“From Miletus, (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house….” (Acts 20:17ff)
I’ve been asked to speak to the pastors. I’m delighted with the assignment.
Being a lifelong pastor–well, almost; I was called into the ministry 58 years ago this April–this is my group. I have loved pastors all my life, literally, going back to the earliest memory of my childhood. When I hear of a pastor being honored by God’s people, I rejoice. And when I hear of one being turned out into the cold by God’s people–as I heard this week; abruptly, no severance, nothing!–I hurt as though they had done this to me personally.
Two invitations have come in recently which I hope is going to start a new trend.
Dr. Will Wall is the director of missions for the Pine Belt Baptist Association, which is the Hattiesburg, MS area. Dr. Barry Joiner holds the same position for the Concord-Union Baptist Association in the Ruston, LA area. Without either knowing what the other was doing, they each issued the same invitation: Spend time with a meeting of their pastors to talk about “things.”
Will’s invitation is for Monday, February 4. Barry’s invite is for September 19.
I encourage these leaders to invite pastors to submit subjects or questions or issues they’d like me to tackle. And I’ll add my own.
Here are questions that have been raised, for me to address….
One. Cultural, racial issues…
–How does a previously all-white congregation go about attracting minorities (whether African-American or Hispanic or others) to their services? Answer: Add one to your staff.
–How does a typical Southern Baptist association of churches make welcome the minority congregations that join them? Answer: Ask them.
–What should pastors do about members of the older generation who still use racial epithets and stereotypes in their conversation while insisting they mean nothing by it, that “It’s just how I was raised”? Answer: Preach God’s Word and let the Holy Spirit apply it.
–When African-American churches join SBC associations, they may call their pastors by titles such as “Prophet” and “Apostle,” and they’re used to committee chairmen having much more authority to get things done unilaterally than the traditional SBC practice. What to do? Answer: Give them time and they’ll adapt. (Obviously, my position is that New Testament church pastors should not be called apostles, prophets, or such.)
Two. Doctrinal questions.
–What should churches do about the divide between historic SBC positions and Calvinism, since more and more younger pastors are of the Calvinistic tradition. Answer: Love one another.
–What should a pastor do when he has doubts about the inspiration of a passage of scripture? Answer: Do not preach your doubts. Call a veteran pastor and seek his counsel.
–It’s Super Bowl Sunday and you want to preach a sermon against the religion of sports. Should you do this? Answer: Get counsel from your mentors (see below), but I’d suggest you pick another Sunday, one not loaded for bear. Be wise as serprents.
–You’re preaching in a church that uses only the KJV Bible. Yet you preach from another version. Answer: Adjust. The KVJ has blessed the world for nearly 500 years.
–You’re the new pastor of a church and you hear that some of the leaders are living in sin. Address it from the pulpit? Answer: Only in the natural course of your preaching, like if you’re preaching through one of the gospels and the passage deals with it. But do not enter a new pastorate taking on specific sins of the congregation; you have better things to do, friend.
Three. Mentoriing issues.
–Why does a pastor need a mentor? Is this only for young, just-beginning pastors? Answer: Everyone can use a friend, an advisor, a sounding board once in a whilte.
–How would one go about finding someone to mentor him? Or should he have several such friends? Answer: Do not ask someone to “adopt” you. No one has the time or energy for that. Ask a veteran pastor if you can run by his office for a few minutes to seek his input on an issue that has come up. Or a sermon you are working on. If you two hit it off, call him in a few weeks and invite him to meet you for coffee. See how it goes.
Four. Some pointers of my own I’d like to leave with the pastors….
- Pastors, dress one step better than the typical guy in your congregation. This applies only in congregations where everyone dresses casually and there’s not a necktie on the premises.
- Write five personal notes to church members each week. You’re expressing appreciation for what some did, sympathy for what others are going through, and best wishes for others. People get so few personal notes in the mail these days that when they do, they treasure them.
- Phone every legitimate visitor to your church. Do it Sunday afternoon or Monday. In most cases the call is 30 seconds long, just enough to register that you noted their presence, that they are most welcome, and do they have a question. If you have to leave a message on their mailbox, that works too.
- Have a weekly time–an hour on Wednesday morning, for instance–when the coffee pot is on in the church office and drop-in visitors are welcome. Mention it frequently until people begin believing it and coming back. You’ll build great relationships this way.
- Give away excess Bibles. Put a box in the foyer and invite church members to donate Bibles they do not need any longer. Get a couple of volunteers and go through each one, making sure it’s a worthy version (I culled two Jehovah Witness bibles!) and in good-enough shape. Insert some witness materials and something on the church. Then, have a Bible giveaway in front of the church one day soon.
- Change the sign in front of your church weekly. If your church doesn’t have a sign that can be read from the street, consider getting one. Enlist a volunteer to handle the sign-changing, and make sure it’s done faithfully. You or a trusted staffer should write the messages.
- invite the best speakers/preachers to your church. They’ll come, even to smaller churches, if you invite them and take good care of them. Smaller churches will want to save up funds for two or three years to have enough to pay expenses and a good honorarium. Once you get the great speaker, pull out all the stops in getting the community present. (The first couple of times, get the counsel of your mentors on this.)
- Take a six-week sabbatical every five years. Use this time for rest and continuing education.
- Reserve one day each week as your off day, and that evening for an outing with your wife. The church will support it if you lay the proper groundwork, hold to it, and line up fill-ins to handle everything. And yes, you will have to make the occasional exception.
- Start each worship service yourself, and do so on a high note. The pastor is the host of the service, so you should open the service. I suggest you start with a verse or two of Scripture–always quoting, never reading it, and speak it loudly, positively, slowly, and meaningfully. Then, lead in prayer, after which you welcome everyone.
There are so many other things we’d like to say to pastors, particularly the younger ones. Make friends of other pastors, including those from different denominations. Attend events sponsored by other denominations in order to hear a wide variety of preachers. Always be working on your preaching style to keep improving your effectiveness. Pray without ceasing. (But do not tell people how much you are praying. If you are, they’ll know it by the power and The Presence.)