Sloppiness in ministry: Not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

Last night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: turned on the television. After channel-surfing for a while, I ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

His credit card showed he had stopped at a convenience store on his trip south.  Police searched until they found the store’s video of him at the cash register.  They wondered where was the wife? On a long trip, wouldn’t she have gone into the rest room and perhaps bought a drink? Even though the man had testified that his wife had accompanied him on the trip, she was not in the video.

Next, police scanned through hours of video from an interstate toll booth.  Eventually, when they spotted his car, the photograph shows no one in the passenger’s seat.  The man is alone.  So, in the interview room, they asked, “Where does your wife sit when you are driving?” He answered, “In the passenger’s seat.”  “Does she ever sit in the back or lie down back there?”  “No. Never.”

He was a dead duck.

Bank statements revealed the man owed credit card debts totaling $80,000, and that all the couple’s assets were held in his wife’s name.  The computer showed the man “had an active social life,” as one cop put it.  He dated women he met online and sent them flowers, etc., while claiming to be divorced.  The wife’s cousin said she had been planning to leave her husband.

A satellite tracking device was attached to the underside of the man’s car.  A policeman said, “Cops don’t have to tail anyone any longer. The satellite does it for us.”  That’s how they were led to the abandoned golf course miles outside Jacksonville where the guy went to double-check the burial place, making sure it had not been discovered.  The decomposing body of his wife had been wrapped in plastic and duct-taped, then buried in a shallow grave.

The policework was so painstakingly precise that a lab technician was able to match up the end of one of the duct-tape tears with a roll found in the man’s garage.  The match was as identifiable as a fingerprint, we were told.

Faced by the overwhelming evidence against him, the man pleaded guilty to first degree murder and received life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The precision and detail of the police work–as well as the television presentation of it, for that matter–was staggering.

Precision and detail.  Thoroughness and hard work.

Returning to bed, I found myself thinking about the sloppiness with which we in the ministry often work. The contrast is stark.

Granted, investigating murder and shepherding the people of the Lord are not remotely similar.  There are a thousand differences.  But preachers can take a lesson from police investigators.

Now, I am pro-pastor.  But the truth, as painful as it is to admit, is what it is.

The work of many a preacher is an embarrassment to the Kingdom of God.

We are often careless and haphazard in the way we do the greatest work in the world.  The service we render in Jesus’ name often reflects poorly on Him, leaving the impression that we care little for His glory and less for His people.

What sloppiness in ministry looks like…

1) The sloppy minister is disorganized, has no plan for anything, and runs from need to need.

2) The sermons are poorly prepared, the scholarship is weak, the organization is lacking, and the presentation is amateurish.

My wife says, “A sloppy sermon is impossible to follow. The congregation is lost from the beginning.”

3) There’s no regular planning meeting for the ministry team. As a result, the pastor is forever dealing with conflicts regarding his co-workers and the calendar.

4) The minister does not know his Bible.  He has not systematically read it cover to cover or made a determined study of its major themes.

5) HIs defense of the gospel is weak. When confronted with questions on the resurrection of Jesus, the importance of the cross, or the authenticity of Scripture, he’s lost. He camouflages that deficiency by long rambling answers.

6)  A sloppy minister will make shoot-from-the-hip errors in his preaching.  Because so much of what he does is unplanned and poorly thought through, he will “accidentally” tell something given him in confidence, reveal the actual name of someone in a story and cause them great embarrassment, or relate an incident from his home which will damage his relationship with his wife or children.

7) A sloppy preacher will rely on his quick thinking and his (ahem) great personality to get him through weak and unprepared sermons, and attribute this to “being in the Spirit.”  He relies on the Lord, he says. The truth is, he is lazy.

8) .A sloppy pastor is a horror to work for.  He makes promises which he immediately forgets and refuses to be tied down to specific responsibilities and obligations.  He prides himself on his free-wheeling ways, when the culprit is his own lack of self-discipline.

9) The sloppy minister lets minor problems and pestering needs eat up his time and energy, leaving him exhausted and unable to give proper attention to the greater work of his call: preaching the gospel, directing the church, ministering to the saints, leading his family.

10) The sloppy minister will not recognize himself in the above because he quit reading after the second paragraph.

Only a true friend–the Proverbs 27:6 and 27:17 kind of friend–can help a sloppy minister.  Such a friend will tell him the unadorned truth about himself and demand that he get his act together.

God give us all such friends.



3 thoughts on “Sloppiness in ministry: Not allowed

  1. I agree with your post, and would like to know what you feel a pastor should do if he feels lacking in some of these aspects of his ministry?

    • Thank you for the question, Steven. Short answer: Most of us are lacking in some of these areas of ministry. I’m so right-brained (arty, spontaneous, and thus disorganized) it’s not funny. So, much of this was written to myself, I expect. So, longer answer: “The fruit of the Spirit is….self-discipline.” That’s the answer, of course. Growing in the Lord will mean overcoming these natural traits that weight us down.

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