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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Lack of integrity in the pastor: A deal-breaker

My longtime friend Will was telling me his story.

I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago,  We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.

Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that some property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.

That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.

Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.

Listening to my friend tell of that experience, I thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in a pastor–as employer, supervisor, mentor, and hopefully a Christian brother-–is integrity.

Without integrity, nothing matters.

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Elevating boasting to an art form

He must increase, but I must decrease.  –John the Baptist.  (John 3:30) 

The speaker said, “As you know, I urge people to walk by the Spirit, to obey Him.  But I need you to know I am not anti-intellectual, not against education.  In fact, I am so much pro-education that I have my bachelor’s degree from a college, I have my master’s, and I also own a doctorate.  In fact, when I was working on my doctorate, the dean said to me that my dissertation was so profound that I should turn it into a book.  That book, you’ll want to know, is on the market right now and you can purchase it in the foyer at the end of this meeting.”

Another time, the visiting preacher, an older fellow, wanted our church to know that he was somebody, I suppose.  Early in the service he told how he had started a church many years ago and stayed with it through the years until his retirement, that during this time he had baptized so many, and had enjoyed seeing the membership climb to (whatever).  He showed a photo of the huge plant on the screen.  He must have talked about his former church for five minutes.  We never did know why.  We did not need to know of his successes to hear him.  In fact, his scars probably made him a better preacher than his awards.

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Blindsided by opposition: Welcome to the ministry, pastor.

(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)

“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)

You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.

As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.

Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.

That’s what you thought.

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Some churches do it right

What happened this week.

Yesterday, Thursday, I drove 200 miles to New Orleans and to Covington, LA to do the funeral service of a dear lady who was a former member of the Kenner, LA church I pastored 1990-2004.  She and her family remained our friends through the years, particularly as she battled cancer and left an amazing witness for Christ through it all.

The large church was packed yesterday–observing the distance protocols and masks, but still hundreds present–as friends far and near came to honor this beloved lady.  Shannon Marvin Maisano was only 48.

What I wanted to tell you is this:  In the service three other people spoke, all from that church: her best friend Dana, the Sunday School teacher for Shannon and her husband Billy, and the former associate pastor.  What makes that special to me is this…

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When a church gets the disappearing blues

This train got the disappearing railroad blues.  –Arlo Guthrie, “City of New Orleans”

The cleaners I used for over two decades made a decision to go out of business.

They just didn’t know it.

It all started with a closed sign on the door one morning.  I walked away carrying the clothes I had planned to drop off.

The next day, a sign announced they had relocated.  Since the new site was closer to my house with more convenient parking, that did not make me unhappy.

Next, they began cutting back on the hours.  The young man newly hired to run that branch informed me they were now opening at 11 am and closing at 7.  No longer would people be able to drop off clothes on their way to work.

I asked him, “Shouldn’t you have a sign outside with the hours of operation?  Since this is a big change.”  Why I should care is another question, but I did.

He casually assured me that the small notice on the glass door would suffice.

He was wrong.  To read that a customer would have to leave the car and walk to the door.  This is an ideal recipe for frustrating one’s customers…and thus for losing them.

Thereafter, I never saw a car in front of the store indicating a customer inside.

Pretty soon, I was gone too.

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Church staff rules to live by

When I asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships, here are some of the most interesting responses.

1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”

Over several decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least three times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.

I’m recalling a time two churches ago when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”

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What I would love to tell your church leaders

We’re supposing here.

Suppose your church assembled the following people: the pastor and staff, the office staff, the deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, and program leaders. This is virtual or in the flesh, maybe spaced across the room.  And suppose I have 30 minutes to say anything on my heart.

Now, assuming I had the undivided attention of the group, I would begin by telling this from Scripture.

A few weeks before Moses retired from the scene and Joshua stepped in to lead God’s people out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan, Moses had some final words. The book of Deuteronomy is the essence of what he shared, a recap of where they had been and what had happened in their recent past.

Moses strongly felt the need to impress one huge thing on God’s people as they were about to possess “a land of milk and honey.” We might even call this a warning.

“You are about to come into a land filled with everything you’ve ever wanted. You’ll move into houses you did not build.

You’ll harvest crops you didn’t plant or cultivate.

You’ll drink from wells you did not dig.

You’ll gather grapes from vineyards and olives from groves you did not plant.”

“You will eat and be satisfied for the first time in your memory. And when that happens…

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Strategy for pastoral success: Make a mistake, a big one

In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.

The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.

This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.

This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.

My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:

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10 things the young or inexperienced speaker does not know–but needs to learn fast!

Let no man despise thy youth (or thy inexperience–Joe).   (I Timothy 4:12)

As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. As a retiree and guest preacher, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….

Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)

But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”

I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run.

However, sometimes the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still will act like a novice.

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