Why Change is So Hard For God’s People

I sometimes tease our young pastors that “in all the world, there are only three Baptists who enjoy change, and none are members of your church.”

It’s a common perception in our churches that the Lord’s people seem to be resistant to change. And there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence, as flockless shepherds step up to tell how they lost their pulpits when they tried to change a schedule or a program.

But, look around at the people attending our churches. They seem to handle change fairly well in other areas of their lives. They’re on computers, own X-boxes, play farm games on Facebook, send emails, and stay in touch with the world by their smart phones. No one at church drives a 1948 Packard because he doesn’t like change. No woman still wears the hair styles of the 1930s (as they did when I was a kid in the 1940s and ’50s). Their clothing is fairly up-to-date.

And yet, I can take you to an even dozen pastors right now who carry the scars of battles they fought trying to get the Lord’s people to make even the simplest of changes.

What’s going on?

Here is my take on why change is hard for God’s people. And the news, I have to say, is not good. The Lord who said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5) is probably not very pleased with those who hold onto what He did in the past and refuse to accept the new thing He is doing today.

The Lord who repeatedly commanded that we “sing unto the Lord a new song” (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; etc.) is probably not impressed when we refuse to sing anything but the songs we grew up under.

Why Change is So Hard for the Lord’s Frozen Chosen.

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10 Things About Pastors You Need to Know

10. Pastors are human and more like you than you could ever imagine.

In a panel discussion, several pastors’ wives were talking about the uniqueness of their ministries. One lady, married to a well-known evangelist, said, “I tell my man, ‘Don’t get too uppidity for me. I have seen you without your pants on!”

Some of her hearers were offended by the remark.

I wasn’t. I know the point she was making: He is a flawed, fallible human like the rest of us, and not some saintly somebody unacquainted with temptation and failings.

Here’s a test you will benefit from: Find the journals of some “truly great” man or woman of God from a past generation, and read them. Notice the paradox: at the very time the world is acclaiming him/her for holiness and Christlikeness, they themselves are struggling with inner conflicts of one kind or the other. They appear to have a leg up on intimacy with the Lord to the rest of the world, but to themselves, they are babies in the faith barely able to walk spiritually and completely at the mercy of a benevolent God.

Far from refuting their holiness, the journal affirms it. But not in the way most people expect.

Friend, you do not want as a pastor someone who has never sinned, never messed up, and never known the mercies of God. If you get a preacher who is sinless, you may discover him to be harsh and mean-spirited toward the likes of you; you are a sinner in need of grace, whereas he meets God as an equal.

As Paul said, I speak as a fool.

9. Pastors are called by God to this work, otherwise they never last.

I used to hear of preachers who were “mama-called and daddy-sent.” In time, I met one or two. They didn’t make it. The work was too hard, the expectations too high, the rewards too few.

Pastors sometimes say, almost facetiously, “I’ve sometimes doubted my salvation, but never my call to the ministry.” (I suspect that’s because, as with me, I was saved as a child but called into this work as an adult.)

The work is hard. The expectations are through the roof. And the rewards? To be honest, the pay is a lot better these days (as a rule) than when I started in the early 1960s. The perks tend to be more plentiful, and the resources more abundant.

Even so, frustrations in the Lord’s work abound. Almost daily, I receive a phone call or email from God’s servants pouring out tales of misunderstanding, harassment, strong opposition, and even persecution. Frequently, the man of God will say to me, “If this was coming from the world, I’d expect it. But these are the Lord’s people doing this. It doesn’t make sense.”

Pastors reading this are shaking their heads. They know. Their biggest headaches come not from the tavern owners or casino managers, not from politicians or bigshot business types, and not from drug pushers and drunks. The men and women who sit in the pews and on church committees and boards tend to be the source of most headaches and heartbreaks of pastors.

Only one called by God and who knows he serves the Living God, only he will last.

And some of them, honesty forces me to admit sadly, don’t make it.

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Is Yours a Great Commission Church?

The blue ribbon committee assigned to consider a name change for our Southern Baptist Convention has announced they are punting.

