Apologizing to My Teacher and Preacher

Anyone reading this blog even occasionally knows of my love for old books. Recently, while revivaling with Pastor Rob Dowdle in Ocilla, Georgia, I noticed “Memoirs of John R. Sampey” (1947, Broadman) in their church library. And borrowed it. (I promise to return it, Rob!)

Sampey was for over a half-century a professor of Greek and Hebrew at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and for many years, its president. I figured his autobiography would be memorable and it’s proving to be so.

First, a funny story he tells.

At the age of 22, on finishing his basic seminary degree, Sampey turned around and became an instructor and at the same time, pastor of a small country church. He writes:

“Deacon Thomas W. Scott, a graduate of Georgetown College and an old Confederate soldier, handed me a list of seventy-three church members. Opposite fifteen names I found the notation ‘N.C.,’ and I asked its meaning. ‘No ‘count, parson, no ‘count,’ was his reply. Most of them for the work of the church were (indeed) of no account.”

You and I look at that and think, “Hey, that’s 15 out of 73. Pretty good. I’ll take that any day!”

And the other story, the one that prompted this article. About apologizing to your preacher/teacher.

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Monday Morning Observations

This is a hodge-podge of things floating around in this preacher’s mind this morning while I get ready (mentally, physically, emotionally) for an hour or two in the dentist’s chair at noon today.

Shall we darken the sanctuary during the sermon?

Yesterday at our church, the lights were bright on the platform but dim on the congregation. Honestly, I will admit to you that I was relieved after the service to find the problem was a malfunction in the lighting. I really had feared that someone–perhaps our pastor or another leader–had decided the lights on the audience should be dimmed, and that bothered me.

The background to this is that recently I was preaching in a church that had intentionally lowered the lighting on the congregation. When I saw early in the service that this was the case, I sought out a layman and asked him to find the tech person and insist that when I get up to preach, the house lights are brought up. He did and they were.

If we are having a concert or performance in this room, turn down the lights. But if this is meant to be interactive–and worship is nothing if not interactive–the congregation must be able to see to read and write.

“I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.”

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Sermon Illustrations No One Else is Using

I know a preacher who writes small books, which is good, and publishes them himself to give away, which is even better. However, it has occurred to me that all his illustrations are dated. Some stories he tells I used and overused forty years ago. I think I know what happened.

He pulled them out of memory or some old file of clippings in his office. This is the kind of illustration file we preachers of the 1960s used to maintain. (I’m assuming young pastors keep their illustrative treasures in computer files, not those green metal monsters that used to sit in the corners of all our offices.)

There is nothing wrong with an old illustration. For those seeing it for the first time, it’s sparkling new.

What’s wrong with an old illustration is that it bores the writer/speaker. He needs something fresh to spark his creativity, to ignite his imagination, to send him down fresh avenues.

I have the solution. A solution, I might add, which will seem paradoxical.

For fresh illustrations, the kind no one else is using, read an old book.

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New Orleans: Three Misconceptions We Need to Address

So, you’re coming to New Orleans, are you? Great! This city loves guests, and the welcome mat is always out.

NOTE: With this, we are beginning a series of brief articles on the subject of VISITING NEW ORLEANS. The instigator was a request for such from various SBC publications in preparation for the annual Southern Baptist meeting to be held in our convention center June 2012.

Yesterday, over lunch with two people from our Baptist Press office (located in Nashville), I learned that this was the first visit to New Orleans for one and only the second for the other. Laura said, “But the first time was for a ball game. We didn’t see much of the city.”

I wish they’d had longer than the 90 minutes yesterday. There are so many places I would love to take them. Having lived in metro New Orleans since 1990–plus, I attended seminary here in the 1960s and early 1970s–I’ve learned to love this city dearly and to enjoy pointing out little known eateries, shops, and historic points.

Before sharing about some of my favorite New Orleans places, sights, and people, let me address three misconceptions which may be helpful for anyone coming this way.

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Fear of God: The Greatest Motivator

“Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise of all the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.” (Jeremiah 10:7)

Fear may be the greatest motivator in the world.

Fear makes the pilot do one more last-minute check before taking off. Fear makes the passengers buckle up and pay attention to the flight attendant’s instructions. Fear keeps the air controller attentive to the blips on her screen.

Fear restrains us from driving too fast or following too closely on the highways. Fear causes me to replace my tires before they get too bald, to slow down in school zones, and not violate that downed arm at the railroad crossing.

Fear drives us to take our vitamins, see our doctors, and keep making those insurance payments. Fear gets us out of bed and into our sneakers for our exercise.

