When a pastor’s biggest competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches.

Sound familiar?  It’s not a new phenomenon.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

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Thank you, Father, for trusting me with the pain

“No suffering for the present time seems joyful but grievous; nevertheless, afterward….it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

“And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

I hated the pain at the time, Lord.

It’s no fun hurting, lying awake at night hoping for sleep that will not come, wishing for relief and seeing none on the horizon.  At those times I knew why some turn to drink or drugs or worse, but that issue was settled decades ago, Lord, that I would not be bypassing, shortcutting, or tranquilizing whatever you send me in this life.

Remember that time back in the 1960s when a few unhappy people were stirring up matters in your church, saying that I was pushing integration and was going to destroy their church?  Remember that?  I do too.  Oh, how I do.  That was no fun.

As though it were their church. That’s a laugh.  They’re long off the scene and Your church is still there. And integrated, too, I imagine. (smiley-face goes here)

Remember the time they spread the rumor that my wife and I were divorced and that there was deceit in my background, and I didn’t find out about it until it had circled the earth for a solid year?  That was painful, too.

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Solve 90 percent of your church’s personnel problems before they happen

Nothing stresses a pastor like conflicts occurring on his staff. A secretary in the office, the minister of music, the organist, the head custodian–each of them was brought to the leadership team for good reason. Now, here they are threatening the unity of the church–not to say its mission and ministry–by a conflict with another team member.

In my four-plus decades pastoring six churches, I’ve seen the following (and plenty more, too, let me add) up close and personal….

–a senior staff member addicted to prescription drugs

–staffers using the computer for online porn.

–associate ministers who were protective of their turf, who resented anyone–including the pastor!–intruding to tell them what to do.

–Staffers who wanted to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to cooperate with anyone else

–Staffers who were angry at me about something and shared that little bit of gossip to laypeople in the church before telling me.

–Lazy staff members.

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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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How to keep your church young and vibrant

“They will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).

The December 2014 issue of “The Progressive Farmer” asked whether to “Keep or Cull?”  Subtitle of the article: “High prices have changed the rules about when to cut one loose from the herd.”  

Farmers who want to keep their herds young and viable know the importance of culling certain animals that get too old, consume too much resources, are no longer producing, or are a detriment in other ways.

Pastors cannot cull.

More’s the pity, we say with a wink.

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Word Wrangling: Not for this rodeo

Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.

A scholar friend says, “Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost.”  One side is called liberalism, the other legalism.  Rigid fundamentalism on the right, worldly compromise on the left.  In between is the road.  The way.  It’s narrow.

Truth always is.

It’s one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that yields a well-spring of insights and applications, but a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.

Somewhere I encountered a translation of I Timothy 6:5 that warns God’s leaders about “word-wrangling.” This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as “constant striving” and “chronic disagreement.” (The Greek word—ahem, here we go now–is disparatribai, a double compound word which according to Thayer, means “constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.”)

“Thayer” refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word “wrangling”. Maybe I got it from him.

The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.

Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer’s original intention.

And since our audiences–that would be the men and women of our congregations–are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don’t have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we’re talking about since we use phrases like “the original Greek says” and “my Hebrew professor used to say this word means.”

Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.

They shouldn’t.

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What the pastor said before the church voted on firing him

They’re voting on the preacher at the end of today’s worship service. He may be looking for a job before noon. Or, it could work out well. Either way, the pastor and his wife have turned it all over to the Lord, and while it would be catastrophic in some ways to have their lives turned upside down this way, their focus is on the Lord and not man. Here is some of what he told the church before the vote.

I’m glad to see so many in Weak Sister Church today. A friend of mine says there are two ways to get a big crowd in church: welcome a new preacher or run the old one off.

Some of you haven’t been to Weak Sister in a while. I am sincerely glad to see you here. I do have a special word for you, but not yet. Please bear with me a few moments while I address the believers in the room.

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Conflicts in the early church show us how to deal with them

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

There is no problem-solving section of the Bible.

Sorry if that disappoints you.

What we do find across the New Testament are large servings of healthy food of the spiritual kind, instructions on how to serve God and live well and relate to one another in the close confines of the forever family. Imbedded throughout are insights on resolving collisions between the Lord’s children.

Hold on.

Do you mean to say that from the beginning Jesus expected clashes and collisions within His family? That His disciples would be torn apart by jealousies and competitions and divisions?

It would appear He did.

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The “church conflict” question that will get you laughed out of church

“Why do you not rather suffer wrong?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

A dog can whip a polecat, the saying goes, but it’s not worth it.

Some fights you need to walk away from.

Some years ago a few members of a certain Baptist church took the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense.  As the new leader of the SBC churches in that area, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. At the conclusion of their presentation, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”

He answered, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”

He was wrong. It hadn’t.

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The perfect way for a pastor to lead a different church

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Imagine this.

You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say.  It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about.  Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.

You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.

So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.

As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find  yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.

Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination?  Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”

And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”

This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.

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