Leave us with our illusions

“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

God is under no illusion about us. He knows we are made of humble stuff.  He knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.

Whether we are under false conceptions, i.e., illusions, about God is another question.

One thing is sure. We sure do love our illusions, our pipe dreams, our false ideas and wrong impressions.

“No one should see how sausage or their laws are made,” goes the saying.  The internet traces the quote to Otto von Bismarck, German chancellor of the late 1800s, who is supposed to have said it more like “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

Leave us with our illusions.

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Questions Deacons Ask (first in a series)

By no stretch of the imagination do I present myself as an authority on deacons or churchmanship (or anything else for that matter).  But, since the Lord has me holding a number of deacon workshops (retreats, training, etc) each year involving several hundred of the Lord’s finest, I get asked questions regarding this ministry.

Here are some of the most recent questions I’ve fielded in these workshops….

Some new deacons feel their opinions don’t matter.  How can we address this?

Humility on the part of the new deacons and thoughtfulness on the part of the officers–these are always in order.  That is to say, newly ordained deacons will want to be cautious about jumping into discussions to offer their opinions.  Better to stay back and listen and learn until the appropriate time.  At the same time, the chairman or moderator should encourage them to join in the conversation from time to time.

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What the wedding couple cannot promise each other

Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.

In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”

But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.

Say what? How’s that?

C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”

But shouldn’t we always be in love?  Isn’t that the goal?

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What causes God to laugh

“But Thou, O Lord, dost laugh at them; Thou dost scoff at all the nations” (Psalm 59:8).

Was it Erma Bombeck who once said, “Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”

Or was that Joan Rivers?

Anyway.  It’s right on the mark.

The writer for Our Daily Bread tells this:  I was washing my car one evening as the sun was preparing to kiss the earth goodnight.  Glancing up, I impulsively pointed the hose at it as if to extinguish its flames.  The absurdity of my action hit me, and I laughed.

I get a kick out of seeing how prophecy experts bend over backward trying to locate the United States–as well as whatever country happens to be giving us headaches at the moment–in Scripture.  As though our moment in history is so huge and our place in God’s plan so essential, how dare anyone suggest He could have planned the grand sweep of history without our being given a starring role.

As if.

Isaiah 40 has a good word on this.

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How to grow a small church

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Depending on a number of factors, growing a small church is one of the more do-able things pastors can achieve.

Those variable factors include…

–the health of the church (you don’t want a sick church to grow; you want it to get well first!).  I once told my congregation, “There’s a good reason no one is joining this church.  I wouldn’t join it either!” Believe it or not, those words were inspired and they received them well, and repented.

–the attitude of the congregation (if the people are satisfied with the status quo, they would not welcome newcomers).  I’ve known Sunday School classes composed of a small cluster of best friends who felt imposed on by visitors and new members.  No one wants to go where they’re not wanted.

–and the location of the facility (a church situated five miles down an isolated road, at the end of the dead end trail, can almost certainly forget about growing).

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Pastor, grow your church…as God enables.

“Over ____% of churches in America have plateau’ed.”  (The percentage depends on who’s talking.)

Let the pastor dedicate himself to growing the church as much as possible.

Let growing the church be important to the shepherd.

But let the growth be the real thing, not something hyped up.  Solid growth, not inflated numbers.

A generation or two ago, pastors in our denomination took it for granted that if they wanted to (ahem) move up to a larger church, they needed to show numerical growth where they were presently serving.

Before long, some less trustworthy preachers decided to play that game to the hilt and ruined it for everyone. They grew creative in their counting, they schemed and plotted and even lied about numbers, and doctored the records to make it appear they were experiencing greater growth than they were.

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What to do for an unemployed preacher

Now, preachers and ministers come in all stripes and varieties, I understand that.

In the denomination I serve, there are some who are called “jack-leg preachers,” and it is not a compliment.  No dictionary defines that term, but mostly it means they are self-taught, self-designated, and probably self-called.

I’m not talking about these.

I’m referring to solid God-called well-established servants of the Lord who have been cut off from the church they were serving for one reason or the other and now find themselves unemployable.

I’m referring to faithful preachers of the Word who should be out there leading a congregation, but have not been able to find one willing to give them a try.

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The light-hearted pastor is an oxymoron

“…the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

After pastoring three churches for nearly nine years, I joined the staff of a large Southern Baptist church in our state and suddenly found myself attending Sunday services without having to preach.

Now, I loved to preach, don’t get me wrong. But for almost a decade, I hardly knew what it was like to attend church the way normal people do.

I recall sitting on the platform during the early part of the service feeling as light as a bird, carrying none of the burden I had grown accustomed to when I was pastoring.  I would sing the hymns and enjoy the worship, and then at the appointed time in the service, get up and make my announcement or extend the welcome or offer a prayer.  When I finished, I walked off the platform and joined my family in a pew.  It was a wonderful feeling.

One day something occurred to me. Before long, I will be re-entering the pastorate.  I’ll be the person bringing the sermon each Sunday.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could be as free and light-hearted, as burden-free, as I feel now?

Not going to happen.

I knew that.  But I longed for it, nevertheless.

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The pastor goes before the search committee

There is no established manual for search committees.

There are no laws on how these things are to be done.

The Bible has no search committees and thus no guidelines for them.

So, the result is often a mess. A hodge-podge of arrangements and a plethora of assortments.

So, lower your expectations, pastor.  And buckle your seat belt.

Some committees are well-organized and infused with a strong sense of purpose, convinced they are engaged in a holy mission, doing the Lord’s work and honoring all the Lord’s servants they encounter.  They represent their church well and every pastor they interview falls in love with them.

Oh, that they were all that way.

Allow me to say that few are that way, but without citing examples of the other kind.  Let’s just say pastors should expect anything and be flexible.  They will want to keep their eyes on the Lord and not on people.

As a veteran pastor with a half-century of dealing with search committees–I’ve been interviewed by a hundred, have counseled scores, and have served on two or three–perhaps what follows here will be helpful to someone.

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How churches deal with the crime problem

One evening recently a news program dealt with the increasing crime problem which Wal-Mart stores are facing.  In one medium-sized city with six Wal-Marts, police were called to incidents at those stores 2,000 times in a one-year period.  The same city has six Target stores. They called the cops 300 times over the same 12 months.

The problem, said the speaker, is Wal-Mart is cutting back on personnel and no one is policing the aisles, all of which makes shoplifting easier.

I imagine that’s right.  I cannot recall seeing a security guard at a Walmart or Sams Club in ages. In a sense, they are inviting trouble.

Churches are facing this also.  It’s not so much pilfering or stealing, sins that have ever been with us, as it is the more serious varieties of crime: shootings, terrorism, gang warfare, and similar type violence.

Recently, I preached in a church that is trying to anticipate trouble before it happens.  The pastor showed me what they are doing. Continue reading “How churches deal with the crime problem” »