Okay, what they are doing is recommending that a) the basic name of the SBC remain unchanged due to the myriad of legalities involved in such a massive realignment, b) that we adopt “Great Commission Baptists” as a secondary or alternative name for our denomination, and c) that churches be “allowed” (my word) to use either name or both.

We knew they were a wise group; they’ve just proven it.

Personally, I think it would be a travesty to post the name “Great Commission Baptist” on some of the churches in our denomination which are anything but that.

This way, they get to decide for themselves whether they are.

From the Mark 2 story of Jesus’ healing the paralytic, here is my take on Five Ways to Tell If Yours Is a Great Commission Church.

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Two Men Stood In Front of Our Church Today

Toward the end of his sermon this Sunday morning, Pastor Mike Miller asked for “those who are going to help me with the rest of this sermon” to come on up. Several singers and musicians stepped forward along with two deacons.

The deacons, Chuck and Jim, are well-known and greatly loved by this congregation. They work for the same investment firm, and from everything I hear, are highly successful at what they do. Chuck has chaired most of the important committees in the church (and a few that weren’t!), including the last pastor search team, and Jim presently chairs the church’s stewardship committee. In the 1990s, when he was younger and his jet black hair long, Jim played “Jesus” for several years running in our Christmas pageants. Chuck is married to Christy, and Jim to Sheila.

Mostly it was Jim’s testimony they were telling. Chuck was there because he had a pivotal role in it: He is the one who witnessed to Jim and brought him to the Lord.

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10 Signs the Pastor or Church Employee Has Been There Too Long

The pastor or church staff member or the chairman of a committee or a church officer has overstayed his/her welcome.

How to tell.

One church I pastored–FBC of Columbus, Mississippi–had a vivid illustration of what happens when a member holds a position so long they begin to “own” it. Across the street from the synagogue sat the funeral home, owned by one of our deacons. One day this good man told me, “Preacher, we could have bought the land the synagogue is sitting on for a pittance years ago.” (It abutted the back of our sanctuary.)

He said, “When the house that used to sit on that property came up for sale, the people wanted $30,000 for it. I was willing to raise the money and buy it. I felt we’d be needing that property in the future.”

“The trouble was that Mr. McClanahan, the church treasurer who had held that job for decades, vetoed it. He said that was just too much money for that piece of land and we would not pay it.”

“No one, including the preacher, wanted to stand up to McClanahan, so we let it go.”

“And now,” the deacon said, “We can’t touch that piece of ground for a million dollars.”

He was right in that; after all, I’d asked around discreetly and found that out.

One church where I was preaching recently was in the act of trying to dislodge a church secretary who had held that office since Noah was a little boy. Even though she was in her mid-70s and long overdue for retirement, she would not budge. As the unofficial church boss, the woman would not change her way of doing things, would not agree that the pastor had the right to have an administrative helper who would do what he asked, and would not agree to go away quietly. (I have no idea how it turned out. These things rarely go smoothly.)

Sometimes it’s the pastor, sometimes another church worker. How to get rid of them is one subject. But our subject today is:

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Why I Take Sports Illustrated

Not for the swimsuit issue. It came yesterday. Right now, it’s tied up inside a small grocery bag stuffed down inside the kitchen trash, to be set outside in garbage cans tomorrow morniing. Some images we just do not need in our home, and this is one of them.

I take Sports Illustrated for the same reason I subscribe to The New Yorker and TIME magazines: Once in a while a story, an insight, an incident, is so unforgettable it ends up becoming a part of how I think. And, often, it takes its place as the centerpiece in a sermon.

Case in point.

The February 13, 2012, issue of SI was devoted to the New York Giants’ Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. Not having a favorite in that contest, I was only mildly interested, but did scan the articles.

In so doing, I found a keeper, a piece on the role debriefing played in changing the Giants from a 7-7 team, which is the very essence of average and was their record two weeks before the end of the season, into world champions.

