- 2018Jan 17
Whether you’re talking about your business or a church, the principles for making it successful and effective are similar. Here is my short list, based on nearly 60 years in serving the Lord’s churches.
1. Be selective on who joins your organization. Go for big numbers only and you will end up diluting the wine.
You wouldn’t employ a slob, a bum, or a disruptive person for your company. Nor should a church receive as members those who show no indication of being Christ-followers. Churches might set up some kind of probationary period. Receive people as members but without full privileges for the first year. What privileges? Serving on committees, voting on motions, teaching classes. Then, at the end of the year, they and others who joined near the same time are received in a ceremony of some kind.
When someone asked for a Scripture on this, I responded, “You don’t need one. Some things are no-brainers.” Lessons learned by long, sad experience. Receive anyone and everyone as members and you end up bringing the enemy into the inner works.
At the very least, a church should have a short interview with each person joining immediately after they present themselves. Also, church leaders could prepare a booklet spelling out the blessings and expectations of membership in this church.
2. Choosing leaders is the most important thing any group will ever do.
Every group speaks volumes about itself by the character of the leadership it chooses. That, incidentally, applies to the United States just as it does to the local 4-H club or your Sunday School class.
A drunken senator was once nominated to the Supreme Court. When confronted with his problem, he said, “If confirmed, I promise to quit drinking.” No one bought that flimsy line, nor should a church choose as leader a person with a record of tearing up churches or breaking his marital vows. Forgiving someone is one thing, but trusting them with your valuables is another.
Scripture is filled with leadership lessons. You’ll find three from our Lord in Luke 16:10-12.
3. Empower those you choose as leaders to do their work well, yet hold them accountable at the same time.
I’ve known churches that required the pastor to get a church vote for anything costing over five dollars. And other churches which required him to get a committee approval for anything over a hundred.
Some churches need to learn that when they call someone as a pastor or staffer, they should give him/her room (and the means) to do their work and not erect obstacles, too many regulations, or heavy burdens. I once brought a man onto our staff as business administrator. The first thing he did was propose that everyone fill out a form in triplicate to buy the first thing for our work. I said, “John, please make it easier to do our work, not harder.” That was the end of the triplicate form.
Every pastor should meet with church leaders from time to time to discuss his work, to hear his heart, and to advise him. Ideally, it should be a standing committee of a half dozen solid men and women. Call it “pastor support team” as one of my pastorates did, or something else entirely. But a pastor who is answerable to no one in the church is asking for trouble.
Likewise, every staff member should be answerable to the pastor. I had one tell me, “You’re not my boss. The church called me to this staff.” I was patient with him and said quietly, “They did because I asked them to. And if I ask them to send you packing, they’ll do that too.” She shaped up quickly.
4. Always be on the alert for people with potential and constantly be training new leaders. Never quit. Otherwise, when present leaders die, retire, or move away, a vacuum in the leadership ranks will bring the work crashing to a halt.
Begin training leaders by delegating. Give people tasks to do. It’ll multiply your effectiveness, train leadership, and bless everyone involved.
From time to time, conduct classes on leadership for selected people with potential. Invite them personally and make the teaching the best you have ever done. You are, after all, setting the gold standard by which most will live and work for the rest of their lives.
In delegating work, you don’t necessarily tell people you are prepping them for future leadership. Just give them small tasks and help them do well, then gradually increase their assignments as they serve faithfully. My wife used to work for a manager of a bookstore who said, “The reward for a job well done is a bigger job.”
5. Unless you are in the military or a football coach, do not command anyone to do anything. Lead by example and servanthood (see 1 Peter 5:3). Otherwise, you are asking for all the trouble you are going to get.
Be a worker yourself. Set the example. Show people how to do the job. Stay with them until they get it. Encourage and appreciate them. And reward them from time to time.
When a church chooses you as their pastor, they’re not ready to follow you yet. You must earn their trust by faithfulness, love, and exemplary service.
The husband who demands that his wife and children obey him because “God made me the head of the home” is brother to the pastor who demands the congregation follow him unquestioningly because “God made me the head of this church.” I’m biting my tongue, but close to calling both that husband and that pastor blockheads. The Bible does not make them dictators. Far from it. It makes them servants. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” That’s Ephesians 5. Love her that way and she’ll do anything for you, husband.
6. Serve people. Serve the young and the old. Serve the sick and elderly and serve the healthy and the strong.
Your role model is the Lord who washed the feet of His disciples (John 13). He came not to be ministered unto, but to serve. And to give His life a ransom.
