Changing Gears

“My biggest problem is going from being a disaster pastor,” one of our men said, “to simply being the pastor of the church.” He was voicing the difficulty a number of ministers in this part of the world are dealing with these days: how to transition from the crisis mode their church has functioned in for the past 21 months since Katrina to the normal routine of pastoring a church.

He went on to explain, “When you are gutting out a house or rebuilding a church, you can see the progress each day. But in the typical day of pastoring a church, it’s another story. You deal with people having problems, you plan church programs, you visit the hospitals, you prepare sermons. At the end of the day, it’s hard to see what you got accomplished. The switch is hard on some of us.”

While some of our pastors are dealing with this problem, some wish they were. Jerry Darby is still driving over from Alvin, Texas, near Houston each week. He attends our Wednesday morning pastors’ gathering, then rounds up as many of the scattered members of his One Faith Church as he can locate, and they have church in someone’s home that evening. Next day, he drives back to Texas and pastors New Life Baptist Church there. He admitted, “My Texas members live in fear that we will move back to New Orleans.” But even if that happens–and Jerry’s wife, a native New Orleanian, is ready in a heartbeat–it’s not likely anytime soon. Too few members and no location. Since they are meeting in various homes, some wag suggested their church can be labeled “One Faith, Many Locations.”

Thomas Glover wants his New Covenant Mission in Harvey to transition into a more diverse congregation. “Before Katrina, we were running 20 in attendance, and now we have 40. But, other than Bethany Hales, our “Unlimited Partnership” minister, we’re all African-American.” Thomas got a laugh when he told of someone asking Bethany if New Covenant is a diverse congregation. “Well,” she said, “I’m the only diverse one right now.”

One of our pastors told the Wednesday pastors group that he had apologized to his congregation last Sunday. “I told them to forgive me for saying I’m not a pastor. I had been saying that I was an evangelist, not a pastor. I told them God has called me to pastor this church and so I’m going to have to learn to be a pastor, and I wanted them to help me learn.”

His wife says the congregation is responding to that request and being supportive. This pastor and wife have been visiting in the homes of the members and she said, “We’re discovering that the people have major hurts from the past. That’s why they found it hard to accept us at first. But they are so responsive and appreciate so much our trying to get to know them.”

It’s interesting to me, as one who has pastored churches since 1962, to observe pastors finding out the power of getting into the members’ homes. The great George W. Truett, pastor of FBC Dallas from something like 1896 to 1944, once said the pastor should be in the members’ homes during the week diagnosing so he can prescribe from the pulpit on Sunday. Someone else has noted that the shepherd tends the flock during the week and feeds them on Sunday.

Dr. Bill Taylor uses an expression of “a minister having coins in his pocket.” When a minister shepherds the congregation or counsels an individual or performs a wedding or funeral or some other personal service, he’s building up credits or “coins” which he may later spend or cash in when he attempts to lead the church. The minister who tries to lead without having first earned the trust of the people is like one who attempts to purchase something he cannot afford. First, let him earn their trust, then he may lead.

Keith Manuel of the state convention’s evangelism department shared with our pastors Wednesday a different approach to personal witnessing. “When you’re in the restaurant,” he said, “and you want to witness to the waitress, you ask her three questions. Not all at once, of course. For instance, I will ask, ‘What is the most important thing you want people to know about you?’ That’s a good question and it will tell you a lot about her. After she answers, tell her you have a second question that’s harder which you’d like to ask her later.”

“Later, during the meal, as you have opportunity, ask her, ‘What is the most important thing God has ever done for you?’ Now, what you have just done is to move the discussion into the spiritual realm. And remember, you’re not arguing with anything she said. You are listening to her. Then, you tell her you have one more question, but it’s a lot harder than the other two and you’ll ask her later.”

“Before you leave the restaurant, you ask, ‘In your opinion, what is the most important thing God requires in order for people to get to Heaven?’ Now, notice that you are asking for her opinion. So whatever she says is your answer. Do not argue. You asked for her opinion and she gave it.”

