Pastors and deacons herd the flock

Even though I have logged several decades of ministering to the Lord’s people through His church, there’s still so much I have yet to figure out. One of them is the ideal working relationship of pastors and deacons.

What exactly does the Lord have in mind here?

Since gracious (or too-trusting) leaders keep inviting me to address their assemblies of pastors-and-deacons, it seems obvious that the Lord is giving me ample opportunity and motivation to figure it out.

I’ve even written a book on the subject, one which lots of churches are buying and recommending to their deacons.  Okay…

Here’s where I am at the moment.

The image of cowhands moving the herd from the ranch to the railhead is my favorite metaphor for the key roles in church leadership.

Often the trail-drive was an ordeal of several weeks duration. In the process of herding the animals, the ranch-hands illustrate the key roles of leadership of the Lord’s people.

Someone rides POINT.  Biblically that person is the pastor. The one riding point sets the direction for all who come behind him. Jesus said, “When the shepherd puts forth his sheep, he goes before them” (John 10:4). It’s impossible to direct the herd from a safe spot in the rear.

Someone rides FLANK. The other members of the ministerial staff and key lay leadership assist the point-rider, the pastor. Flank-riders keep the herd together, see that they do not stray too far to the right or left, and rescue any in trouble.

Someone rides DRAG. This may be the toughest job of all, bringing up the rear.

Riding drag becomes the chief role of the deacons. The drag-rider makes sure there are no stragglers, that no one is left behind. He rescues the animals in trouble and prods those that want to drop out. Since this worker eats the dust of the herd, the job usually goes to the youngest or newest member of the team or the poor guy who is in trouble with the ranch foreman. Sorry, deacons. You get the hardest assignment. And yes, there’s actually a scripture for saying the servant should be as the youngest.

These positions are all found in Scripture, in one way or the other.

Think of the accounts in Scripture of them moving God’s people across the Red Sea and later the Jordan River.

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When hope is all we have left

(This is reprinted intact from this website from March, 2010.) 

They called the other day and invited me to speak in chapel at a local Christian high school. I was delighted and told them what I usually do.

They said, “That’s fine. But another time. This time, we need something else.”

What I often do in high school assemblies, I told her, was to set my easel up on the gym floor and get two or three students out of the audience and caricature them. Then, for the piece de resistance, stand the principal before them and sketch him/her. After that, give them my 10 or 15 minute talk on lessons learned from a lifetime of drawing people on the subject of self-image, self-acceptance, and faith in the Lord who made us.

She said, “That sounds great. And we’d like to have you back to do that sometime. But we need something else from you this time.”

“One of our students is dying,” she said. “And it has shaken the entire student body. We need you to minister to us.”

The next day the student went to Heaven.

Today is Friday, the chapel service is Tuesday morning.

Get that? This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the next Sunday is Easter, and in between we’re going to have a service to talk about death and life.

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Church staff member: The pastor’s best friend and biggest headache

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark. (Acts 12:25)

The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them…. and they also had John as their helper.”  (Acts 13:2,5)

Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.  (Acts 13:13)

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return…’  And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also.  But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.  And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another.  And Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.  But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord….” (Acts 15:36ff.).

Staff members! Can’t live with them and can’t live without them!

The biggest headaches most pastors will know in a lifetime of ministry will probably involve staff members.  Some will be his best friends, strongest advisors and most loyal supporters.  Others will write the script for his nightmares, will be Absalom to his David, and will turn hairs in his head either to gray or loose.

For many pastors, the three greatest problems he will face in his entire ministry will be choosing members of his ministerial ministry team, overseeing them, and (occasionally) having to terminate them.  A quick look at each of these three areas….

First: Employing a staff member

I make no boast about having a spotless record in choosing staffers.  Several have been the finest companions and fellow servants imaginable.  One or two have been the stuff of nightmares.  And in between are all the rest.

A pastor who chooses a new member of his ministry team cannot be too careful.  He will need a small team of his best people to assist, interview, raise issues, do background work, and advise him.  Almost without exception, I would say that the pastor who tries to do this completely on his own with no one helping him is going to regret his choice.  Don’t do this alone, pastor! If you do not have a standing personnel committee, enlist a small team to assist on this project.

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Why our Lord requires that we “love one another”

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another  (John 13:34-35).

For good reason the Lord Jesus instructed His followers to take good care of one another.

No one else was going to do it.

Unless they loved one another, following Jesus was going to be a mighty lonely proposition.

The followers of our Lord were hounded, persecuted, ridiculed, harassed, and even martyred.  If they looked to the world to appreciate their efforts to bring the gospel of peace and love their way, they would be sadly disappointed.

The fellow believers were all they had. They were family.

The only family some had.

This is what I want you to do, said the Lord Jesus.  Love each other.

This is what proves your identity as my disciples, He said. My people love one another.

This is what discipleship looks like.

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This is not about you, pastor. Here’s what that means.

“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

The expression “This is not about you, pastor” is not something you and I need ever to say to another human being. Rather, it is something we ministers should say to ourselves occasionally.

Think of it as a mental adjustment, a refocusing.

It’s easy to think the ministry is about me.  The search committee wants a preacher with impressive credentials, a glowing record of accomplishments in previous churches, and strong abilities.  Good teeth and a pretty wife will help.

The congregation welcomes you, applauds you, “pounds” you (ask any preacher), and compliments you.  They pay you fairly well, and when the church does well, they brag on you. When it does poorly, they blame you.

It’s easy to conclude it’s all about me.

And that would be wrong.

Bad wrong.

