Why They’re Not Breaking Down Our Doors

If, as we say, the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” is heaven’s Good News, and if this good news is the answer to mankind’s deepest, biggest, worst problems, and if it’s free and eternal and for everyone, one would think people would be crashing through the church doors to get in on it.

Why aren’t they?

Not only are they not breaking down our doors to partake of God’s free offer in Christ, most of our neighbors act as if the church is completely irrelevant to anything that concerns them. And, if and when we do have the opportunity to enlighten them on Christ’s wonderful blessings of grace, some laugh in our faces or even scoff and dismiss us as nuts.

What’s going on here? Why are people not clamoring to get in on this wonderful thing God has made available for all mankind in Jesus Christ?

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Pastor, Show Them How– Part II

Compassion: the ability to feel what others are feeling, especially pain.

As far as I can tell, we cannot teach compassion. The source for this capacity to identify with others in sorrow and in joy seems to have its roots in the Holy Spirit. The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:5)

What we can do however–those of us called to be leaders of the Lord’s people–is to teach our people to act with compassion.

I suspect you have noticed that a large percentage of those calling themselves followers of Jesus turn a deaf ear to the cries of the needy, reacting to requests for help with callousness. Selfishness is innate, no doubt part of our original sinful nature. However, to react against that self-centeredness and go out of our way to help another person is Christlike.

For followers of Jesus, this can be taught. Pastors are ideally situated to show their people and instruct them in how to act with compassion when faced by people in need.

First, the pastor teaches God’s Word. Scripture abounds with such stories and instructions.

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Pastor, You’ll Have to Show Them How

Pastors have to lead their leaders.

There is no other way. Someone has to teach church leaders how to be people of faith, of compassion, of courage. And, as the shepherd of the flock, that falls to you, the preacher.

This is the first of three articles. What follows is the first one, “Teaching the leaders to be people of faith.” Next will come “Teaching the leaders to be people of compassion,” and then “Teaching the leaders to be people of courage.”

I’ve preached in churches which were rich with Godly and mature leaders, people who supported their pastor and led their people by example in matters of faith, compassion, and courage. And, I confess that I have sometimes envied those preachers. Any of us would give a year of our lives to shepherd a congregation that is solidly Christian and faces problems calmly in faith.

I see it all the time. With this country’s economy still struggling to recover and with a lot of churches hurting financially, congregational leaders start to panic. The offerings are declining, the bank balance is dwindling, and fear moves in, unpacks its baggage, and takes over.

The pastor who is a non-leader will sit back and watch as the most fearful of the church’s elected leaders rule the day. They will recommend cutting programs, laying off staff, and trimming next year’s budget to the bones. They will do this from strong convictions–and honorable ones, too–that the church should be solvent, responsible, and exemplary.

But they are missing a key element that should be standard equipment in every church leader: Faith in Christ. What does the Lord want His leaders to do with His church?

A carnal leader who has found his voice now that the church’s finances are hurting (in most cases he had nothing to say when the congregation was giving well, but now that the church is hurting, he finds a ready audience for his lack of faith and his fears) will sound forth on the foolhardiness of stepping out on faith. “We have to be responsible, pastor! All that high-flying rhetoric about living by faith is all right for you preachers and missionaries. But for those of us in the real world, we have to pay our bills. And if the money isn’t there, you can’t do certain things.”

Don’t miss the condescension in that. As a pastor for over four decades, I assure you I’m not making this up. I’ve heard those actual words spoken by church treasurers to their idealistic pastor who had said they should be asking the Lord what He wanted done in this financial crisis with His church.

The solution is not an easy one, and definitely not a quick fix. The pastor should teach his people–all of them, but particularly the leaders–what it means to exercise faith. This will require that he remain at the church for a number of years in order to earn their trust and establish his credibility.

Teaching God’s people how to resist their fears, face the problems, and step out on faith is one of the key responsibilities of the shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

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The Best Pastor is a Broken Man

The best kind of pastor is not one who has always had it all together.

The best shepherd of the Lord’s people is one who knows what it is to go astray and be found, to fall and be picked up, to be wounded and to heal, to sin and be forgiven.

If you have ever sat in a congregation where the pastor is without sin, where his sermons show no indication that he knows what it is to be tempted, and where no allowance is given for the human condition, then you know that is no place for a sinner like you.

As a sinner–one whose heart is a rebel, whose mind strays from the paths of righteousness more often than you would like to admit, who constantly needs to repent and receive God’s mercy–you have no business in a church made up of perfect pastors and sinless members. You stand out like an invalid at a body-building contest.

The best pastor is one who has sinned and been taken to the Lord’s woodshed for a time of discipline and chastisement. He will know how to warn the children from straying and to bind them up in love after they have learned life’s lessons the hard way.

The best pastor is one who has been in trouble and doubted and came close to slipping, but at the last minute was rescued by the hand of God. He will value the Lord’s mercy.

The best pastor is probably not the kind your pastor-search-committee is looking for. But it should be.

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How To Talk to Your People About Finances, Pastor

Few things disturb me more than hearing a pastor admit that he refuses to preach on money because so many preachers do that to manipulate people.

The main reason it disturbs me is that I do not believe that. The pastor is not being honest.

He fails to talk to his people on money because he does not want to be criticized. It’s a fear factor, and he has decided to cave in.

