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…

My journal for Tuesday, May 19, 1998 said: “I visited with two new couples tonight. The first said they heard me at the prayer service at City Hall recently, and decided to come to my church.  The other said they were at the Easter sunrise service where I had done the welcome, and decided to come to my church.”  How good is that?

In the prayer rally, I was the featured speaker with maybe 10 minutes max.  In the Easter Sunrise service, I was given 3 minutes to extend a welcome to everyone.

I remember these occasions.

Some pastor might appreciate knowing what I did that made such an impression.  After all, each of those programs–the Day of Prayer service at City Hall and the community Easter Sunrise service at the local cemetery–would have had a number of ministers on the program.  So, what did I do?  (And, I say to myself, “Why didn’t you do it all the time?”)

Here are some thoughts on the subject…

One.  Most ministers who are scheduled to speak or pray on these programs are unusually ill-prepared, speak off the cuff, and take longer than the time they were given.

There are three mistakes right there.  Knowing they’re being given only two or three or maybe five minutes should drive the minister to do some planning, so as to make his part effective.  But that rarely happens.

The best way to make sure that this diverse audience from across the community stays away from my church is to drone on and on, making it up as I go along.  My honest opinion is there are four or five ministers in the world who are great at extemporaneous speaking–making it up as they go–but I’ve never met one, I’m not among them, and I have five bucks that say you’re not either, pastor.

The single characteristic of most impromptu speeches is that they are filled with platitudes.  Cliches.  Repetitions. Worn-out phrases and used up ideas.

Boring, boring, boring.

Two. It’s a wise minister who sees these things as the opportunity they are.

It’s good for churches to work together, for Christians to fellowship across denominational lines, for God’s people to have a unified voice in the community, and for the pastors to get to know one another.  Furthermore, in the audience will be the unchurched and some who are looking for a new church.  So, the opportunities abound, pastor.

I’ve had people start coming to my church as a result of attending funerals I’d done.

Three.  The less time you are given on the program, the more thought you need to put into what you will say.  Particularly, if you’re being asked to lead a prayer.

Community prayers are tricky things, you may have discovered.  Even if they don’t ask you to omit the name of the Lord Jesus in your prayer, most events involving politicians or schools will appreciate your being considerate of other religious and cultural groups in the meeting.  Even in the deep south, where–as one host pastor told me recently–the visiting preacher could give a gospel invitation and no one would object, even then principals and others will appreciate your showing respect to the others who believe differently from you.  And you can do this, and still be faithful to your own calling, by giving it some thoughtful and prayerful preparation.

A side note: Let’s not make a big deal about using the Name of Jesus in our prayers.  Plenty of prayers in the New Testament do not use the phrase “We pray in Jesus’ Name.”  In fact, I can’t think of a one that does.  The Lord’s Prayer certainly doesn’t.  We Christians sometimes make an issue of something that should be a non-issue.  Praying in Jesus’ name clearly means something far more than simply saying those words.

Four. The best way to begin preparing your remarks is to be very clear on the purpose of the event and on your particular assignment. I’ve gone to these things and on arriving, due to the hazy instructions I’d been given, found that I was the main speaker.  And I’ve done the opposite, discovered that I was one of several ministers on the program and instead of 15 minutes to deliver a message would be given at the most four or five minutes. So, be sure. (In most cases I ask them to send me an email and spell everything out.)

Five. In my welcome to the Easter sunrise service, I said something like, “Have you ever wondered why we hold these services in a cemetery of all places?  After all, death has been the big booger-bear through the ages for all mankind.  But Scripture teaches that when Jesus came out of the grave on that first Easter morning, He held in His hands the keys to death, hell, and the grave.  Death has lost its sting.  The grave is no longer the stopping place for the redeemed of Christ.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  So, by holding this worship service  in a cemetery, we are making an in-your-face statement to death! You are finished!  Jesus Christ has put you out of business!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow! And that’s why we are here.”

And that was just after the invocation.

Six. That said, I do need to add a caveat here.  Do not try to show up the main speaker.  Do not use a lot of first person pronouns (“I did this” and “I did that,” and “The church I pastor”).  This is not about you.  It’s not about your congregation.  You are part of a community of believers today. Act like it.

In fact, if your object is to get people to come to your church, you’ll probably ham it up too much and end up embarrassing yourself  So, I’m not suggesting that this should be your goal.

Your goal should be to keep this meeting centered in its purpose within the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s by lifting up Jesus that you will do your best work.

It’s by lifting up Jesus that some may decide to check out your church.

Anything less is unworthy.

Seven. Start, continue, and end by seeking the Father’s will on this matter. Find what He would have you do and say.  He has a far greater interest in this event coming off and doing well than anyone there.

So, ask Him.  Then, obey.

Practice what you plan to say until you have it down pat.

If you are unsure about something you’re thinking of doing and saying, call your mentor and run it by him. If you have no mentor, get one or two or three this week.  Do not ever try to pastor a congregation of the Lord’s people without the counsel and prayer and support of a few mentors.





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