what the visitor had in mind. Some of us who have had similar conversations found it amusing.

Dr. Adrian Rogers once said to me, “Do you ever get up to Memphis?” I said I did from time to time.  He said, “Well, don’t ever worry about a place to eat or a place to stay. We have some of the best restaurants and hotels you will ever find anywhere.”

I laughed and said, “Thanks a lot!”

As a fellow retiree (and thus a guest preacher in some 30 or more churches a year), I have had similar experiences as my professor friend.  One of the most common things that happens after I preach in a church is….

Continue reading “Twelve social skills needed by every pastor” »

Beware of religious people who do not know God

“An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).  “Deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13).

I wrote something on an earlier blog calling for transparency and integrity from churches, using as a jumping off point the billboards up and down the Mississippi Gulf Coast which hawk the fun, the shows, the money, the jackpots, etc., they offer without once mentioning the addicted souls, broken lives and destroyed homes that accompany these enticements. In the piece, I was wondering what if the government enforced “truth in advertising” laws that would require them to tell the full story.

That article was directed to the churches. But someone who found it on the internet jumped all over it (and in ALL CAPITALS!) to accuse me of worse things when our churches ask people to give money.

When people cannot see the difference in a church and a casino, forget about trying to reason with them.

Continue reading “Beware of religious people who do not know God” »

Marginalizing Jesus

“And she gave birth to her first-born son, and….laid HIm in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

One reason God’s people have made so much of this verse, even to the point of inventing harsh innkeepers who slam doors in the faces of the young couple from Nazareth until they find a friendly face who apologetically gives them room in his stable, is that it so perfectly summarizes what the world has done to Jesus ever since: shunted Him off to the side and tried to ignore Him.

Of course, Scripture mentions no innkeepers, harsh or otherwise, and doesn’t even reference a stable. Only a manger, a feed-trough.

I said to a church in rural Alabama this weekend, “Of course, those of us who grew up on the farm know that stables are where you find feed-troughs! There might be one manger outside in the ‘lot,’ what some would call a corral, but the little family will not be seeking shelter in an open cattle pen. So, our vision of Jesus as being born inside a stable is probably exactly right.”

Ever since that time, the world has tried to keep up that practice, crowding out the Lord Jesus and giving Him tiny places in our world and our hearts.

Continue reading “Marginalizing Jesus” »