In most cases, Keith pointed out, how she answers that question will give you a lead-in to share with her what God’s Word says in answer to the question. Another simple method you can use is to post your testimony and the plan of salvation on and simply give her your card with your name on it, and ask her when she gets home to click on it and read your story. “It’s just that simple,” Keith said.

He and I had lunch at Russell’s Marina Grill at the West End lakefront and he gave his card to the young lady who served us, suggesting she check out his story.

Keith reminded our pastors, “But you have to leave a good tip. You can’t witness to the waitress and then insult her with a poor tip. Make her know how much you value her trust.”

(Let’s all go to and check out Keith Manuel’s testimony.)

Dr. Ken Taylor–pastor of our Gentilly/Elysian Fields blended congregation and professor of urban missions at the seminary–brought a class of his extension students to our Wednesday meeting for the second week in a row. Eight today, and over 20 last week, all from various states around the Southeast, and today one from Ghana. I shared with them for 30 minutes prior to our 10 am meeting, answering their questions about the rebuilding of our churches and this city.

Several months ago on this space, I raised the question about the status of some of the big-ticket construction items being proposed for downtown. Today–Wednesday–we received some answers in the Times-Picayune. The Trump Tower–all 70 stories of it–located on Poydras Street facing the Hale Boggs Federal Building is still in the works. This collection of condos and hotel rooms is slowly making its way through the city’s approval process, we’re told. At a cost of $400 million, this would be the city’s tallest building.

Some may recall that the owner of the Hyatt Hotel, which is connected to the Superdome by a wide walkway and which has not reopened since Katrina, announced many months ago a massive plan for his “new” hotel to also include some city government buildings, a park, and a jazz center. The hotel is on schedule to reopen next year, and Strategic Hotels and Resorts of Chicago, the Hyatt’s owners, assures residents that “we remain optimistic that the local, state, and federal governments will act in concert and build momentum.” Not sure what it means, but it sounds okay.

A snag in those plans is the 26-story Dominion Tower which is just across a side street from the ‘Dome and formerly housed a shopping mall known as the New Orleans Centre. It took a lot of damage in the hurricane and absolutely nothing has been done to the structure since. A city leader said on radio this week New Orleans should tear it down and send the owner the bill. The Santa Monica, California, real estate company which owns the property promises to begin replacing windows soon, but has no plans for reopening the facility. Previously, Macy’s was the chief tenant of the Centre, but they have decided not to return to New Orleans, not downtown and not to the Kenner location in the Esplanade Mall. That huge box store in Kenner remains empty.

The Corps of Engineers has at various times said this city is ready for the next hurricane. However, today, leaders of this government agency announced they will soon begin raising the levees alongside low-lying portions of MR-GO (Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet) to 15 feet. St. Bernard residents are grateful for this since they are the ones most affected.

Since the Louisiana’s Road Home Program is projecting a shortfall of some $3 billion, they are announcing that as of July 31 the agency will stop receiving applications from homeowners wanting money to restore their residences. The question of where the remaining billions will come from will apparently not be answered anytime soon. Local and state leaders look to Washington, whereas federal leaders say our state is running a budget surplus now and here is a great place to invest that money.

We begin next week–Thursday, June 7–with the strategic study of our association’s future as we transition from the crisis mode to a more normal existence in a couple of years. Dr. Reggie Ogea of our seminary will facilitate this study which will begin with 12 of our local Baptist leaders, but eventually will involve perhaps hundreds of our ministers and laypeople.

The next time our friends are wondering how to intercede for us down here, we would sure appreciate prayers for this study process. It may be the most important thing we do for the next 6 months. It’s about changing gears.

I’m looking forward to preaching this Sunday morning, June 3, in the worship services of the FBC of Alexandria, Virginia, and then speaking to the senior adults each morning at 11 am, Monday through Wednesay.