How to treat your celebrity predecessor

I said to a pastor search committee, “Wait a minute. The former pastor of your church lives a hundred miles away, but he’s still the chaplain of the local high school football team? And he comes back for every game?”

For this and a few other reasons, I declined their invitation to become pastor of that church.

Dealing with a former pastor who is well-loved and will not go away and stay gone is a huge challenge for the preacher who follows him.

But there are those who do it well.

We could all take a lesson in how to deal with our predecessor from Paul Mainieri, the baseball coach of LSU’s consistently championship team. His predecessor, Skip Bertman, is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.  And with good reason….

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The Lord’s call upon us

(Continuing our series on Second Timothy.)

“…who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity….” (Second Timothy 1:9)

All disciples of Jesus are called. Some disciples of Jesus have received a special call.

Paul said “I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” in Second Timothy 1:11.  Even those who insist that “every Christian is called” do not dare say we are all called as preachers, apostles, and teachers. Again, there is a uniqueness about these “special’ calls.

In Second Timothy, we must remember that what we have here is a veteran preacher writing to a young preacher, while the rest of Christendom is eavesdropping.  Keeping that in mind will help us guard against the tendency to make everything Paul says apply to us. The fact that that “veteran” lies in Caesar’s jail with another court date looming before him and the Holy Spirit telling him that the end of his earthly ministry fast approaches adds a dramatic poignancy to the epistle.

“(He has) called us with a holy calling.”

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He said, “My pastor needs to go.”

“The things you have heard from me….commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore…(are to be) a good soldier of Jesus Christ….” (II Timothy 2:2-3)

If your pastor is a godly, humble man who is leading the congregation to minister effectively and become healthy spiritually, give thanks and support him enthusiastically.

You are the envy of a lot of other churches.

The caller the other night said he is a lay leader of his church, a strong tither, and a volunteer who can be counted on.  The church he loves so much is into freefall with members deserting it in droves and going to other churches, while his pastor is a liar, a bully, and on the way to becoming a dictator. Church attendance is one-half what it was when the preacher came a few years back.

What to do?

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My pastor has this problem. Should I tell him?

“One thing thou lackest.” (Luke 10:42)

Your pastor is a super guy, does a great job in a hundred ways, but he mangles the rules of grammar.

Call it to his attention or not?

Your outstanding pastor violates every standard of dress. Sometimes he looks like a slob and when he dresses up, he seems to have no sense of taste, of what looks good on him.  Should you speak to him? You don’t want to discourage him, but just correct this glaring omission in his total package.

Your pastor’s wife is close to being wonderful. But she has one little problem that is distracting, and could be remedied very easily. She needs to take more care about her personal appearance, or the way she speaks, or her habit of digging people with her teasing, or letting her children run loose in the church building.  Talk to her or let it ride?

Your faithful pastor seems to have a gap in his theological understanding. This is far more important than the color of his tie (or whether he wears one) or how he parts his hair (if he has any).  This is basic stuff.  You could help him. Do you say something, or bite your tongue?

You love your Lord, love your church, and adore a hundred things about your pastor and his family.  You are concerned about one or two small things that are drawing a lot of unneeded attention from critics. Do you give thanks for what you have and let the other things go? Or do you go the second mile in demonstrating your love for his family by telling him (or the wife) that “one more thing” which could make the difference in his succeeding in your church or failing.

Here are a few thoughts on the subject….

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Stir up what you already have!

“I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (II Timothy 1:6).

Did Paul’s hands give Timothy a spiritual gift? I admit it reads that way, but it’s hard to imagine that happening.

You don’t have to be anticharismatic to conclude the scripture does not teach spiritual gifts being imparted from one person to another by the “laying on of hands.”

What we would prefer to think is that Paul laid hands on Timothy in the same way we ordain people to the ministry and that the significance is similar: conveying our love, confidence, and prayers in an official ceremony after which the individual is recognized as fully authorized to do whatever it is he has been called by God to do. (That convoluted sentence will never appear in anyone’s textbook! Smiley-face goes here.)

My concern and focus with Second Timothy 1:6 is with the “stir up” or “kindle afresh” part.  That we can understand.

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Creativity in ministry: Gotta have some!

(This is the place where we often post a scripture which defines what follows. Is there a text about creativity?  We don’t have to have one, and at the moment, can’t think of one. But if we do, look for it to replace this note.)

TIME for May 20, 2013, devotes an entire page to “assessing the creative spark,” a rarity in newsmagazines.

Now, I’m no authority on creativity or anything else, but have long been fascinated by the subject and attuned to writings dealing with it.

“Creativity is that ineffable match-strike, that flash in the dark that comes to you from, well, it’s hard to say where. You can’t summon it on demand, though inclining your mind to a task does help.” –TIME. (Jeffrey Kluger, writer)

I know a little about this right-brain activity, being a preacher, a writer, a cartoonist, and a story-teller.

Here’s something of what I have learned about creativity:

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A jaw-dropping Scripture

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

There are numerous biblical texts that stop me in my tracks and leave me gasping for air. But none intrigue me more than this one. And, one thing in particular I find fascinating and profound.

Cowards don’t make it to Heaven.

The fearful go to hell.

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Dear young pastor: May I make a few suggestions?

(All of what follows, young pastor, concerns your pulpit presence.  We’ll be back from time to time discussing other facets of pastoral leadership.  And, I might need to say, this is directed toward no one particular pastor of so many I’ve worked with in 2013.  Each is a winner, a dear brother in Christ, and it’s been a privilege. What follows is a series of impressions which linger long after my visit to your church. I send these with the prayer the Lord will bless your ministry beyond anything you ever dreamed of or asked for.)

You are clearly called to this ministry by the Lord, pastor. Visiting in your church, I saw evidence of His hand upon you, both in the seriousness with which you view your task and the acceptance and trust with which your people hold you.

You did not ask me to critique what you do, and I’m not doing so now. However, knowing how a few well-placed suggestions can tip the scales as we struggle to become more effective in our ministry, I offer these to you.

1)Presentation: May I say a word about your clothing?

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10 things about conflict you need to know

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Somewhere in the Psalms.

In USA Today for Thursday, May 9, 2013, Jeffrey Katzenberg talks about movie-making lessons he learned from Walt Disney.

“Walt believed that an animated movie was only as good as its villain. I never forgot that.”

Think about that for a second. Villains make movies work. Villains turn ordinary people into heroes.  Villains rivet our attention on the story. Villains keep us fixated on the plot until justice is served.

The greatest drama of the Twentieth Century was the Second World War. Think about its villains–Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, and then Joseph Stalin, too. Now, consider that without that war and those villains, we would never have heard of heroes such as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Montgomery, etc.  That war made Winston Churchill arguably into the man of the century.

Now, as the leader of a church, you have encountered your own set of villains. You’ve noticed that they fall into two camps. One is the devil himself and all his cohorts. The other are people who are supposed to be on your side but instead of helping the program, they seem to spend their days and nights scheming and searching for ways to bring it down.

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7 things pastors should tell their people often

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6)  “Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).

Today, I spent the morning hours in a school in North Carolina giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the kids to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be, and to smile. Then it happened again. 

Only five minutes after the talk, we invited the students to crowd around and I would sketch as many as possible in the remaining time. “Look at me and smile,” I said to the first teenager. “I don’t smile,” he said. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?” 

In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.

I said to the young teacher, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”

Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.

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