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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

Joe McKeever

Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."

This is the burden of my heart.

Get out of the office, pastor, and knock on some doors. Later, you can get your people to doing it. But first, you do it.

Do it by yourself, if you must. Or take someone with you. Do it by appointment or cold-turkey. But do it.

That is as profound a way as I know to build a great church.

Visit your church members, visit your leaders, visit them in their places of business. Visit your neighbors, the homes around your church.  isit people who visit your church.

Write letters to them. The personal kind. Handwritten, maybe two sentences. Just to say you’re thinking about them, praying for them, thankful for them.

Get out of the office and get with the people.

Pastor Bobby Welch, longtime shepherd of the great First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, was teaching a soul-winning program to several hundred in the chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“You have to knock on doors,” he emphasized. “You have to get out of your building and tell people about Jesus.”

He paused for effect and added, “I will tell you something some of you are not going to like. You are not going to build a great church on your preaching!”

My hunch is that fully half the preachers in the crowd were thinking that very thing, that if I just deliver a good enough sermon–find a way to improve my delivery, develop better outlines with punchier illustrations–the crowds will flock in. Maybe if I practice my mannerisms, have a snappier suit, wear that bow tie. What if I use these gestures, raise my voice here, lower it there?

You mean that’s not going to do the trick?

Consider those words again: You are not going to build a great church on your preaching.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Okay, it seems to happen just often enough to keep the myth alive. John MacArthur. Charles Stanley. Chuck Swindoll. Andy Stanley. Ed Young. Stuart Briscoe. But the exceptions only prove the rule, as they say.

The point being what?

The point being: The pastor must get into the community and knock on doors. He must be a personal witness for Christ, must share the gospel wherever he goes, must get into the homes of his church members, of prospects who visit his church, and outsiders who need the Lord.

But, someone asks, you don’t mean to imply that the pastor alone is going to get all the visiting and soulwinning done and thus build a great church? Nope, not at all.

But it starts here, with you.

If the pastor is not knocking on doors and sharing the faith, he will not be able to motivate anyone else to do it.

If the pastor is not knocking on doors and sharing the faith, his words will sound hollow when he preaches the gospel on Sunday.

However, if the pastor is knocking on doors and sharing the faith, he will be so thrilled to see in the congregation people he has witnessed to that very week, that he will preach better than he’s ever preached before!

Gene Edwards was pastoring a small-town church in Texas. One day he drove to a nearby large city and went in to see the pastor of the largest church in town. “Tell me,” he said, “how to get my people out knocking on doors and sharing their faith.”

The minister said, “How many people did you tell me were in your town?”

I forget the number, a couple of thousand, probably. “You don’t need your people witnessing,” he said. “You can win those by yourself.”

That was not what Pastor Edwards wanted to hear. But he took the advice to heart and went home and started knocking on doors, leading people to Christ. And then they started coming to church and joining and being baptized. Before long, people were telling the pastor they wanted to learn to share their faith. Out of that came Gene Edwards’ book titled appropriately enough “Here’s How to Win Souls.” It appeared when I was in seminary and was as welcome as any book I’ve ever read.

Why your Great Preaching is Not Going to Build a Great Church

–In most cases your town has a number of sizeable churches, each of which is led by an excellent preacher. So, if it’s good preaching people are looking for, they have lots of choices. And that means you have lots of competition.

And that should bother you. All those other churches are not competition, but fellow team members. And all those other pastors are not competitors, but your brothers (and sometimes sisters). You do not want to be drawing people away from those churches just to build a huge membership for yourself. (Or if you do, that is a sickness and you should get treatment.) What you want to do is reach the people no one else is reaching.

All those other churches, you may assume, are depending on the usual thing to build their membership: the pastor’s good preaching, their various ministries, families bringing their children into the church, etc. But if you are knocking on doors and witnessing, you may have the field to yourself.

Because fewer and fewer churches are doing this.

–If you have been in the homes of people recently and sat across the table from them, sharing and laughing and visiting, when you stand to preach, you have their undivided attention. And if they never see you except during the one hour on Sunday morning, you can forget about having much impact on them.

