What Leaders Do

Two letters in Thursday’s Times-Picayune comment on the St. Bernard Parish Council’s decision prohibiting homeowners from renting to anyone except relatives. The second letter is wonderful.

Frank Buffone of Lacombe is confident the ordinance will be overturned by the courts. “However, the reasoning behind it is sound.” Outside speculators will want to come in and buy properties and get rich off rentals. We must not let that happen, he says. Chalmette used to be a tight-knit community with the kind of values we need today.

Then the second letter, verbatim: “SBF w/small children seeks SWM homeowner in St. Bernard Parish for lunch and movies followed by marriage and rental of your property. Willing to bear child if necessary to qualify as ‘blood relative’ if marriage is not sufficient for me to enter parish as a resident. Prenuptial agreement no problem. Strictly business!” Gloria Young of New Orleans.

Confidential to my mom in Nauvoo: She doesn’t mean it, mom. It’s tongue-in-cheek stuff to make a point.

New population figures for Orleans Parish has come up with numbers far lower than any of the guesstimates various groups have posited. Couple of months ago, Entergy, the power company, took the actual number of hookups in the parish and multiplied it times two-point-something and came up with a figure of 225,000. But the number announced this week is based on actual door-to-door surveys made by college students hired by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Precisely 187,525 residents now live in Orleans Parish, they said. That’s a decline from pre-Katrina days of 59 percent.

Mayor Nagin is not buying that for an instant. “It’s at least 250,000,” he says. He points out that the margin of error for this survey is 11.5 percent, much higher than in most polls. He has been predicting a population of 300,000 by year end.

The surveyors insist they followed the methodology of the U.S. Census Bureau, and that these are not estimates. They did it the old fashioned way: a door to door survey of specific neighborhoods. Interestingly, they announced that Plaquemines Parish has a population of only 20,024, down some 8,900 from pre-K levels. However, those numbers have a whopping 36.3 percent margin of error.

Which, for my money, means: you may ignore this poll altogether.

The other bit of front-page news Friday morning is that the mayor has endorsed William Jefferson for re-election to Congress. My first thought was that he did it out of fear, fear that Jefferson will be chosen once again by the electorate and he doesn’t want to be on the short end of that stick. But Nagin had a worse explanation than that. “He endorsed me when I ran for mayor, so I’m returning the favor.” That’s it.

One supposes that if David Duke had endorsed him for mayor, Nagin would be backing his candidacy for Congress. (Not that Duke is running. He has a full-time job in some prison somewhere, I think.)

I wish you could have sat in the gym of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge Thursday night and heard the testimonies from our new church planters in the Southeast Louisiana. A young man–I think his name is Jason–who is on the staff of FBC Baton Rouge spoke of ministering to post-modern young adults downtown. He said, “I’m the only preacher you know who used to be a hairstylist.” Jose Mathews raised his hand. “I was.” “Were you a barber or a hairstylist?” “Hairstylist.”

The young preacher went on to speak of the homosexual community where he was focusing so much of his work. “My brother is one of them,” he said, “so I have a special reason for being down there.” Jason broke the group up when he said, “Help me reach the gays for our congregation and I’ll keep them out of your churches!”

James Welch has pulled together 25 people in the Magazine Section of New Orleans for “Sojourn,” the new church plant here. James gets teased about his wild hair which pokes in every direction. “I know what you’re thinking,” he began, “and yes, Jason is my hair stylist.”

These men and others such as Clay Holcombe on the Northshore told of the incredible things God is doing in their ministries. One object of this is to encourage the pastors and church leaders from outside our area to sponsor new churches down here. I met Pastor Mark of the Farmstead Baptist Church in Jasper, Alabama and sat across the table from Pastors Ron and Kevin and Brad from Texas.

Most of the group of forty or so–which included leaders from our state convention and NAMB–had spent the day in a bus, touring potential church sites in the Baton Rouge/Denham Springs area.

Friday, it’s on to Hammond/Covington/Slidell in the morning and New Orleans in the afternoon, then back to Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the evening meal and closing session. When Larry Badon asked me to be the final speaker Friday night, I said, “What is my purpose here?” He said, “Challenge them to step up to the plate and sponsor or co-sponsor a new church start.”

Here is the short version of my message.

“I’m not asking you to start a church down here. I’m not asking you can you do it or do you want to do it. The only question that works for a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is: ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ I’m going to challenge you to ask Him that question.”

“I’ve been learning something about acting on faith lately. Now, I thought I pretty much had faith figured out. To do something by faith means to act on less than full information. You still have some questions, some missing parts of the puzzle. But based on what you do know, the parts of the puzzle you do have, you make an informed decision to go forward. In the last few days, the Holy Spirit has shown me something I’ve been missing.”

“To act by faith means there are good reasons for NOT doing this thing. Look at the “faith chapter,” Hebrews 11, where these saints of old lived by faith. Every one of them had good reasons for not doing those things. ‘Abraham went out not knowing where he was going.’ He had every right to say, ‘We can’t do that. We don’t have a plan. We’ve never been this way before. We should send out a scout. How will we know when we get there?’ Good reasons to stay in Haran. And yet, he had even better reasons to obey. He knew God. He believed in God. He wanted the blessings only this God could provide.”