A servant works to make others successful, does not need recognition or approval, and is constantly on the lookout for jobs that need doing.
When you finish serving, say to yourself the words of Luke 17:10, “I am only an unworthy servant; I’m just doing my duty.” Do that constantly and you will drive a stake through the heart of the ego with its never-satiated lust for recognition and appreciation.
7. When you delegate a task to a colleague, do so gently and kindly. And then do not abandon them.
“John, could you help me? I need you to chair this committee on parking lot greeters. We’re trying to set this up right so we can help people find their way in our church and to feel at home. Finding the right leader is crucial, and I think you’re just the person. What do you say?”
Do not say, “The Lord told me you are the person for this.” Doing that paints them into a corner. To reject it sounds like they’re saying the Lord misled you. Just be kind and ask them to do it.
Then, follow up. See number eight.
8. A good leader always follows up an assignment.
I had a staff member who went through a number of assistants rather quickly. Finally I decided to debrief one who was leaving. “He’s a wonderful person,” she said, “but he throws us into this office to do a hundred jobs and never shows us how. It’s so frustrating, and we hate to disappoint him.”
There are two ways to follow up: formally or informally. The first is to set up a meeting in the office and ask for a full report. “Hey Bob, could we get together tomorrow morning? I’d like to see how your assignment is coming along?” By giving advance notice, you give Bob time to get his act together. The second is to call on the phone (or stop in the hallway) and ask, “How’s that project coming? Anything I can do to help?”
If you appoint someone to a task but never follow up, you are almost guaranteeing either they will not do it or they’ll do it poorly. And it’ll be your fault.
9. When you find yourself with a person who has achieved success, pick their brains on lessons of leadership they learned along the way.
We never arrive. Leadership is an ongoing subject, with specific lessons and requirements for every field.
When the deacon’s wife was in surgery, he and I shared the hospital waiting room for several hours. Since he was a high administrator in a Washington D.C. agency and formerly president of the American Bankers Association, he had a great deal to teach his young pastor. I picked his brain and carry valuable lessons to this day.
10. Once your team has finished a project, thank the members.
There are a hundred ways to do this, some more appropriate than others. A huge project might require a public celebration of thanksgiving and recognition. Something lesser might require only a hand-written note in the mail.
“That the leaders led in Israel and the people volunteered, O bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2)
That’s the ideal–leaders doing their job and the people stepping up and volunteering and serving well.
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- 2018Jan 11
I hate to see a young pastor get disillusioned by his first experience or two. But it happens, sad to say.
Those of us who have been in the field throughout all our adult years wish someone had told us a few things about this work. So, assuming we are speaking to beginning pastors, here are a few things we’d love to share…
1. They might not have told you how much fun pastoring can be.
The redeemed of God are among the greatest people in the world (most of them) and they can enjoy life to the fullest. As pastor, you sometimes get to be in the thick of the fun. They love to laugh, to have adventures, and to encourage each other.
As pastor, you get to dream up programs and ideas that will affect your community, touch lives, transform homes, and reach the future–and then put it into effect with a huge corps of sweet-spirited workers as your team. How cool is that?
As for those who say working with church volunteers is not unlike herding cats, well, it can be a challenge sometimes. But that’s good also. God has not called us to a life of ease, but something difficult and good and eminently worthwhile.
2. They probably didn’t tell you there are often unexpected financial benefits to pastoring.
The government allows ministers to receive a housing allowance but pay no tax on it. And the church can set aside money for your mileage and other ministry expenses and cover them for you, instead of their coming out of your pocket. From time to time, generous church members may give you money, for no reason other than the goodness of their heart. Churches vary on this practice, of course, but of my six pastorates, two of them had generous members who took care of their preacher in this way. It was never a large amount, but a hundred dollars here and a hundred there can make life a lot easier.
A wealthy church member once bought me a new car. And wanted me to tell no one he had done it. A couple of times when my family was leaving on vacation, another member would walk across the street to my office and give me a few hundred dollar bills to help with expenses. Once he handed me a check for a thousand dollars to be put in the church account, but which I could use to help people. He wanted no tax credit for it, and I was accountable to no one but the Lord. (Those were different days then, and now we’d have more stringent rules as to how the pastor could draw on that account. But I never abused it. Oh, and he would replenish the funds from time to time. I was disappointed for any number of reasons when he died.)
3. They warned us to watch out for bullies among the deacons and eccentrics among the congregations, but no one prepared us for just how wonderful the great majority of the members would be.
Some of the most Christlike and wonderful people I’ve ever known have honored me by calling me “Pastor.” And a few stop me to this day to say, “You’ll always be my pastor.” That’s about as good as it gets.
