Third in a series on The Effective Pastor.
Every parent, every teacher, and every pastor has things they believe strongly about, lines they will not cross. Call them pet peeves or strong convictions, the leader will not go there.
As a pastor for over four decades and a minister for five-and-a-half, here are some statements you will never hear from me:
1. Will you lead us in a word of prayer?
The expression “a word of prayer” is a putdown. It minimizes the value of prayer and the effectiveness of praying. So, you will not hear me saying it.
In a worship service, if I call on someone for an impromptu prayer, I will simply say, “Now, I’m going to ask Jim Smith to lead us in prayer.” Or, “Robert Jones, will you lead us in the benediction?”
2. Putdowns of other denominations.
Even when it might be necessary to point out a difference in the doctrine of our group and other Christians, I will not denigrate them. I will not speak disparagingly of other denominations.
We recall what the critics of Paul and his companions said about their preaching in Ephesus. Arrested and accused of treason, they were in great danger when the city clerk arose to address the crowd. “You have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:37). Do not miss that. For several years, Paul had preached and ministered in Ephesus (19:10). But not one person rose to contradict the official’s statement that Paul had never been heard speaking ill of Diana, their goddess.
Clearly, had many modern preachers been put on trial that day, they would have been in serious trouble for slandering the false cults, blaspheming their idols, and attacking their faith. My own opinion about such preaching is it lacks confidence in the Gospel.
3. Snide putdowns of preachers with whom I disagree.
4. Doubts about Holy Scripture.
There are a couple of places, such as the incident in John 8 and the “spurious ending” of Mark’s Gospel that require a little explaining. But one must be careful not to undermine confidence in God’s word.
5. Sweeping generalizations that are not substantiated.
I’ve known of preachers saying, “Billy Graham says 80 percent of church members in America are unsaved.” When I challenged one on this and asked for his source, he said, “It’s all over the internet. Everyone knows it.” But he was unable to find anything saying this. When a friend asked the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about this, the spokesperson replied they get asked that a lot, but no one has ever been able to find evidence that the evangelist had said such a thing.
Responsible Christians should not be quoting unsubstantiated generalizations like that, particularly when they put the church in such a negative light.
6. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were Christians and went to Heaven.
I hope they’re in Heaven, I really do. But quotations from these great men are all over the place, some of the substantiated and others questionable. I have the books and have heard the sermons. (I have a shelf of books on Lincoln and one on Churchill.) But they said so many things to the contrary that make me question the advisability of claiming either one was a born-again follower of Jesus Christ. The preacher who says they were saved has a great deal of evidence to the contrary, and calls his own integrity into question. (Note to readers: Please do not send me books taking one position or the other on this. Thank you.)
It’s perfectly fine to quote these great men without going beyond what they said and what we know to be true.
7. I will not make jokes about Elizabeth Taylor or other celebrities, and will not banish any of them to hell for their ungodly lifestyles.
I heard of a preacher saying to a crowd, “As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eighth husband, ‘I will not keep you long.'” In the crowd, according to the story, sat Senator John Warner, number seven on her list of spouses.
All these public figures have a judge and it’s not me. I cringe when I hear preachers tell sordid stories of the misbehavior of various celebrities to make a point of some kind. This National Enquirer kind of preaching reflects poorly on the gospel, on Christ, and on the preacher. Doing this reflects a lack of confidence in the power of the Gospel.
8. I will not tell ethnic jokes or disparage other races.
If a story is borderline and you really want to tell it, I suggest calling a friend –or, asking your wife–to listen to it. If they hesitate at all before responding, you have your answer.
9. I will not say Satan is tending the fires of hell. He isn’t.
Satan is on earth and destined for hell (see Revelation 12). Soon, he will become hell’s chief prisoner. He has “great wrath,” Scripture says, because “he knows he has a short time.”
The image of Satan and his imps tending the fires of hell and welcoming sinners belongs to cartoons, if that. But not in sermons.
10. In fact, I will not make jokes about anyone going to hell.
This is not a laughing matter.
If you hear me breaking these promises, I’m hereby asking you to call my hand on it. I’m not perfect and if a story is strong enough or the humor is so dead-on, I might be tempted to tell it even though it breaks one of my rules.
I suggest to working pastors–that is, those still leading a local church flock–that you have a list of things you will not say and post it on the back of your office door until its contents become second nature to you.