The noise of wolves in the night can be frightening. Right, pastor?

Preacher, a lot of people in the church are concerned.  I’m not at liberty to use names.  Even some who love you are not happy with the way things are going.  I think you’d be surprised to know how widespread the unrest is.  If you are the wise person I think you are, you will not want to jeopardize your family by risking a church vote and suddenly find yourself unemployed.  If I were you–and I’m just saying this as a friend–I think I’d be looking for another church to go to. 

The baying of wolves in the night can be disconcerting.  But it’s also misleading.  As this story from President U. S. Grant’s autobiography makes clear….

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.  The first former president to write his memoirs, Grant’s 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 from cancer.  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 plenty of 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.”

The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance.  He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.

Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid.  I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….

After a bit, Benjamin spoke. ‘Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’

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How not to elect anybody to anything, but to keep it safe

This was a New Yorker article in July 2010. Writer Anthony Gottlieb was reviewing a book with the intriguing title “Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.”  Something he told I found fascinating.

In old Italy, when the time came for the city of Venice to elect a new doge (think of a mayor with royal powers), the process by which the city officials conducted this election was something to behold. Tprocess involved seven steps.  Here was the procedure….

–An official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica. Along the way, he grabbed the first kid off the streets he could find and took back to the palace to pull out ballots from a box. Inside were the names of all the grand families of Venice. The child was selecting people for an electoral college.

–Thirty electors were chosen that way. Then, a second drawing reduced the number to nine.

–Those nine nominated forty candidates, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors to make it to the next stage. The forty were then whittled down to 12.

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Things we must get right in church otherwise it’s all over

In the Lord’s work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.

If we don’t know which is which, we’re in big trouble.

In the late 16th century, the City of Windsor engaged architect Sir Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.

Christopher Wren had four more columns added to the building, each identical to the first but with one exception: they lacked one inch reaching the ceiling.  They were not holding up anything!

We say that some of those columns were load-bearing and the others cosmetic.  (The building stands today. It’s called Guild Hall, I read somewhere.)

It’s a wise church leader who knows which structures in the Lord’s work are loadbearing and which are cosmetic and not structural.

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10 things about church conflict you need to know

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Somewhere in the Psalms. (see note at the end)

Movie-maker Jeffrey Katzenberg was talking 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 turned 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 legion. The other are people who are supposed to be on your side but instead of helping the program, they scheme and plot and maneuver, looking for ways to bring it down.

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The two-faced church. Both sides are accurate.

“…a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

Anyone can criticize the church. It’s the most vulnerable institution in the world, the most victimized, and the most vilified.

Criticizing the church is like clubbing baby seals.  It has no way of fighting back, but just lays there and takes what you dish out. The difference is that, after the beating, the church stands to her feet and goes on about her business, while you the critic walk away beaming as though you have done something heroic.

You haven’t. You have picked on the easiest target in the world.

In this morning’s newspaper, some (ahem) rocket scientist wrote a letter to the editor taking on the church for the Spanish  Inquisition of the Middle Ages and before that the Crusades.  I assume he just discovered these.

No institution on earth has been so targeted for villainy as has the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

–Satan and his legions persecute it and when that doesn’t work, they imitate it in order to make people think the wickedness they’re perpetrating is actually done by the people of God.

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How to tell whether you are a leader

Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

Let’s just come right out and say it up front:  Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are probably not a leader.

The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he has been sent to serve.

A pastor comes into a church with a divine mandate. (This is not pious talk. He has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is.) He proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, many of the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service–those very people–stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.  (Want to see it in Scripture?  Numbers 16.)

This was the last thing the pastor expected.

Because he’s human, he begins to wonder many things: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?

My answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course.

Salt is an irritant. We have been sent into this world as its salt (Matthew 5:13).

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Rescuing the sick church: Five Principles

Sometimes we have to enroll the entire school in the first grade and start all over.

Once when I had trouble in one of my ears, the E-N-T doctor prescribed, among other things, a bottle of pills with unusual directions: “Take 6 a day for the first 4 days, 5 on the 5th day, 4 on the 6th day, 3 on the 7th day, 2 on the 8th day, and 1 on the 9th day.”

Apparently, some meds must not be curtailed abruptly.

While some illnesses respond to simple, one-step treatments, others require weeks, months, even years of medications and applications. In those, regular repetition over extended periods is needed for healing.

Now, take the sick church…

The ailing church did not get that way overnight. Often, anemic, struggling churches result from the unhealthy teachings of warped leaders. In many cases, teachers have gone to seed on a pet doctrine and omitted altogether the basic principles of solid Christian living as unworthy of them.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the ABCs of the Christian faith…. (Hebrews 5:12 paraphrase).

The elementary principles. Basic Christianity. The kind of stuff we should have been taught in a new members’ class.

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Seven things the pastor cannot do from the pulpit

“…so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God….” (I Timothy 3:15).

You can’t chew gum in the pulpit, smoke a cigarette, or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, sometimes we pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive.

True, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit.  Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking godly pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

1. He cannot recommend a book which has questionable material in it nor condemn a book he has not read.

Okay. He can, but he shouldn’t.

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Trouble in the pulpit: The angry pastor

“Now, in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…boastful, arrogant, revilers…ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited…. Avoid such men as these.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)

Veteran Christian workers get this a lot. People tell you of a conversation with you from years ago in which you spoke words that changed their lives.  You were God’s gift to them that day, or, just as likely you infuriated them and they have not been able to get past it.

The problem is you don’t remember any of it.

My daily e-mail brought two such messages, one of each kind. A young minister was thanking me and an older pastor was venting. The conversations had occurred some ten years earlier.  I remembered neither.

The older pastor told of the time he sat in my office, seeking guidance for entering the ministry. According to him, I had asked what kind of church position he was interested in.  That was the harmless little question that had ticked him off and fueled his anger for a full decade.

“I was morally outraged by the question,” he said.

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The mixed multitude in your church and what to do about them

“And a mixed multitude went up with them.”   Exodus 12:38

“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’” — Numbers 11:4

The unbelieving world is attending your church.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them.  Not good.

When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone.  Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also.  (Various translations refer to them as “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)

Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt?  Doubtless there were slaves from many countries.  So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.

Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.

Bear in mind that these people, being outsiders, had no idea who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were.  They had no inkling that the great I AM was doing something mighty in their midst.  They had no knowledge of Moses and no loyalty to him.  Their thoughts were of themselves and their wants.

Don’t miss that.

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