Fear is a great motivator.

Fear of God is the best motivator of all.

Now, everyone has his/her own definition of the fear of the Lord, what it means and how it works. This is mine.

By saying ‘I fear God,’ I mean a lot of things, but mostly these three:

–I fear His power. (Take a look at the physical universe, then stand in awe of the power of Almighty God.)

–I fear His wrath. (Just the glimpses Scripture gives concerning judgement fills us with dread.)

–I fear His displeasure. (This is one Person I do not want to disappoint at all…ever!)

His power is mighty and awesome. His wrath is biblical and fearsome. His displeasure is scary and then some.

Scripture says repeatedly the starting place for getting smart and wising up is fearing God. (Proverbs 9:10; 15:33)

Here’s a great quote on that subject.

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What the Pastor Wants From Staff Members

You are a minister about to walk into a church situation that’s new to you. Either you have been pastoring a small church and are about to join the staff of a larger church where you will serve under the authority and direction of an accomplished veteran or you are young in ministry and your first assignment is to be a member of a church staff.

And you’re wondering what the pastor will expect from you.

I suggest you ask him.

Take good notes because these will be on the test.

You have requests for him–support, sufficient finances, days off, etc.–but at the moment, your bigger question is What does he want from me?

I don’t know all the answer, but I know much of it.

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Watch Out for Those Cheap Shots, Pastor!

A cheap shot in sports is when you catch your opponent off guard and give him an illegal hit that hurts him badly. The referee usually flags you for it and the crowd boos. Even your own fans are embarrassed that you would stoop to such.

Preachers do it all the time.

Not all preachers, but some of us make a practice of finding a weak spot in our targeted sinner, one undefended, in his most vulnerable area, and letting him have it.

We had a case in point this weekend: Super Bowl Sunday.

A friend on Facebook messaged me privately about his intended sermon. He was going to let the congregation have it that day about their addiction to sports, football in particular. He was upset and wanted to accuse his people of a form of idolatry.

I did not accuse him of hitting below the belt–the very essense of a cheap shot–but I could have. (We might say I avoided a cheap shot myself by not doing that.) Instead, I suggested an alternative approach.

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A Scripture You Don’t Believe

“Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by the many or by the few.” (I Samuel 14:6)

It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the many or the few.

Now, you could make an argument that that is not pure scripture since the line was uttered by Jonathan, son of King Saul, and not by a prophet or some inspired writer. But you would be fighting a losing battle on that, since it’s a truth found all through scripture from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation.

God has His crowds, to be sure. In Heaven, the guest list–the family reunion, choose your metaphor–seems endless. “…a great multitude which no one could number” was standing before the throne praising the Lord (Revelation 7:9). That was sure some crowd Moses led out of Egypt, whether a few hundred thousand or 2 million as some say. Either way, God knows how to work the big numbers.

However, being God, He does not need big numbers. He does not call off anything (so far as we know) because only a handful of nobodies showed up.

In fact, God told Gideon he had too many soldiers in his army. Defeat the Midianites with that crowd, He said, and your people will take credit for the victory. So, the Lord had him whittle the assault team down to a manageable 300. (Judges 7)

God loves small things. Ordinary people. Insignificant gifts and undramatic acts.

It does not matter to the Lord whether He saves–and works and transforms and wins the victory–by a few people or by a crowd. It’s all through Scripture.

The only problem is you don’t believe it. And something inside me resists it, too.

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Help! I’m a New Pastor and Don’t Know How to Deal With Search Committees

As far as I know, no college or seminary has a course in how preachers are to deal with search committees. It’s a skill you acquire by trial and error. Mostly trial, I can hear someone say.

Recently, on this website, we’ve been addressing this subject. (There are, scattered throughout the nearly 2,000 articles on this blog, occasional writings on pastors and search committees.) Last week we talked about what the search committee looks for when they show up in your congregation on Sunday and then, prompted by a pastor’s wife, what the pastor is looking at when visiting that church “in view of a call.”

Another friend mentioned something we’ve never addressed: What about a beginning preacher–not necessary a youngster–who is about to become a pastor? He finds himself sitting across from that search committee for the first time with a hundred questions eating at him. How does a beginning preacher deal with a search committee?

Since the world has changed in the nearly half-century when I sat in that boat, I asked my friend (David) to jot down specific questions. (Did he ever! He sent an even dozen. He’s serious about this!)

So, here, in the order in which David posed the questions, are my responses–such as they are–regarding a beginning pastor squaring off against a search committee. (Athletic, competitive terminology tongue-in-cheek.)

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