LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 29–“Love the Church Or Go Into Some Other Line of Work”

My friend John was a flockless shepherd, a pastor lacking a congregation. It’s an awkward place in life for a preacher to find himself. Like being a lover without a sweetheart, a physician with no one to help, a teacher with no pupils.

“I have to preach,” he said to me. “Preaching is everything to me! Preaching is my passion.”

I said, “That’s not good, John. Preaching was never meant to be your passion. Jesus Christ is supposed to be your passion.”

Give John credit; he heard that. “Wow,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been hit in the face with a bucket of ice water. Thank you for bringing me back to reality.”

Personally, I’m not sure the Lord calls anyone to preach, as the expression goes. He calls us into His service to do whatever He commands. That may indeed be to preach the gospel in pastoring or evangelism, but as with my situation, often the specifics change. After 42 years of pulpit ministry, I moved into administration and the pastoral care of pastors. I still preach, but irregularly and in churches everywhere. Yet, I’m still in the ministry, still wearing the uniform, still heeding the Master’s commands.

We’re supposed to love the Lord our God supremely, first of all and most of all. Everything else comes next. Including a deep love for His church.

Now, just as my friend John focused too intently on preaching and possibly put it ahead of his loyalty to Christ, some do that with the church.

I was listening on my car radio to Wallace, another pastor friend, who was making an evangelistic appeal. He said something like, “If you are lost, if you are seeking direction in life, you are carrying guilt over a life of rebellion and neglect, you want to find new meaning and forgiveness and purpose in life, my friend, you need a new relationship….” At this point, I knew what was coming. He would tell the listeners about Jesus Christ and salvation.

But I was wrong.

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I’m 67 years old, I’ve been a Christian since I was 11, I’ve been reading the Bible since I was 8, and I’m still making discoveries in the Word.

Everyone knows the two miracles in Jesus’ ministry when, on two separate occasions, He fed over 5,000 people and over 4,000 people. In both cases, the menu was loaves and fishes, it was a miraculous multiplication of resources, every person present had all they could eat, and baskets filled with leftovers were gathered up.

On at least two occasions afterwards, the Lord called the attention of His disciples to those miracles in an attempt to make certain they had grasped the meaning and learned the lessons the miracles meant to convey.

In Matthew 16, Jesus directed the disciples’ attention to these miracles. As the disciples prepare to cross Galilee, the Lord overhears them arguing over who was supposed to bring bread. “Why are you worrying about bread? Do you not understand or can’t you remember the two miracles? In the feeding of the 5,000 with the 5 loaves, how many basketsful did you pick up? And the 7 loaves that fed the 4,000, how many baskets you picked up?” Then, further reinforcing that this is not about meeting their material needs, Jesus said, “How is it that you do not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread?”

And that’s all He said. Nothing more. No belaboring the point, as I would have done. No haranguing them, no repetition of the lessons of the loaves and the fishes, nothing. He had given them the tools and expected them to figure this out.

So, then–what is the lesson of the loaves and the fishes? To find the same answer as the disciples, we have to answer the Lord’s questions. In the first miracle, how many baskets of leftovers were picked up? Twelve. In the second, when 4,000 were fed, seven were picked up.

In the scriptures, the number twelve represents the people of God. Twelve tribes in the Old Testament, twelve apostles in the New. In Revelation, 24 elders stand around the throne, representing the saints of both the Old and New Testament days.

Seven means completeness or sufficiency. Seven days in a week, seven lamps on the menorah in the Temple, and so on.

Twelve baskets and 7 baskets: “Jesus Christ is sufficient for the people of God.”

That was the lesson, and what a great one it was. The Lord’s sufficiency for His people is found all through the Bible. We think of the Old Testament name for God, “YHVH YIREH,” commonly referred to as “Jehovah Jireh,” meaning “The Lord will See To It,” or “The Lord Who Provides.”

Think of the opening words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Then, everyone’s favorite verses, Philippians 4:13 and 4:19.

So, the Lord said to the disciples, “Stop worrying about bread. Did you not learn that I am sufficient for your needs?”

He had performed the miracles and sent the lesson, but they had not given any thought to His intended meaning for them and were no better off than before.

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“I appreciate your coming by, pastor. There’s something I need to talk with you about.”

“Always glad to see my director of missions. What’s going on?”