Let’s talk about it….

A pastor I know is being honored upon his umpteenth anniversary in that church.  He’ll be inundated with gifts.

Another pastor friend is bothered that his church members ignored his recent anniversary.  It came and went without a mention.

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Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord.  (Judges 5:2)

No one is a leader all the time in every situation. When the biggest corporate head in America goes to church, as a member of the flock he looks to the pastor as the leader. At his club, someone else is the executive and he is a dues-paying member.

Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

In their book, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee wondered what goes into making a good follower.

Wanting to find out what leaders expect from members of their teams, they came up with four answers.

1) “I expect my people to speak up and tell me what they really think.”

In huge companies that failed scandalously such as Enron and WorldCom, it appears this quality was missing in the executive offices. No one was telling executives Kenneth Lay or Bernie Evers that the company was in trouble, that his decisions were faulty, and that disaster was looming. They told the boss what he wanted to hear, and everyone paid dearly for this failure.

It takes courage. As a pastor, I’ve been there. The others in the room are either agreeing with the boss or keeping their mouths shut. And yet, they all know the boss’ plans are wrong. They’re just not willing to lay their jobs on the line. Better to be quiet and still have a paycheck coming in. That’s how everyone ended up losing their paychecks.

Bible students will recall that in Genesis 35, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Not a lot is made of that at the time, but anyone knowing the origins of those names sees a powerful point. The name Jacob–which comes out to Ya-a-cov in Hebrew–literally means “a heel-holder,” one who takes advantage of others, who gets a ride at their expense. Israel, Yitz-rael in Hebrew, means “one who wrestles with God.”

God was saying, “I would rather have you wrestling with me than taking advantage of your brother.” And don’t we appreciate that about our wonderful Lord!

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10 ways to tell you are slipping spiritually

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.  (Hebrews 2:1) 

Know anyone who is drifting?

God’s people sometimes awaken one day and suddenly realize they have fallen away from the closeness they used to enjoy with the Lord. The signs have been there all along, but they were not paying attention.

Here are some tests I have discovered for spotting signs of slippage in my own walk with the Lord, evidence that I’m losing the intimacy with Him that always meant so much in my personal life.

10. You know you’re slipping when the big thing you look forward to on a Sunday is a football game.

Spiritual things do not excite you as much as they did at one time.

9. You know you’re slipping when reading the Bible no longer excites you, angers you, or challenges you.

Remember when you were new to the Christian faith and loved making new discoveries in God’s word?  Has that happened lately?

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Some preaching is a waste of time

I love some of the specialized channels on Sirius XM satellite radio. At one point, they replaced the channel playing big band music of the 1940s with one devoted to Billy Joel’s music. At first, that sounded all right. I enjoy several of his great hits. The problem is he also recorded a lot of junk.

To get to the occasional hit, you have to endure all the mediocre stuff.

Same with novelists.  Our favorite writers can turn out some real bombs.  You wonder why they don’t write only best-sellers.

The answer, of course, is that they have no way of knowing. If, as Paul said, “we see through a glass darkly,” it’s also true that people write books and compose songs without a clear idea of how it will be received.

When I was young in the ministry, I spent three years on the staff of a large church and got to see up close how things are done in the megachurch.  Most of it was great and educational; all of it was interesting.

On more than one occasion, I chauffeured our pastor–a young man himself and probably a mite too impressed with his accomplishments–on short trips where he would address a group of ministers in some nearby town.  I can still hear him saying, “Why am I wasting my time doing this? That bunch is never going to do anything.”

I disagreed with him then–and said so, leading to some interesting conversations–and do so to this day.

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Joe’s 10 iron-clad rules for success in the ministry. .Some of which may work

You’re new in the ministry, right?  And you want to do well, of course. You have definitely come to the right place, friend.  Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes.

Some alternative titles for these ten little gold nuggets (aka, iron pyrite) might be “How not to rock the boat.” “How to last 50 years in the ministry without creating a ripple.”  “How to please everyone and secure a good retirement.”

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, seat-belt fastened, sense of whimsy intact…..

1) You’re going to need sincerity to make it in the ministry. If you can fake that, anything is possible.

2)In any church service, the crowd will be bigger if you don’t count them.  We learned this truth from fishing. Any fisherman knows, A fish not weighed is heavier than the one that is.

3) To feel better about your sermon, do not ask your wife on the way home, “Well, what did you think?”  She will tell you, and then where will you be?

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Your sermon offended? Good. It was supposed to.

“Lord, do you know the Pharisees were offended by your sermon?” –Matthew 15:12

Let me say up front that no church can long endure a steady diet of negative preaching.  No Christian, no matter how faithful, can withstand an unending barrage of sermons directed toward straightening them out. On a regular basis, we need messages reminding us we are loved, God is faithful, Heaven awaits, and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes the minister enters the pulpit with a burdensome task: to attempt a diagnosis, surgery, and amputation all in a 25 minute message.  At those times, the sermon must cut deeply.

Sometimes, the message hurts. It necessarily hurts.

How the Lord’s people ever came to expect their pastors to declare the riches of His Word without offending wrong-doers is beyond me.

It cannot be done.

“Offenders will take offense.” Remember that. As columnist Dear Abby once said, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers got hit.”

Delivering the commands of Scripture on how to live and think, how to re-prioritize our lives and change our behavior, and bring every detail of our existence under the Lordship of Jesus Christ without treading on anyone’s toes is expecting a little much of the preacher.

George Whitefield, the great British preacher of the 18th century, gave us an unforgettable line on this….

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