When was the last time you belonged to a church with a regular weeknight program of visitation?

I can recall my first church after seminary. Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi. We were one of a half-dozen similar-sized churches in that community of 30,000. And each of the churches had a visitation program. There would be nights when a team from our church would be in the living room of a prospective family and two other church teams would come by the same evening.

Ever hear of that happening now? You don’t.

How would a pastor get started?

First: Start with the local businesses. Visit the businesses in your church area. Meet the owners or managers, clerks and employees, and do it briefly. “Just wanted to get acquainted.” Leave your card.

Second: Start with the homes around your church. You walk up, knock at the door, and introduce yourself as the pastor of the church down the street. “I’m just walking around meeting our neighbors,” tell them. “I want to make sure we are good neighbors to you. Have you ever had a problem with the church, people parking in your driveway, the noise, etc.?” The idea is to meet people, have conversations, let them feel they know you, and to leave your material.

Third: If the idea of cold-turkey visitation (door to door) scares the daylights out of you, then I have two suggestions. One: Do it anyway. It’s good for you to overcome such fears. And Two: Ask around and find people who know how to do this. Someone does. Keep trying until you find a way that works for you.

Fourth: Visit all your church members. You’d be surprised how many unsaved and unchurched people are in the homes of your own members. Go visit them and then get to know them while you’re there.

 

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“Pray for me–that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth…” (Ephesians 6:19). (Also Colossians 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:25)

Everyone prays, we’re told. And, doubtless, every follower of Jesus Christ prays for other people. But we must be faithful in praying for ourselves.

Here are three prayers of mine from key times in my life…

The first: I prayed for balance in my ministry and personal life.

This prayer is from an old journal of mine. It’s undated, so I have no idea what was going on, what prompted it, and when it occurred. It seems timeless, and knowing my own heart, this has been something I have longed for since the beginning…

“Dear Lord, make me strong and tough, but at the same time

Sweet and thoughtful and kind.

Make me disciplined and orderly but at the same time

Spontaneous and creative and flexible.

Restrain my impulses and control my desires but at the same time

Liberate me to be all You had planned from the first.

Give me a heart that wants on earth what Heaven wants and at the same time

Wants in Heaven all whom I love on earth.

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

The second: I prayed for people to become aware that the living God had sent me, that I was not on some personal errand of my own choosing.

For several years during the worst of my times in two churches, I prayed my own version of Elijah’s prayer on Carmel, found in 1 Kings 18:36-37

“O Lord, let these people know there is a God in this place. And while You’re at it, let them know that I am Your servant. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”

Background: In many cases, I felt that those who delighted in undermining our work simply did not know the Lord. I realize some will say that’s just too convenient, that it discounts the opposition without giving them a chance to be heard. All I can say is, you weren’t there and I was.

These people knew a lot of things and had a long history in church work. But they seemed not to have a clue that this is the work of a Holy God, that the church is His, and that tampering with what He does is serious business. If asked, they could have told you of a conversion experience and they knew some things in Scripture, but there was an absence of the fear of God in their lives.  The words of our Lord in John 15 come to mind: “All these things they will do to you for My Name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (15:21). So, I prayed that they would awaken to see God is in this place.

But whether the people saw it or not, I was to be faithful. There should be no question about that. Only this morning I heard of a minister who shared thoughts of leaving the church because the people of his congregation were not responding. Immediately, several other ministers joined in, saying they too had thought of quitting for the same reason. My reply to them, were I given the opportunity, would be the words of Galatians 6:9. “Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap…if we don’t quit.”

Don’t quit. But pray the people will awaken.

The third: I prayed for my preaching.

“Lord, make me a preacher. Oh Lord, make me a preacher. Please… make me a preacher.”

This prayer burst from my lips night after night in the late 1980s. Now, I had been preaching for nearly 20 years and had the appropriate seminary degrees. I was in my fifth pastorate and until coming there, had thought I knew how to preach. But several leaders of influence took it upon themselves to destroy my confidence and remind me consistently that my preaching was severely lacking. And so I prayed.