“I want to tell you a little story about a pastor I met this week. I was speaking at a senior adult thing at Camp Living Waters up at Loranger.”

“I love that place. We take our kids there every summer.”

“After my message, various ones were coming by to express thanks or to ask a question. Then, this pastor came by. He reminded me that I had drawn a cartoon for him several years ago. Of course, I didn’t remember it.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “it had to do with a revival he had preached in another pastor’s church. He drove a couple of hundred miles to get there, spent four days in the town doing everything he could to help that church, including preaching six sermons. And when it was over, he said, they gave him 75 dollars. That, and two cases of toilet cleanser.”

“Are you serious?”

“That is exactly what I asked. He said he was. The cartoon I drew showed him hanging around the church with all that toilet cleanser. And someone is saying, ‘I think he’s waiting on the turnip greens.'”

“Turnip greens? I don’t get it.”

“It’s the way they did things in the old days, you know. They’d pay the preacher in vegetables.”

“Oh. That was rather cruel, wasn’t it.”

“It was. This man has a family to provide for, bills to pay, and a car to maintain. And they hardly gave him enough to buy the gas.”

“And your point for me is?”

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“I never thought of you as a bully.”

“And you’ve changed your mind?”

“I just don’t see what right you have to ask me to account for what I preach in my church. What business is it of yours?”

“Your church is a member of this association.”

“Yes, and we are autonomous. You know as well as I do that Southern Baptist churches are independent, and that our cooperation with one another is voluntary. So, there’s no bishop or pope telling us what we can preach and cannot preach.”

“There’s not now, either. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what is it about? Evidently, someone has reported me to you and I’m being called to account for what I do. I’d like to know what that is, if it’s not you acting like you’re some kind of authority over me.”

I took that in, and sat there quietly for a moment.

“Edgar,” I said, finally, “No one is trying to tell you what you can preach. That is between you and the Lord, and, I might add, between you and your church membership. If they are okay by it, fine with me.”

“I’m listening,” he said.

“The question is whether your church will remain in this association. We have nothing to do with what you do inside your church, but we have everything to say about which churches comprise the association. From time to time, down through the years, the leadership of practically every Baptist association in America has had to make a decision about one of their members.”

“About kicking a church out? Is that the point?”

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LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 28–“Keep Renewing Your Commitment to Lead”

If we define leadership as “influencing others toward a certain goal,” then the field is as wide as the universe and about as diverse and varied as the people in it.

New books on leadership come off the press at an alarming rate. Whatever else that indicates, it surely means people are trying to learn how to accomplish the assignments life has handed them. Pastors, if anyone on the planet, are called to be leaders. Pastors–and by that I mean all ministers, not just the preacher–stand out in front of small or large clusters of the Lord’s people saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Let’s admit the obvious here: no one can read all those books, not and have a life. Don’t even try. But from time to time, I encourage pastors to check a book out of the public (or church) library on this subject and read it. As with every other kind of book, he should read some of it to decide if he wants to read a lot of it. There’s no point in wasting his time. Every book on leadership can teach something, even if it’s how not to lead.

Lately, I have come to realize that what the Lord was doing in instructing His disciples over His three-year ministry was training leaders. He may have called them sheep, but He most certainly was not training them to be followers of anyone except Himself.

Scripture uses all kinds of metaphors and terminology to convey the idea that we are to be leaders of people in this world, for Jesus’ sake. God told the Old Testament Jews that if they would obey Him, He would place them on top and not the bottom, He would make them the head and not the tail, and they would be the lenders and not borrowers. (Deuteronomy 28:13)

What could be clearer than that?

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“What do you mean, you don’t know the Bible?”

“Just that. I mean I do not know anything of significance about it. I don’t know how it all fits together. I don’t know how we got it. I can’t even recite the books in order.”

“A lot of people can’t do that. I have trouble with some of the minor prophets myself.”

“I’m serious. I’ve been a Christian since I was 11 and a member of a Baptist church for 30 years. I’m a deacon in our church, a choir member, and I’m there at least two times a week. If you figure a hundred sermons a year, I suppose I must have heard over three thousand messages. And I’m still pitifully ignorant of God’s word.”

“And you are determined to do something about it? Is that what brought you to my office?”

“Let’s just say I’m not satisfied with this situation. I don’t actually know what to do or where to start.”

“What have you done so far?”

