The absolute worst kind of Christian faith

I know what it is to bore myself with my own preaching.

It’s not putting words into His mouth to say that one thing the Living God utterly despises is limp, weak-as-tea ministry rendered by insipid, bored disciples who would rather be doing anything in the world than that.

I have been guilty of this. And if you have been in the ministry for any length of time, my guess is you know about this kind of failure also.

You possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My Name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:3-4)

The church at Ephesus was doing a hundred things right and one big thing wrong: they had lost the heart for God they had at first. They preached and taught, they ministered and served, they prayed and witnessed. But their heart was not in it any longer.

And to God, that negated the entire thing.

Remember how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)

If you think that sounds like what the Lord said to another church down the road a few miles, you would be correct.

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When leaders are afraid to lead

“Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you….” (Jeremiah 1:8).

A friend asked, “Why is it taking our church so long to get a new pastor?”

I said, “In my opinion, your search committee is afraid.  They know that certain members of your congregation are quick to pick apart any candidate who isn’t like (a previous pastor, now in Heaven). And they don’t want to take that chance.”

What would you say if I said most leaders of our churches operate from fear?

You would wisely ask how I know and where I got such information or arrived at such a conclusion. I would have to admit that I do not know this for a fact, that it’s from observing churches and their leaders all these decades. As a pastor of six churches for forty-two years and a minister for over six decades, I am well-acquainted with the practice of operating from fear.

What “operating from fear” looks like

–Leaders operate from fear when they poll the congregation to see what they want in the next pastor, the kind of program they want, what the next building should be, or what the congregation should do about some community issue.  In almost every case, it is safe to say that the congregation does not know what it wants.  We should quit asking them.

Lead or get out of the way.

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How to say ‘no’ to a wonderful opportunity

“They said to Him, ‘Lord! Everyone is looking for you.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth’” (Mark 1:35-38).

Turning down a lousy request is no problem.

–“Hey Joe! Wanna go bungee jumping?” Ha. Not in this lifetime.

–“Hey preacher! How about a night of bar-hopping on Bourbon Street!” You talking to me, Leroy?

–“Pastor, would you write a book on the superiority of your theological system over all others?”  Uh, no.  But have a nice day.

Saying ‘no’ to something you hate to do, do not want to do, cannot do, and would not be caught dead doing–piece of cake.

No one has to counsel you on how to do that.

It’s all those other requests that you find difficult to turn down.

“Would you judge our city’s beauty contest?” Okay, no one has actually asked me to do that, but I live in hope. A preacher, if asked to do this, which I find inconceivable, should turn it down for a hundred rather obvious reasons.

Anyway, back to the subject with more plausible invitations…

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How to tell you’re no 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 no 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.

He comes into a church with a divine mandate. (This is not pious talk. He has been called by the Heavenly Father into this 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, 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.

This was the last thing he expected.

Because he’s human, he begins to wonder: 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.

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The pastor’s scariest time

I sit there listening while my pastor friend tells what he’s going through in his church. And sometimes all the alarms go off. I realize he is in a dangerous place in his ministry.

Not always, but sometimes, I can tell him this. If I sense a leading from the Holy Spirit or if he and I already have a close enough relationship, I’ll interrupt him.

“Brother Bob, can we pause the narrative here a moment? I need to point something out to you.”

“My friend, you are exposed. You are a sitting duck. Life has drawn a target on your back. Satan has his gun-sights on you.”

“You’d better do something big in a hurry or you’re going to get in bad trouble.”

He sits there stunned, without a clue.

“What do you mean? I’m doing everything I know to work my way through this.”

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How to set new records in ministry

What follows is a blend of the funny and the serious, what some call “peanut butter and jelly,” the PB for nourishment and the J for delight.  Please bring a sense of whimsy and expect to receive no sermon ideas from this! Thank you. –Joe

In the January/February 2015 issue of Preaching, executive editor Michael Duduit (and my longtime friend) tells of a fellow in Florida who carved out a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes.  Well, actually, it was 45 of his old sermons stitched together, not just one.  Michael says the guy used 600 PowerPoint slides and basically covered the entire Bible, from Genesis to the concordance.

All of that tickled Editor Michael’s funny bone, as oddities in the ministry usually do.  This started him thinking, “What other record-breaking attempts could be made by preachers?” After relaying his suggestions–with some parenthetical notes from moi–we will have an idea or two of our own.

Okay.  Michael suggests the Guinness people might want to look at:

–The most fried chicken consumed at a church supper. (As a growing teen, I was perturbed by the way the church women would put the food away before I finished eating. So, determining to eat nothing but fried chicken–true story–I consumed 14 pieces by the time they were closing up shop.  We never did learn my actual capacity.)

– The most irrelevant stories packed into a single sermon.  (I’ve done this. Once I used a story from a granddaughter who is a twin.  Then, I said, “As you all know, Abby and Erin are sitting here listening to this. I’ve told a story about Abby, and now need to tell a story about her sister Erin. So the following story has nothing to do with this sermon…..”)

–The most “and finally” references included in a message before actually stopping. (I plead not guilty on this one.)

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Help, I’m a pastor!

“In a multitude of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6)

I said to Pastor Marion, “I’m glad to exchange notes with you like this. But you need a couple of mentors–older guys with long histories in the ministry–whom you can sit across the table from and talk about these things.”

He named two such, a seminary professor and a retired pastor.

Pastors often find themselves in tough situations.  At the moment, Pastor Marion is leading his church in a massive building campaign, while working night and day to minister to his growing flock.  In the five years he has been there, his church has doubled or more in attendance. And then, this happens….

A deacon who is used to getting his way in the church called a meeting of the key leadership. He was upset about some of what Marion has been preaching, he says. Furthermore–it will not surprise you if you have ever been the target of this kind of abuse–-“many others in the church feel the same way.”

He threatened that steps may be taken to remove the pastor from the pulpit.

What is a pastor to do?

I mentioned a few possibilities, but with the caveat that “these are just some thoughts.” No way do I want to take responsibility for whatever he decides.

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Things that “simply could not happen!” Oh no?

“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, our country broke the Japanese secret code.  This means that Army and Navy personnel were reading Japan’s messages. We actually knew where their forces were most of the time and what they were planning.

All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–we were completely unprepared. Our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers.  Our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.

The Japanese had a field day.  A turkey shoot.

How had this happened?  How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?

We did not believe what we were reading. This could not possibly happen.

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Eight open secrets of leadership from Nelson Mandela

The cover of TIME for July 21, 2008, featured Nelson Mandela at age 90 beaming that sweet smile out to the world. Inside were his Secrets of Leadership: Eight lessons from one of history’s icons.

You know Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  A political activist against South Africa’s apartheid in the days when to speak out was to land in prison, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. In 1990, President of South Africa F. W. de Klerk released him. Then, three years later both men received the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1994, Mandela was elected president of the country. His autobiography is Long Walk to Freedom.

Over the decades, Mandela became a mature voice for reconciliation, reason, and unity. He is championed by people worldwide who are inspired by that beneficent smile from one who suffered so much and so long.

Here are his eight secrets of leadership, some of which you might find surprising—

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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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