I had a two-mile route through our neighborhood. Several nights a week, I walked it, round trip, four miles, all the while praying and talking to the Lord, sometimes going over sermons I was about to preach. But that little prayer was always there: “Lord, make me a preacher.”

Then, one night, the Lord answered.

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

Wow.

I laughed out loud. “What a great question,” I recall thinking. “Wonder what I do mean by that?”

I’d been praying generally, something like “bless me, O Lord.” Like Bartimaeus who kept praying for mercy, until the Lord said, “What (exactly) are you asking me to do?” (Luke 18:41).

And so, for the rest of my walk that night, I redefined that prayer. I wasn’t praying for greatness or acclaim in my preaching. A friend of mine, Dr. Frank Pollard, had been named by Time Magazine one of the 10 outstanding preachers in America. I was happy for him, but this was not something I wanted for myself.

What I do want, I realized, was four things…

–Lord, I pray that I will always have a good grasp of the sermon when I stand up to preach.

–I pray that the sermon will have a good grasp of me, gripping my heart.

–I pray that I will always have good rapport with the congregation. (“I’m tired of that glazed over look in their eyes.”)

–And Lord, I pray that people will come to Jesus as a result of my preaching.

The Lord actually answered that prayer, although I still pray it. There never comes a time, I’m thinking, when we feel we have arrived at our top preaching form, but will always feel like our pitiful effort falls so far short.

Those are the prayers I’ve constantly lifted for myself. Suppose you narrowed yours down and identified the three or four or five things that have been on your heart and lips for years. Good discipline.

 

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“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon. The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant. We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

I bled and bled. And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.

The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face. At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.

That happened over thirty years ago and I still carry the scars. Interestingly, no one notices that they’re scars. They’re situated in the same place one might have frown marks. But if you look closely, you can see they are scars.

I would not have those scars if I were not a minister.

My wife Bertha, bride of nearly five months now, tells me her husband Gary had scars in the same place, also from the ministry. “We were walking to our church in the French Quarter,” she said. “Suddenly, a woman screamed and ran toward us, yelling ‘Don’t let him get me!’ Behind her a car was coming. Apparently, someone–her husband, someone–was after her. Gary handed me our child and told me to get back. He positioned himself between the woman and one very angry man. In the scuffle, the man hit Gary right between the eyes, causing a deep gash.”

Bertha said, “I don’t remember what happened next, and know nothing of the outcome of that couple. But we had to go to a clinic quickly. Gary carried the scar from that fight the rest of his life.”

Ministry scars. Everyone in the Lord’s service will bear them sooner or later.

This week, I reposted an article from the 2001 issue of Leadership Journal telling of our difficult three-year pastorate of the late 1980s which resulted in my abrupt departure and a year’s hiatus between churches. Soon my mailbox filled with pastors and other ministers sharing their stories. There is so much pain; so many scars.

In “Word Meanings in the New Testament,” Professor Ralph Earle comments on Galatians 6:17. The word stigma, usually translated scars or brand-marks, derives from the Greek word meaning “to prick,” as with a sharp instrument. He says, “Brand marks were carried especially by domestic animals, slaves, criminals, and later soldiers.” And since Paul often refers to himself as a slave of Jesus, this may be translated as “I bear in my body the brandmarks of the Lord Jesus.” What exactly were those marks? Earle thinks Paul is referring to actual scars and wounds. After all, the price he paid for serving Jesus–see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28–surely would account for numerous physical marks left on his person.

Some of the scars on my soul are simply from sharing the pain my people were experiencing…

–I was awakened at 4 am by the wife of a medical doctor. Her husband was at the hospital with a young couple from our church. “Charles just called,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ve lost Millie’s baby and now I’m losing Millie.” He wanted her to pray. I jerked on some clothes and dashed to the hospital. Four hours later, I entered the labor and delivery room with the broken-hearted husband as he looked upon the face of his dead wife holding the lifeless infant in her arms. I weep today at the memory of it.