“By faith Noah built an ark. He had excellent reasons to turn down this particular job. It was a huge project, in the middle of dry land, and there are those who believe the earth had never seen an actual rain to that point. What would the neighbors say? Good reasons. And yet he had a better reason to obey: God.”

“We are saved by faith. There are good reasons not to be saved. Yes, there are. What will God do to me, how will He change my life, what will I have to give up, how many friends will I lose? And yet, there are better reasons to be saved. As a result of my sin, I’m in eternal jeopardy. As a result of Jesus’s cross, I can be forgiven and live forever. Good reasons.”

“Tithing is a faith decision. There are plenty of reasons to decline the honor of signing over one-tenth of your paycheck for the rest of your life to the church. You need the money, you don’t always agree with what the church/the pastor/the deacons do with your money, and your little check won’t make that much difference anyway. But you have a great reason to tithe: you believe God.”

“Starting a new church is an exercise in faith. You have powerful reasons not to start down that road. It’s hard, it’s discouraging, it can be expensive, you can get disappointed. It will upset some members of your congregation who see it as a bottomless pit into which the church is pouring money. You might even lose members over it, particularly those who leave to help plant the new church.”

“If you go home and announce to your leadership that God has told you your church is to sponsor or help to sponsor a new church in this part of the world, I will tell you two of the reactions you may expect. 1) We can’t afford it, pastor. And 2) this is not a good time. Great idea, you understand, but we’re running behind the budget. Maybe later, after things improve around here.”

“These two, however, are not ‘good reasons’ not to act. They are the poorest reasons on record. And I’ll tell you why.”

“If God leads you to do this, expect Him to provide the money. The money is not in your church bank account right now because you’re not doing it. Only after the priests’ feet touched the Jordan did God swoop the waters back and cause them to walk across on dry land. Had they waited until the waters parted before walking toward the river, they would still be there.”

At this point, I’m telling the pastors the story of Rudy and Rose French and of the challenge they issued to one of our local churches to change how they do business. These Canadians are being used of God to inspire these folks with a new way of doing things. As a result, a church member has given $80,000 to get the process started.

And I’ll tell them of Gilbert Taeger, pastor of Yuma’s Morningside Baptist Church, who told me in an e-mail just this week, that since they adopted our First United Baptist Church (Marshall Truehill, pastor) and sent groups to assist the recovery, their church is experiencing a higher level of giving than ever before. They exceeded their mission offering goals throughout this past year, and with a budget of $291,000, gave over one-third of that amount to missions.

Pastor Bob Jolly of Cumming, Georgia’s FBC has told me a similar story. The question is not “do we have the money?” The only question is “what does the Lord want us to do?” Get that straight and go do it and look for Him to provide.

And please note, He provides through people. Don’t expect money to drop like manna out of the skies. Pastors must take the lead in sharing the vision. Pastors must be the point men. You cannot sit back and ask God to inspire the laypeople to generous giving and sacrificial service unless you are out front, leading, challenging, daring.

“This is not a good time, pastor.” I can hear it now. Every pastor who has tried to do anything significant in the Kingdom will hear that faithless whine. Count on it. I give you permission to share a couple of stories which follow.

“James L. Sullivan headed up Lifeway for many years, back when it was known as the Baptist Sunday School Board. I heard him tell of going through a Southern Baptist church’s minutes, looking at its history through the years. Soon after 1900, that church voted to enter a building program. But the economy was not good, so they would wait. World War I came along and that was not a good time. The 1920s was a time of inflation, so they would wait. That was followed by the Great Depression, and that by the Second World War. The 1950s was an unsettled time as young families relocated, so they decided to wait. Then the Vietnam War. ‘At last report,’ Dr. Sullivan said, ‘That church had still not put up that building.'”

In 1978, I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi. Our ancient sanctuary needed almost a million dollars in renovation and we were discussing the pros and cons in a deacons meeting. I still recall one man saying, ‘This is not a good time. My industry is in a decline and my business is suffering. We need to hold off.’ At that, Deacon Atwell Andrews spoke up. I can hear him as if it were this morning. ‘Well, that’s a good point, my friend. On the other hand, my business is thriving. So, I suggest that we go forward with this. Those who have money can give it and those who don’t have any don’t have to give.'”

That wonderful, elementary bit of logic carried the day and we did what we needed to do. A couple of years later, we had it done and paid for.

There’s a great line in Ecclesiastes 11:4. “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.”

You can always find a good reason for getting out of doing what God wants you to do. But be advised that most of our good reasons are simply excuses. (Bible students will remember the lesson Jesus gave on flimsy excuses in Luke 14.)

Vance Havner said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” That’s calling it like it is.

Again, I’m not asking you to do anything except to ask the Father. As Mary told the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Following the Lord has always required courage and vision. But that’s what leadership is all about.

2 thoughts on “What Leaders Do

  1. Great “short version” of your message, Bro. Joe.

    It’s a “keeper”!

    Jim Fugate

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