Consequently, he is failing his people in one of the most important areas of their lives. He is failing the Lord who expects His shepherds to lead the flock to be faithful stewards. He is failing every missionary whose support is growing weaker and weaker because of the lack of stewardship education back at home. And, therefore, he is failing every unsaved person who will not hear the gospel because of a lack of missionaries.

That pastor’s failure reverberates across the world like a tidal wave, bringing all kinds of bad consequences in its wake.

I wish such pastors could have heard my preacher, Dr. Mike Miller, last Sunday. Preaching in the First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans airport, and in his third year, Mike used the best common sense I’ve ever heard from the pulpit in this matter.

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So, You’re the New Pastor!

You help your wife unpack the boxes and hang the pictures, then drive down to the church office and put your books on the shelves and say hello to the staff. The other ministers and office workers gather around and look expectantly in your direction, “hoping to receive something” (Acts 3:5).

What do you do now, pastor?

If you are really, really green or a veteran but stupid (sorry for the plain-spokenness!), you will do all the talking. You will act like a newly-elected-politician-with-a-landslide who thinks he has a mandate.

You don’t have a mandate. You have an opportunity.

What follows is merely my suggestion on what the new pastor should do in his first few days and weeks at the new church. Disagreements and additional insights are welcome in the comments section at the conclusion.

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When You Don’t Feel Like Singing

Anyone can sing when the skies are blue, the air is fresh, the flowers are dressing up the world, and your spirit is soaring. To the best of my knowledge, your Father in Heaven enjoys and appreciates that singing.

But the kind He values most, the singing that thrills His heart, the praise that establishes forever that you are His and He is yours, Scripture calls “songs in the night.”

If you can praise Him when you’re feeling lousy, when the news is terrible, when the bank account is busted, the news from the doctor is bleak, the family is in rebellion and nothing good is going on in your life, then one of two things is true: either you’re a nut in hopeless denial, or you know something.  Some. Big. Thing.

He giveth songs in the night.(Job 35:10)

Thelma Wells is someone you need to know.

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Preaching a Sermon the Second Time (and Third and Fourth)

As a young pastor, I could never repeat a sermon any more than I could eat yesterday’s breakfast again. Each sermon was a one-time thing. When it was over, it was gone forever.

And then, the invitations began to come in to preach in churches pastored by friends who thought I had something worth sharing with their people. That’s when I had to get serious about repeating a sermon. After all, my friend’s members have not heard my stories or sermons. Anything I did would be new to them.

Those early attempts to preach repeats in my late 20s and early 30s were fairly pathetic, I’m thinking. Since my sermon notes were always one thing and the actual sermon something else entirely, nothing in writing told me what I had preached the first time so I could reproduce it verbatim. So, I had to go from memory, or better, get with the Lord anew on that sermon.

These days–I’m now 70 and retired–almost every sermon I preach is on a topic I’ve preached before (with the occasional exception; hey, I’m not living on reruns here!). As a result, I have more or less figured this thing out, at least to my satisfaction.

Maybe pastors wll find something of benefit here.

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What the Pastor Hopes the Visiting Minister Will Do

You are the pastor. Next Sunday and for a few days the first of the week, you are turning over your pulpit to a visiting minister. He’s either a full-time vocational evangelist or a pastor of a church somewhere or a retired minister. You do this for a lot of reasons, the main one probably being that the church expects it of you.

These meetings go by names such as revivals, spiritual renewals, awakenings, Bible studies, and such. As the pastor with a number of years and several churches “under your belt,” so to speak, you have heard all kinds of visiting preachers and experienced the good/the bad/and the ugly of these meetings. You know about what to expect, you feel, and by now, you have learned to choose your guest preacher carefully. They’re not all as responsible as they ought to be and some are more concerned with the large numbers of CAO they can report afterwards (“converts, attendance, offerings”).

These days, I’m that guest preacher. I see you sweating, pastor. I remember how you feel.

I pastored six churches over a period of 42 years. I know the pastor’s heart, his hopes, and his fears.

As the pastor, you want to have great expectations for this meeting. However, having been disappointed so many times in the past, you are afraid to elevate the hopes and expectations of your people–and yourself–too high. Those lows at the end of disappointing meetings can be mighty deep. Explaining to the deacons why the church invested several thousand dollars into a meeting which accomplished so little is no fun.

That’s the reason for this letter. I’d like to put some things on the table here. Let’s see if we are talking the same language, pastor.

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What the Young Pastor Learns

Sometimes pastors lament that the most important lessons of the ministry were not taught in seminary. The only workable answer to that is: it’s impossible to teach them all in classrooms; most are learned on the field and nowhere else.

My friends Trace and Missy are finding this out.

In their first pastorate after seminary, they are having to learn the hard way how to pace themselves, how to find and protect time for themselves, how to protect their home life from the intrusion of church members, and how to be friends with everyone without letting a few take over their lives.

No one can cover all this stuff in a book. The lessons are too numerous, the personalities too varied, and no two situations are alike.

Missy sent me a note telling me the latest situation that has arisen. “It’s so silly, we’ll probably laugh at this one day,” she said. But she’s not laughing at the moment. No one can laugh at pain when it’s hammering at your door 24/7. Only after it has departed and you realized how powerless it was and how pointless its threats are you able to smile.

On Wednesday nights in Trace’s church, the youth would like to meet in the sanctuary in order to have access to the multi-faceted hi-tech sound system. The adults, who normally meet there, don’t need it for their simple Bible study and prayer time. So, at the request of the youth minister, Pastor Trace did the reasonable thing and made the call.

And that’s when the fur began to fly.

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