–Susan had grown up in our church and been the life of so many youth activities. She was born late in life to her devoted parents, wonderful encouragers of their pastor. Susan went off to college, majored in art, and took a job in a New York City art store. One day while alone in the store, she “walked” a huge sculpture into place and turned away to other tasks. The massive piece fell on her and crushed her skull. She never knew what hit her. Because we had a wedding at our church that Saturday afternoon at 3 pm, her funeral was held two hours earlier at the Methodist church a block down the street. I went from one to the other, my heart breaking, my soul in tears.

–I had to call on a beloved senior lady in our church to break the news that her only daughter had taken her own life. I recall every detail of that visit, every word that was spoken, and will never forget the grief of that precious mother.

And now that I’ve started recalling these experiences, so many others clamor to be included. The little children who lost their battles with cancer. The car wrecks. The shootings. The divorces, family betrayals, drunkenness, child abuse, the visits to prison.

So many scars, so much pain and hurt.

Some of these scars were put there by church leaders, a few deacons in particular…

–The deacon who stood in the foyer of the church Sunday after Sunday telling visitors and anyone he did not recognize, “You don’t want to come to this church. The pastor is a liberal!” When I asked the deacon leadership to deal with him, no one wished to tackle the job. When he refused all my attempts to meet, finally I wrote him a letter. That was a mistake, because he made copies to pass around and visited homes of church members slandering me. Eventually, the Lord moved him away, but not before he had done a great deal of damage.

–That four-hour deacons meeting in 1989 in which a small group did all in their power to force me out of the church (told in the “Broken Pastor” article above). Having nothing to charge me with–the church was growing, we were running ahead of the budget, and were having the second best year in baptisms in the last 75 years!–they resorted to innuendo such as “there is a malaise in the church” and “Joe isn’t giving our church the leadership we need.” (One wonders if they realized that the malaise could be caused by their own efforts to undermine the ministry and oust the pastor! They remind me of people who withhold their tithes, then fire the preacher because the church is hurting financially. They say, “The congregation isn’t responding to your leadership.”)

–I had gone four years with no raise in salary, even though I had taken a huge cut in salary in coming to that church. Finally, when the leadership recommended an appropriate raise in salary the criticism throughout the congregation was so widespread and painful one would have thought we were committing armed robbery. To quieten the furor, the deacon leaders asked me to go before the congregation and give a full explanation of my financial affairs–what I had made in the previous church, the amount I had come to this church for, the four years of no increase, and a few other things. After my 10-minute explanation, I ended with this: “I have not enjoyed doing this.  No one wants to stand up and tell everyone what he is making. You would not want to do it. And you shouldn’t ask your pastor to, either. The finance committee and personnel committee are supposed to handle these things. I want you to promise me you will never again ask a pastor of this church to do such a thing.” The applause indicated their agreement.

I’m not naïve. I know that people have short memories. Most churches will have a few cruel members who feel a pastor should receive starvation wages just because he is God-called. The remedy is not to punish the preacher or even ask him to open his financial statement, but for spiritual leaders to show some backbone, to stand up and publicly address the subject with appropriate scriptures. “The laborer is worthy of his hire” comes to mind. And “let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor" (I Timothy 5:17-18). And when the mean-spirited ones persist, they should be visited by a couple of gutsy leaders who will answer their questions, then insist that they stop their disruptive behavior. But the pastor should stay out of it.

Protect your pastor from certain ones in the church.

–I had an idea for an attendance campaign in our plateaued, stagnated church (which was still recovering from a split a few years previously). The Sunday School classes would have inspiring goals and bold strategies and, at the end of the campaign at least two teachers would be rewarded with Holy Land trips, exciting rewards for those who teach God’s Word. The more I thought this through, prayed over it, and talked to our staff, the more convinced I was that this would generate a great response, and we would blast our stalemated church off the launching pad into some exciting growth.

The deacons shot it down.

