I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m a solid 80 years old. These are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me….
One. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated. The single exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.
Two. Never put anything negative in a letter. It will still be circulating and driving the case against you long after you’re in the grave.
Three. Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member. And then check a few more.
Four. Differences of opinion–in a church or on a staff–can be healthy, but dissension should be nipped in the bud. Anyone who cannot sit in a staff meeting and disagree lovingly does not belong there.
Five. Neglect your family and you will have a lifetime to regret it.
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work. A bishop (pastor/overseer) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….” (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)
Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs. For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church-–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–-chose to stand and berate the pastor. When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.
He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.
It took a new believer to do the job.
From the back porch, Sunday July 26, 2020. Program begins at the 10:00 minute mark.
While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend. –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”
“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” –Joseph Stalin
“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” –Lucy, in “Peanuts”
Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price. It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.
I send you forth as sheep among the wolves… (Matthew 10:16)
After my departure, savage wolves will come…. (Acts 20:29)
You’re getting scared. Your enemies are making fierce noises. There are so many of them. You are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go. Whatever will you do? This is so awful.
Or, maybe not.
In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas. Grant’s Memoirs make fascinating reading. We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot. (Note: Before reading Memoirs, I read Grant’s Final Victory, an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death. Great story. He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )
At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.” The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by. To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.
Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! (Genesis 28:16-17)
Have you ever walked out of a church service knowing today’s sermon had your name all over it? You should feel so honored that the God of the universe maneuvered everything to minister to your need. Does He do that as a regular thing? My experience says He does. Every day. God is at work.
What a mighty God we serve!
This is from my journal from May 3, 1999—
“After that, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Now, that is the real deal right there!” (Okay, that’s not exactly how He phrased Mark 12:43, but it’s close.)
We who take God’s word seriously sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of word study. As we isolate a parable or story for our Bible study, teaching lesson, or sermon subject, we often end up missing the larger context. Mark 12 is a great case in point.
The chapter is a chronicle of one frustration after another for the Lord, starting with the chief priests, scribes and elders confronting and questioning Him at the end of chapter 11. Chapter 12 begins with Jesus’ parable to them, putting in context precisely what they were doing and the danger they were risking.
These however were people of power and influence. They weren’t interested in learning about God from a carpenter of Galilee. God was their domain. Teaching was what they did. Receiving truth and wisdom from a common laborer was something they would not be doing today or any other day.
And they were seeking to seize Him. Yet they feared the multitude…. So they left Him and went away. (Mark 12:12)
Next came the Pharisees and Herodians, a motley merging of political enemies. The Pharisees were the “moral majority” of their day, the religious right, while the Herodians were compromisers, Jews who supported the tyrant in the palace for the gain that would flow to them. They are “sent” by the previous group (see 12:13), thus embodying the line about politics making strange bedfellows. They have in common a dislike for Jesus. Their mission was “to catch Him in His words” (12:13).
The church in the wilderness praised Abraham and persecuted Moses. The church in Canaan praised Moses and persecuted the prophets. The church in the First Century praised the prophets and persecuted Jesus. The church today….
“Most churches are two pastors behind in their appreciation.” –Ron Lewis
A cartoon shows a weary, embattled pastor standing beside a statue of a man on a horse. The sign at the base reads, “Our former pastor.” The preacher is saying, “Most popular guy in town.”
“They sure do love you here.”
The host pastor was talking to a former pastor who had become president of a theological seminary and was celebrated as a distinguished denominational leader. He had been invited back for a homecoming. Excitement was high and the attendance was good.
The distinguished guest looked at his host and said, “They love me here? Really? Did they tell you that?”
The pastor said, “Uh, yeah. They say they really do.”
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25,30).
It’s His church.
It’s important for pastors to keep reminding themselves there were good reasons why God did not give them ownership of the flocks which they are tending.
“…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” is how Paul puts it (Ephesians 5:27).
“…that we might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” is how Peter put it (I Peter 2:9).
“…as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” is how John put it (Revelation 14:4).
The congregation belongs to Christ. Not to its pastors.
The pastor must keep reminding himself. “They belong to the Lord. Not to me.”
“It’s not all up to you.”
She had given me a burdensome list of prayer needs. Her husband was battling a terminal illness, her daughter was in a bad situation, the grandchildren were at risk, and she herself felt so far from the Lord.
I’m breaking no confidence in sharing this. First, she gave permission, and second, her needs are not unlike a dozen people whom I know. There is a lot of this going around. A few minutes later, a mother whom I do not know, but who found us on the internet, wrote with a similar list of prayer needs.
She asked me to pray for her. She did not ask for advice. However, while I am indeed lifting her needs in prayer, the next best gift I can give is to encourage her own praying. I asked if she was “up” to my commenting on her prayers. She was.