What churches can learn from good restaurants

My wife Margaret and I had been discussing various restaurants. We enjoyed the food in each place and found the staff sufficiently friendly. But several aspects loomed large in our conversation, provoking me–ever the preacher–to reflect on the way churches could benefit from studying what these eating establishments are doing and are not doing.

1. I wish churches put as much emphasis on friendly greeters at the front door as great restaurants do.

Often they are teenagers, perhaps college students. The kids are fresh-faced, sweet-spirited, well-dressed, and friendly. The graciousness appears genuine.

However…

Have you ever walked up to an unfamiliar church and saw no one at the doors, no greeters or welcoming team anywhere on the premises? It happens to me frequently (and I’m the guest preacher!).

Are restaurants more interested in welcoming paying customers than churches are interested in showing hospitality to people arriving to worship the living Christ?

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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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Ten insights about the fellowship in your church

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers…. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:42-47).

When a church of 120 members set out to assimilate 3,000 new additions into the life of the congregation, they ranked “fellowship” toward the top of the list as a critical step in accomplishing the task.

Fellowship is a nebulous term in our churches.  No one seems to know exactly what it is.

Koinonia is the Greek word. It refers to a sharing of life, or a partnership. Of course, that doesn’t tell us what it meant in the follow-up program in the early church. So, in the absence of anything definitive from Scripture on the precise meaning of the term, I submit for your consideration my own definition: Hanging out.

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How to change the culture of a church

This is for pastors and other church leaders in particular.

When Jim went to his church as the new pastor, he told me, “They have a bad history. Every two years they run the preacher off.” He paused and said, “Let’s see if we can change that.”

He didn’t. Two years later, in spite of the wonderful growth the church was experiencing, a little group informed him that his work there was done and it would be better if he left.

I served one church where a small group of leaders–some elected and some not–met from time to time to make important decisions for the church. The poor pastor had little or no say. When I, the new preacher, suggested that this is the type of thing a congregation needs to know about and make the decision, the spokesman said, “We don’t like to upset the congregation about these things.”

These days in my retirement ministry, since I’m in a different church almost every Sunday, I see all kinds of congregational setups. In one, the pastor seemed to be an appendage and was considered irrelevant by the lay leadership. In another, he was the good old boy expected to not make waves.

Since my ministry in a church (as the guest preacher) is usually confined to preaching a sermon and extending the public invitation, I try to find out certain things before the service begins:

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When to submit, when to insist

(In leading church conferences, I often present Ephesians 5:21 as the secret key to a thousand good things in a church fellowship.  See what you think.)

“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

I leaned over to my grandson in church and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform sat a dozen musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo.  The church music that day was absolutely outstanding.

I sat there thinking, “What if we had given in to the naysayers? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”  (Note: At that time, in addition to being our minister of music Ken chaired the Music Department at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  Later he headed the Fine Arts Department at Oklahoma Baptist University. These days, he is a professor of Truett-McConnell University in Georgia.  As fine a colleague as I’ve ever served with.)

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

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Pettiness in church leaders: It happens

Each day that week, the Baptist Press website posted five of our cartoons on the theme of “Pastor Search Committee humor.” The drawing was basically the same for the week but with a little tweaking on each day. The captions were different for each.  A committee member is speaking:

–“This guy lives in Hawaii. I think we should visit his church.” 

–“This pastor is unemployed. So we could get him cheap.”

–“This resume’ is from our former pastor. Wonder if he has gotten smarter.” 

–“This one’s wife has a job, so he could use her health insurance and save the church money.”

–“This guy says he’s a lot like our former pastor. Yes, but nothing like our next one!”

Among the comments was this one from a lady somewhere: “This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness.”

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Ten lessons I’ve learned (the hard way) on leading Christ’s church

Anyone who begins to pastor a church should recognize two big things:  There are lessons to be learned if you are ever to do this well, and most of them are learned the hard way.  Your scars will attest to your education.

Most of this is counter-intuitive; that is, not what one might expect.

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, want to lead big churches, want to grow their church to be huge, or wish to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than one would ever think.

Small bodies can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.

A friend says, “At judgement, a lot of pastors are going to wish they’d led smaller congregations.”

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My favorite things in church

My favorite place in church is the altar area.

When I was pastoring, sometime in the middle of a weekday, I would slip in and kneel there and spend time with the Lord.

The question arises as to “Why? What makes that place special?” After all, even though we call it the “altar,” it isn’t, not in the Old Testament sense or even the New Testament sense. Calvary is the ultimate altar for believers. The only answer I can find is: “I don’t know. I just know I need it and love it.”

What I do not understand is believers who never come to the altar and pray. It seems that only the most spiritually sensitive do, and I sure want to be among that number.

I love, love, love those times in church when for reasons unknown the congregational singing comes together like never before and everyone is singing at the top of their voices, the hymns are circulating around the room, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to fill us, and our souls are lifted. It feels like we have touched the hem of the garment of our Lord, and makes us long for Heaven all that much more.

What I do not like is when the worship leader tries to manufacture this on his own. I’ve seen them do that, and the result is fake, hyped, unworthy.

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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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“Hello. I’m the pastor of Crock Pot Church.”

Wait upon the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord.  –Psalm 27:14 

God’s times are not yours.  He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar.  His alarm clock is broken.  He doesn’t keep regular hours.

Lose the stop watch.  Take a hammer to the timer.  God is not going to order His actions by your schedule.  Forget about showing Him your day-planner.  He’s not impressed.

God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.

Got that?

“Most great ministries are made in the crock-pot, not the microwave.” –Allan Taylor

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