One man in particular, often positive and supportive, but occasionally unpredictable, took it upon himself to scuttle “such outlandish and unnecessary payoffs for teachers doing what they ought to be doing all the time anyway.” I walked out of the meeting disappointed, but determined to go forward with a smaller campaign. (The results from which were uninspiring.) Adding to my pain, that deacon would later refer to this as a moment when he saved the church from my extravagance and foolishness.

I know pastors who have had their dreams and hopes shot down by leaders sharing neither their vision or faith. Suck it up and go forward, I encourage them. Do not pout, do not take your marbles and go home. Be the adult in the room, and go forward. If you have to weep, do it in private. Moses had not planned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, but was intending to cut straight across the Sinai peninsula and occupy Canaan. The unbelief of his massive congregation, however, sentenced themselves–and therefore their leader–to four decades of misery and wanderings. Like him, we pastors do what we have to do.

Through much tribulation and heartache we enter the kingdom, Paul and Barnabas told the early believers (Acts 14:22). In the world you will have tribulation, our Lord said. “But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

These things hurt, and nothing is going to change that. But we should take the long view. “This momentary light affliction…” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17 for the rest of this promise).

Scars are par for the course.

The magna carta of our assignment is found in Matthew 10:16-42. The Lord’s disciples, He said, could expect to be misunderstood, mistreated, and abused. Their enemies would sometimes be the most religious people on the planet, persecuting the righteous even in their houses of worship (10:17). Even members of their own families (10:35-36) would oppose them. Anyone entering the ministry should do so with eyes wide open, knowing full well how things could go.

God’s workers can be naïve, wear rose-colored glasses, and be blind-sided by the opposition. Surely, we think, serving the Lord’s people will bring an unending succession of joys and accomplishments. We blindly go forth from seminary into our new church expecting everyone to act like Christ. Because we love them, no doubt they will love us. They will follow us because our motives are pure and we seek only to bless them.

And then reality sets in.

Before the moving van is unloaded we learn some members have decided they would not like us, would not follow us, and would work to undermine whatever we attempted. They did this without even knowing us, without hearing us, without giving us a chance.

Why do they do this? Why can people be so harsh and unloving toward the servants God sends to His churches?

Something our Lord said keeps hammering on my soul  It’s from John 15. “They hated me without cause,” Jesus said.

We may expect the world to hate us, Jesus said, because we are not of the world. But we are not blindsided by that. We were expecting the unsaved world to ignore us and some even to oppose us.

But surely not the good people.

Here is what Jesus said. “All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” And He said, “They have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated me without a cause.'” (John 15:21,25).

Many of the leaders of our churches do not know God. They do not believe in Jesus.

They do believe in some things. Just not in Him.

They believe in having nice churches and doing good things and having fine programs. They believe in ten thousand things, but they do not know God or believe in Jesus.

If they did–and this is the telling clue–they would shiver in their shoes at the prospect of causing pain and suffering to those called to serve the Lord’s congregation. They would read Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16 and feel that in entering the church they had taken ahold of chained lightning.

And then, the Lord sends someone to heal the hurt…

They are usually not power people in the congregation, and they may not have a clue about what the pastor and his family are having to deal with. But the love of the Lord Jesus is so precious within them that an hour in their presence makes it all worthwhile.

Here is my note from my journal, penned in a low moment in the difficult church…

“Today I had a letter from Aline Williams in Murfreesboro, TN. Says husband Burt (age 80?) died November 7 at 10 pm. Said he prayed for us every morning at the breakfast table. We had not seen them since we left the church at Columbus (MS) six years earlier. They were members of the church there. Aline said, ‘His love for you never failed. His health failed. His body failed. His eyesight and hearing failed. But not his love.’”

I read that even today and weep. Thank you, Father, for such precious people who are the very embodiment of the love of Christ and faithfulness to His cause.

I want to be like Burt Williams. I want to love and give and serve even when the news from the doctor is discouraging and I feel awful. I want to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have not seen in years but who are still out there serving and trying to make a difference.

The battle scars are not excuses. They are just that, battle scars. “One will say to him, ‘What are these scars between your hands?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.'” (Zechariah 13:6).

Help us, Father.

 

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