The Holy Spirit, my editor

“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…”  (John 16:13)

A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons.  The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment.  So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)

My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “He had a great idea.  He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor.”

They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.

An editor can be a writer’s best friend.  It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books.  A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.

Most of us who try to write and then self-publish (which is what we are doing on the internet) serve as our own editors.

The result is often embarrassingly bad. I will read something from this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and made a mess of it).

I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor.  Or a wife.”  (Please smile.)

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What I wish for the Lord’s Church

“That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

The Lord wants the best for His Bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.

Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century….

One. I wish the church were less of a business and more like a family.

Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brothers and sisters and my mother” (Mark 3:33-35).  The obedient are His family.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.  The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family.  I wish more of them were.

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Grieving for the Church

“How many times I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not.  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

Almost daily, I hear of churches that are firing their preachers, are engaged in lawsuits, and struggling with inner conflict.  I know a hundred churches that were strong a generation ago but are fighting to survive now.

These are difficult days for churches, which makes these challenging days for church leaders.

If you are not grieving for the church these days, it must be because your mind is on other things.

Let us care for what is happening, and pray for the Lord’s people.

I grieve for the trendy church which is drawing people in from the smaller surrounding congregations and bursting at the seams, but leaving the smaller ones to shrivel and die.  The huge church often cons its members into thinking they are doing something for the kingdom since they are experiencing such growth. Churches can be so self-centered.

I grieve for the church which is having mind-staggering growth but gradually becomes secretive about what it does with the millions of dollars it takes in, protective about the pay it gives its pastor, and dismissive about the questionable personal lives of its leadership.  Churches can be carnal.

I grieve for the smaller church which turns an envious eye at the growing congregations in its community and, desiring to be like the others, dismisses its faithful pastor and worship leaders because “we have to stay current with modern trends.”  Churches can be wrong-headed.

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What to do in a “trial” (candidate) sermon

The prospective pastor walked to the pulpit, took the measure of the congregation, and began. “There is a powerful lot of wondering going on here today.  You are wondering if I can preach. And I am wondering if you know good preaching when you hear it!”

I know a good Flip Wilson story that fits here, but I’ll tack it onto the end of this.

Now…

Not all pastors are asked to deliver a “trial” sermon to the congregation they hope to serve.  Some are appointed by a bishop and some are chosen by elders or a committee. We Southern Baptists usually use the procedure listed below.  Of the six churches I served over 42 years of ministry, only one brought me in without the people having heard me preach.  The other five administered the usual “trial.”

The procedure goes like this….

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How search committees lead from fear

“We walk by faith and not by sight….” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). 

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Listen to the conversation inside many a pastor search committee…

“We should stick close to this profile on the ideal candidate for our church. That’s our best guarantee the next pastor will be right for us and will stay a long time.”

“The congregation is not going to like it if we recommend this man.  He’s overweight and nearly bald.”

“I’ve already gotten the word from some of our best givers that they want Pastor Hensnest, and if we don’t recommend him, they’re moving their membership. I don’t think we can chance losing them.”

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Why we must not quit when God’s people mistreat us

“Even though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

We hear of it too frequently.

“He used to be a pastor. But the people in the churches were so mean–undercutting him, criticizing, backbiting, slandering, and then kicking him out–that it ruined him forever.  He vows he’ll never enter a church again.”

“If this is how God’s churches are, I want nothing to do with any of them.”

“Makes me wonder if the Lord even cares.”

The variations on that sad theme are endless.

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Learning from the realtors

We preacher types see parallels in everything. I once did an article for this website saying “what preachers can learn from funeral directors.” It honored my favorite mortician and was well received.  So, since I’m in the middle of trying to sell the house where we have lived for more than two decades, parallels with our realtor come to mind. 

What churches could learn from realtors.  You’ll think of other things, but these come to mind….

One. Leave?

When buyers come looking at a house, we’re told that the owners should be gone.  Why? Because the prospective buyer needs to be able to criticize freely, words that might hurt the feelings of the owner who presumably loves this house and is attached to everything about it.

When people come looking for a church home, maybe the membership should leave and let them have the space to criticize.  “This carpet is ugly.”  “Whoever does the bulletin has a lot to learn.”  “I hate the color of the choir robes.”  That sort of thing.

I’m teasing. But it does make a point.

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How many members does your church have?

A friend said, “Preachers love their large churches.  The bigger the better. But I tell you, when they start giving account for their flock before the Lord, they’re going to wish they’d had a lot fewer members!”

In truth, the Bible puts no prize on the size of anything.  “It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many,” said Jonathan in I Samuel 14:6.  And he was right.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” said our Lord (Matthew 13:31).

Not that preachers believe this.   Most of my colleagues in the Lord’s work seem to believe we need bigness in everything, particularly we want lots and lots of members.  The more the better.

The more members you have, the more resources you have: personnel, finances, visibility and influence in the community, denominational respect, etc etc.

At least, that’s the theory.

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When should a pastor resign?

As I write this, a phone call came yesterday from an embattled pastor.  He’s under constant duress from a group of leaders who want him out for whatever reasons–some real and some contrived–and are growing impatient with his inability to find a place to land.  His question to me was whether he should resign. And if so, should he ask for severance, and for how long, and should he couch the terms in words to protect his future job prospects from being endangered.

I wish I could say this is a rarity.  But I receive such calls almost weekly.

Here are some thoughts on the subject….

A pastor may resign any time he chooses. Whether he should or not is between him and the Lord who sent him to that church.

A pastor should resign only when the Lord chooses or if he is forced to do so.

Scripture knows nothing about pastors jumping from one church to another, about pastors climbing the ecclesiastical ladder in order to enhance their resume, or pastors being forced out of a congregation.

Welcome to the church of the 21st century.  We have all those things and more.

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Observations on politics, race, and other non-controversial subjects.

When I posted a cartoon on Facebook, even though it was innocuous and intended strictly for laughs, the barbs were quick in arriving.  A friend said, “Your politics are showing.”

I should have expected it.

Some people see offense where none is intended. People will read meanings into artwork that the “real” artists never intended.  Ugly as well as beauty seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

Some would say that I am naïve, that anyone who thinks he can make a statement involving the President or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and not have it taken to the full extremity of meaning is not living in the real world.

If that’s the case, I hate that about us. Whatever happened to our sense of humor?

I have no trouble showing my politics.

In fact, I’ll tell you where I am at the moment.

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