What a seminary degree will not do

Consider this a love note to some unemployed preachers.

Not all, mind you (I’m trying to stave off a ton of irate letters).  Just some.

I have all this education and training.  Why won’t churches call me as pastor?”

He was angry at God, at all churches, and at the system.  He sported a college degree and two diplomas from seminary, the last entitling him to call himself “Doctor.”

And yet he was unemployed.

His resume’ shows two years each at several churches.  Not a good record.

“The old churches are blackballing me,” he said. “I’m thinking of suing them.”

At one point he said, “I’m giving up on the organized church.”

Now, a casual observer may think I’m betraying a confidence here.  I might be, except for one overriding thing:  I’ve heard this same complaint, in one form or other, at least a half-dozen times over the years.

There’s a lot of this going around.

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How to pastor emphatically

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matthew 10:27).

“The disciples went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

“Nobody ever enjoyed the presidency as I did…. While president I have been president emphatically.”  –Theodore Roosevelt, quoted by David McCullough in “The American Spirit”

The Lord does not want your spare time and loose change.”  –Pastor Brent Thompson, last Sunday at Heflin (AL) Baptist Church.

The Lord wants His people to live life emphatically.  “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,”says Ecclesiastes 9:10.

We are to seize the day, live each moment, and to delight ourselves in Him.

Listen to Paul as he seeks to motivate and energize young Pastor Timothy:

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Writing about those painful personal experiences

“If you have known pain, you have a story.  Tell it.”

“This will be written for the generation to come; that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

Humanity is indebted beyond calculation that in the distant past God told some people to write about their pain.

–Job went through the death of all his children, the loss of all his possessions, and a skin affliction that tormented him.  We have no way of measuring the grief and misery he knew.  On top of that, he was left with a nagging wife and given three burdensome friends.  Eventually, he or someone wrote the story. And we are forever in their debt.

–The story of Joseph in Genesis is a favorite of many.  Sold into slavery by his brothers, he was betrayed and framed and thrown into prison where he was essentially forgotten.  And yet, God brought him out with a mighty hand.  We are so glad someone wrote this.  Moses, we are told (see Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27).

–Someone wrote about Moses’ temper, the Israelites’ shenanigans, and David’s unfaithfulness.  They wrote about Jeremiah’s hardships, Thomas’ doubt, and Paul’s sufferings.  And yes, they recorded Moses’ faithfulness, David’s songs, and Jeremiah’s courage.  Thankfully!

We’re glad they thought to record the dark side.  Think how much poorer we would be had the writers of history chosen to record only the pleasant, “uplifting” events and experiences and left out what Oliver Cromwell called the “warts and all.”

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Some things I have learned about leadership–and have the scars to prove

“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

People do not want to follow.

Sorry about that.

Ask anyone clamoring for high political office.  They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as your followers.

So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.

Better to become their servant.  Everyone loves to be served.

However, not everyone wants to serve.  Only the best and the strongest can serve.

Serving is hard work.  Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness.  Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summons.

That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society.

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Something I tell students about writing

“This will be written for a generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

What qualifies me to teach writing is not that I’m all that great of a writer myself.  But I love good writing, I work at learning to do it better, and I know some things on the subject worth passing along.

Consequently, I sometimes get invited to speak at writers’ conferences.  As I did this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. (The Southern Christian Writers Conference, the child of Dr. David and Mrs. Joanne Sloane, has been around for nearly 30 years and each June, the first weekend, enrolls nearly 200 students.  Meeting at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church, the SCWC brings in editors and publishers and all sorts of successful writers to teach.  Oh, and they also bring me in.  Just goes to show, I suppose.)

The text from Psalm 102:18 is the Scripture that fuels their writings, the Sloanes say.  After all, we’re told, more people of the future will read our stuff than will our contemporaries.  In a sense, we’re writing history.

Writing a journal is like taking a 30-minute slice of your today and sending it ahead into the future.  I’m big on journaling.  Journals, we are told, are not so much for our children–who presumably are living the same life we are and have little curiosity about how we view today–as for our grandchildren and theirs.  In time, my journal will be looked upon as something of a record of “the life of an ordinary Baptist preacher in the 1990s.”  I’ll not be around to know it, but in doing those journals–I’m through with journal-keeping except on this blog, something that I wouldn’t exactly call journaling–it has often been with a view toward the future.  There’s a strong witness for Christ throughout all 56 volumes.

Anyone can write; you don’t even have to know good English.  However, if you want people to read what you’ve written, knowing how to make subjects and verbs agree and the difference in they’re, there, and their will come in handy.  Most of us cannot long abide poor writing, so while we may read a few pages, we soon lay it aside because of the assault on our brains.

Therefore, however (I love to put those two words together!), you can get on with writing, without waiting on a certification in proper English usage or the muse to inspire you.  Just do it.

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When a private apology is not enough

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”  “Why are you telling me this?  Get out there and confess to those you hurt.”

Some repentance is cheap, some apologies all too easy.

A deacon pitched a royal fit in a church business meeting.  I’ve long since forgotten the issue.  Afterward, a visitor came to me and said, “I belong to Such-and-such church.  If one of our members spoke to the pastor the way that man did you, the church would have risen up in arms.  But your people sat there and took it.  That is alarming.”

I suppose they sat there quietly because they’d seen it happen so often. Anyway…

A few days later that deacon came to my office and apologized.

Don’t miss this: The damage he did was very public; his apology was in private.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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The pastor looks back…and remembers a deacon.

Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.

My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.

At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church.  But God has shown me that I was wrong.  You have meant so much to me and my family.”

We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there.  In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm.  Tepid.

It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him.  But so few had turned out.

The problem was his style.  He was low key.  He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.

The congregation could not abide that.  They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults.  (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)

As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”

If that sounds like discouragement, it was.

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“I’m very good at what I do,” she said.

This is all about excellence.  Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners.  Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States. 

She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.

“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it.  But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it.  And that felt bad.”

“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.

“So this was a new thing for me.  I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”

“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss.  I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”

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Scars from the ministry: They come with the territory.

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.

“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.

At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face.  “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me.  Wow.  Tough clan.

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon.  The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant.  We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

I bled and bled.  And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.

The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face.  At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.

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The greatest failure is not to encourage

Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching.”  .-Hebrews 10:25

“They have refreshed my spirit and yours.  Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).

My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.

Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined everything we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to step up and get involved in dealing with the dissenters.  They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.

“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!).  Find out what’s going on in their lives.  Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?”  The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me.  Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.

So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.

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