“Other than come tell you? I joined a Sunday School class. Everyone says that’s the way to learn the Bible. But it didn’t work for me.”

“How come?”

“It could just be the teacher. Or maybe it’s the literature. You know, it’s pretty elementary.”

“You know why, don’t you? It’s written for people who don’t know their Bibles.”

“Like me.”

“And the poor teacher, trying to get across the deeper meanings of God’s word to people who never seem to grow in their understanding–well, it can be pretty discouraging.”

“You described me there. I’m like a fellow I used to know in high school. He came to school all the time, but never seemed to learn anything. He failed the seventh grade several years in a row, and finally, he just decided to promote himself. I figure the teachers and principal knew he would eventually drop out, because no one stopped him. So, when I was in the 7th grade, he was there for the third time. Next year, he went up to the 8th grade with us. And the year after that, the 9th grade. But he wasn’t promoted to any of them. Then, one day he quit coming.”

“And that feels like what you’ve been doing?”

“It’s exactly what I’ve been doing–coming to class and never learning and getting promoted year after year.”

Long pause.

“Anyway,” he said, “I want to do something about this. I’m ready to change.”

I said, “Have you talked to your pastor about this?”

“In some ways, he’s part of the problem.”

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One Reason I Know There is a God

Bob was giving his testimony to some friends. He had wasted his earliest years in agnosticism and skepticism and gone through a painful divorce. When he came to Christ, his life straightened out. A few years later, he met Kim and they were married. He said, “One reason I believe in God is that He brought Kim into my life.”

I can accept that. It might not stand up in a debate with a panel of philosophers as evidence for the existence of God, but it works for me.

In fact, I venture to say that most Christians have similar evidence of God’s reality, incidents or blessings that provide all the proof they will ever need of the presence of the Lord. Perhaps it was a message at the right time, an experience like nothing before or since, or some person who came into their life and changed it. To their thinking, God was there and on duty.

In my case, one experience in particular will forever stand out as all the proof I could ever ask for that God is real. It was not the healing from cancer three years ago, it was not the various close calls on the highways–although there have been several of those–and it was not all the wonderful people God brought into my life over the years, as special as they are.

It was a deacons meeting in April of 1989.

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So, How’s the Seminary Doing?

People often ask me this when I’m speaking in other cities. I’m happy to report it’s doing just fine.

In fact, today, Friday, I sat in Leavell Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and had a fresh update on the seminary’s comeback from Katrina. President Chuck Kelley was addressing a gathering of students, faculty, and friends who had assembled for a campus homecoming of sorts. I arrived late, and slipped into the back.

Two rows ahead of me sat Dr. and Mrs. Landrum Leavell. He was president of the seminary for some 20 years from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. Prior to that, he pastored FBC Wichita Falls, TX, FBC Gulfport, MS, and other outstanding churches. If you recognize that his name is the same as the chapel–and a number of other places on campus–it’s because his “Uncle Roland” was president of the seminary in the 40s and 50s. This gentleman hails from one of Southern Baptists’ most distinguished families. I might add that Dr. Landrum Leavell added to the luster of his family’s history. (He reads this blog, too, so I’ll watch myself here!)

As we sat taking in Chuck’s report, I quickly sketched out a cartoon of Dr. Landrum and the lovely JoAnn sitting in this beloved chapel. Above his head, the caption indicated that he was thinking, “I kept telling the trustees, ‘Apres moi, le deluge.'”

You history students will recognize that as a line from France’s 18th century King Louis XV who was predicting a flood of woes after his departure. I could see Dr. Leavell’s body shaking as he laughed at my little attempt at humor.

After testimonies from students and professors on the Lord’s care for them and their families through the Katrina tragedy, Dr. Kelley went into detail about the Father’s watchcare over both the campus and the seminary family. He called attention to a handout with facts seminary-lovers will want to know.

During and after Hurricane Katrina’s storm and flooding….

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Where Joe Will Be Preaching

October 14 — Community Baptist Church, Maylene, Alabama. Both morning services.

October 16 — Golden Triangle Baptist Association annual meeting. East End Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi. 7 pm

October 20 — Northstar Network (Fall meeting of the Baptist Association for the Alexandria, VA area)

Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, VA. Around 10:30 am.

October 28 — First Baptist Church, Houma, LA. All 3 morning services.

November 4-7 — Revival with 4 churches, Newport News, VA