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An Open Secret to Motivating People to Give

Once in a while we stumble onto a principle that really works in our ministries. The fun thing is to go back then and find that not only did the Lord “know” that–smiley face goes here–but He gave us a story illustrating it in Scripture.

Here’s the story.

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury, for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

The principle thus illustrated,the one that can transform your leadership in teaching your people to give, is this: The small gift given sacrificially inspires everyone else to give generously.

One would think it would be the other way around, that pointing out how Mr. Deep Pockets contributed a cool million would encourage the rest of us to dig down and come up with our fair share. Now, we do need those great gifts, let’s make that point. But Mr. Pockets’ gift does not inspire many of us to give sacrificially for the simple reason that we figure, “Well, he has lots of money, he OUGHT to be giving a lot.”

But no one thinks that of the child who gives much or the poor widow who gives sacrificially or the common laborer (you’ll pardon the expression) who sets a high standard for generosity.

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The Friendliness Factor

A pastor of a small but growing church tossed a question my way.

“My small church is growing, and our people do not want to lose the family spirit of a small church. But how do we maintain that without becoming a clique?”

By clique is meant an enclosed group, a circle of friends that will admit no new members.

We’ve all seen Sunday School classes where the members have been together for years and know everything there is to know about the others, and where the intimacy is deep and lasting. They know birthdays, the names of each one’s grandchildren, and they relate to one another like sisters.

Yes, sisters. It’s almost always a women’s class that does this.

But, women or men, we’re all guilty to some degree.

Let a newcomer show up in our little group of select friends one Sunday, and everything changes: the balance is threatened, conversation freezes, and the fellowship becomes more restrained.

Now, churches are liable to this affliction, too.

So, what do we tell the young pastor of the small-but-growing church? How can he help his people retain that new car smell even after putting a few thousand miles on the vehicle? (Oops. Sorry. The metaphor inserted itself.)

Readers are invited to suggest steps the church can take in the comments section.

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New Orleans: Three Must-See Places

(This is the second on our VISITING NEW ORLEANS series.)

My first visit to New Orleans was by train in August of 1961. As a senior in college and having been called into the ministry, I wanted to see the seminary which the Lord had impressed upon me as “right.” (True statement. I knew no one who had attended here. But felt a strong need to spend time in the city where I could make a difference for the Kingdom’s sake.)

I came in one day, checked in to the old DeSoto Hotel, walked around downtown a little, and the next morning, rode a city bus out into the Gentilly section to check out the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I walked around campus, chatted with someone in some office or other, picked up some literature, then rode back to town, picked up my bag, and checked in at the train station for the return trip.

Venture into the French Quarter? Are you kidding? No way. Surely the vice there was so overpowering I could never have extracted myself. I gave it a wide berth.

Three years later, my wife and baby son and I moved into an apartment on campus, and thus began our slowly evolving love affair with this strange and wonderful city.

Some who read this will be traveling to New Orleans for the first time. Many will be coming in June to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, gathering in our Morial Convention Center right on the river.

You’re coming for business. You don’t have a lot of time for touring. You want to invest your time wisely. So, what should you definitely see? Here are three must-see places in this city.

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The Sermon’s Skeletal System

Warren Wiersbe calls the sermon outline the “recipe” for the message. If you have that and nothing more, he says, you do not have a meal for your people; you have a recipe for them. Still lots of work to do before they can be fed.

I like to think of the outline as the skeleton. It will need fleshing out, and then, most importantly of all, it needs the breath of life to be breathed into it. And, let us not make the mistake of thinking the first part–the fleshing out of the message–we can do on our own while the second part–giving it life–is God’s. It’s all about His presence and power and equally about our faithfulness.

An influential pastor, writing in the most recent issue of a popular preaching magazine, shares some great insights regarding the sermon outline which I’d like to pass along and comment on. (Notice that I’m not naming him or the magazine. If you’d like to know, send me a note–joe@joemckeever.com. We should not get hung up on whether we agree or disagree with a pastor on everything in order to learn from him.)

1. The notes your people take in church will be mainly your sermon points.

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