My People

…the children and me.

When my friend Nikki of Double Springs, Alabama, invited me to be camp pastor for her church’s annual children’s retreat this summer, I quickly said ‘yes.’ Only later did I think to ask, “What ages are these children?” Mostly older elementary children, she said. But not all. A few younger ones, including a couple of 5 year olds.

Talk about a challenge for Grandpa!

The camp was this weekend on the grounds of Camp Lee, near Anniston, Alabama. A great place with super food and the nicest people on the planet (in case you’re looking for a location for your retreat; we recommend them highly). The fifty children and perhaps 20 adults from Double Springs–one of my four hometowns!–were wonderful in every way.

As usual, as soon as the event went on my calendar, I began praying that the Lord would prepare me and the people who would attend.

And then I began worrying.

“How long has it been since I’ve done such a retreat for children? (Answer: many years) Can I even connect with them on their level any more? They’ll see this grandpa up there and wish they were anywhere else but at this camp!”

Then one day, it hit me: these children are the same ages as most of my grandchildren. So, I’ll just imagine Jack and Abby and Erin and Darilyn and JoAnne are the audience. I’d have no trouble with that group. They’re wonderful and we all adore each other.

So, that’s what I did. And it worked just fine (well, it did from my end; I’ll let the Double Springs folks speak for themselves). I sketched everyone over the 48 hours and spoke at four services, and loved every minute of it.

If loving children qualifies a person for anything, then I’m in that line. My brother Glenn, four years my senior, is enjoying his 5-year-old granddaughter Sylvia to the point of telling us every bright thing she says. (And she can churn them out!) She keeps him in stitches from laughter and smothers him in love, which is undoubtedly superior to all that medicine he takes to stay alive.

The other day, Sylvia said, “Big Daddy–let’s pray!” Glenn said, “Okay, honey, what shall we pray about?” She said, “I’ll pray. Dear Lord, please send me some puppies and a kitty and a real live dinosaur.”

Our mom–scheduled to hit age 93 on July 14–said, “You need to teach her the things to pray for and what not to.” Glenn and I both said, “She’ll find out soon enough. We’ll just leave that alone for the moment.”

…the pastors and me.

Since retiring last month, I continue to get e-mails from our local pastors inviting me to show up at their sanctuary (post-Katrina) rededications or to draw people at their vacation Bible school parents night. I’m glad to accept.

It blesses me that the pastors do not think I was doing those things previously just because it was my job, and know if they will invite me even now, I’ll do everything in my power to be there.

This week, my successor, C. Duane McDaniel, arrives in New Orleans with his family and begins his ministry with the Baptist churches of metro New Orleans. We’re all excited for us, and praying for him.

A constant prayer of mine is that God will use me to encourage pastors. Every minister’s situation is unique to himself and his church, but most tend to follow certain patterns.

Nothing drains a pastor’s enthusiasm and takes the edge off his enjoyment of ministry like the constant bickering of church members who are not happy with everything going on in the church. Someone told me recently, “My husband is not always pleased with the pastor.”

I listen and bite my tongue. After all, it does not help the wife one bit for me to respond to such short-sightedness in her husband. In most cases, she’s frustrated enough as it is and my comments only add to her pain.

What I think is, “I wish he’d say that to me.” After asking him what precisely he means by that, my response would be some version of: “It’s just fine for you not always to be pleased with your pastor. Who said you should be! What if he’s unhappy with you? Why does your unhappiness with him carry more weight than his with you?”

People rarely think these things through. In back of the husband’s comment lurks the assumption that the pastor is supposed to always impress and satisfy the church members, otherwise he’s failing in his job.

What a crock. What a victory for the enemy.

Pray for your pastor. And please back off, giving him room to do the job as the Lord leads. Keep reminding yourself: whether you are always happy with what he is doing has nothing to do with anything.

…an important leadership principle.

Traveling down Interstate 59 toward New Orleans Sunday afternoon, I stopped in Hattiesburg at a popular service station for a break and a bottle of water. Pulling in, I noticed it looked different. The huge sign identifying the station with its national parent chain had been removed. Inside, I quickly saw what a change of management had wrought.

The bathroom was filthy. I mean, disgustingly so.

Since the fellow working the cash register seemed like a nice guy, I suggested to him that someone ought to go to work on the men’s room, that it looked awful. He acted surprised and mumbled a word of thanks.

When a station is affiliated with a national chain, there’s a certain amount of accountability involved. Remove that connection and the owners have no one to account to. From that moment on, you find out the kind of people they are.

Accountability is a positive force for achieving anything.

As a Southern Baptist–a denomination made up of some 45,000 independent but cooperating churches–my own conviction is that we could use more accountability of congregations and pastors. Without that, each congregation is left to its own standards. The ruling or authoritative body then (if you will allow me to use such terminology) becomes not a bishop but the church members and the people who visit those churches.

Visitors participate in referendums on churches all the time. They vote on the cleanliness of their buildings (rest rooms included), on the effectiveness of their programs and ministries, and on the strength of the fellowship of the congregation.

They vote by continuing to come or by never returning.

One hopes the pastors and church leaders are paying attention to the people who come through their buildings.

To be brutally honest, there are often solid reasons why small churches in populated communities remain tiny and continue to struggle.

In those cases, the situation cries out for church members and leaders to call the pastor’s attention to the problem. Often, the simplest solution is the best: invite in an outsider to study your church and make recommendations.

So simple. So quick. So cheap.

And sooooo hard to do.

4 thoughts on “My People

  1. Bro. Joe conncected with the children at camp wonderfully. At one point, I noticed many of them were on the edge of their seat listening to what would become of the ‘neighbor’. Not only did brother Joe minister to the children, but he ministered to the adults as well.

    Thank you Bro. Joe for all you did for us during camp! Love, Nikki

  2. From one Grandpa to another. Thanks for the encouragement that your blog gives me. I sometimes don’t see it everyday, but it surley helps and encourages me when I take a few moments to catch up.

    I am now going to write my grandson a letter for his second birthday.

  3. Oh, FIDDLESTICKS! I had read earlier, obviously much earlier than my brain’s capacity to remember, that you were coming to Camp Lee which is about 2 miles from our home. I actually thought I would go and say hello and maybe you would sketch me if I told you how much I enjoy the blogs. Well…another time. PB

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