4. They didn’t tell us that church staff members come in all shapes and varieties, and that some need close supervision and guidance, while others are self-starters and highly motivated without pastoral input.
There is no “one size fits all” counsel for administering the work of a church staff. What worked with one may not be effective with another. That’s why the large churches will often bring someone on board just to administer the work of the church staff members. No pastor has time enough to do this with more than two or three staffers.
If your pastor is expected to administer the work of several staffers, pray for the Lord to show him how to do this. It’s difficult. Someone once told me his staff members expected him to be the CEO of the membership but their pastor, whereas the congregation wanted him as their pastor and the staff’s CEO.
5. They told us that a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are good, but they never told us to leave most of that out of our sermons.
Just preach the good news, pastor. People are no smarter or godlier knowing that the verb here is in the aorist tense and that this is the only place in the New Testament where that word is used. Study the Word, learn all you can, and then put it into the language of the people who will sit before you on Sunday.
6. They never told us that church members usually elect leaders based on popularity and worldly success, and not maturity, spirituality, or wisdom.
Consequently, a new pastor may find himself having to deal with church leaders who see the church as a business, have no use for doing anything by faith (some actually see faith as a form of escapism), and whose personal lives are an embarrassment to the kingdom. And yet, there they are and the congregation expects you to respect them and work with them.
In time, if you will remain there long enough to gain the people’s trust, you can change the system to make sure that only the godly and mature are placed in leadership. But until then, pray a lot and do the best you can.
7. In fact, there is scriptural justification for saying that people will treat you in the same way they would have treated the Lord Jesus Christ.
While you’re reeling from that, let me give you the texts…
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40).
“The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
Now, a word of caution here. There is no way you can ever say that to people. (Imagine a pastor standing before the congregation and saying, “How you treat me is how you would treat Jesus.” I can just hear the accusations of ego. But you can teach the Scripture and indicate–as we did here–that “there is scriptural justification for this,” leaving people to deal with it themselves.) But it is also true that however we treat all of God’s children, He takes personally. See Hebrews 6:10 and Matthew 25:40.
8. The denomination’s leadership will expect you to take a role in their work, particularly if you have the needed skills and your church is one of the larger ones.
But if you do this to the neglect of your own church’s needs, you are failing in your responsibilities. Learning to say “no” is a skill you will need to develop.
I once declined to serve a second term on our denomination’s trustee board for foreign missions. This was the most prestigious spot the SBC offered pastors, and it gave me the opportunity to meet a vast array of great people and even spend two weeks with missionaries in Singapore. However, when it became apparent to me that I was neglecting my church and my family, I opted to get off the board. That was one of my smarter decisions.
9. If your church is one of the larger or more influential in your area, you may not need the work of your local association of churches.
But they need you and your people to be involved.
To decline to participate because “We don’t need them” is a selfish act of a large or wealthy church. When given the opportunity to preach at state conventions, I often remind those pastors that they’d be surprised how much they can learn from the bi-vocational preacher with the small congregation a few miles outside town. God has some great people in churches large and small. And it’s a wise pastor who gets his people involved locally to bless other churches.
10. They may not have told you when you finish with all the seminary degrees you can earn, you’re not through learning yet.
In fact, just because you have a doctorate of some kind–if you do–it would be a serious mistake to conclude that gives you any kind of advantage over others. It means nothing of the kind. In my case, it simply means that in the early 1970s I did a certain amount of educational things with my seminary. Those who get the degrees and quit learning make a huge mistake.
Keep on growing, loving people, loving life, and loving the Lord’s church, pastor. It’s the greatest life ever. God bless all pastors!
Photo credit: Thinkstock
- 2018Jan 04
A blog is not a sermon, right? Not necessarily an essay, nor is it a theme written for a class. Theoretically, a blogger should be able to write about whatever he/she wishes. That being the case, I herewith submit this sampling from the riches of Proverbs which are among my favorites. Along with appropriate comments, of course.
I said to my Old Testament and Hebrew professor, “Solomon could not have written these. They champion monogamy and faithfulness to one’s wife, something he clearly knew nothing about.” Dr. George Harrison said, “When it says in the opening verse ‘the proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel,’ it could mean something as simple as that he collected these. It’s not necessarily saying he wrote them.”
Good. Maybe he did write some of them. After all, the Queen of the South was impressed by his wisdom (1 Kings 10:7) and perhaps these are some of the reason.
Everyone’s favorite. My wife Bertha’s favorite. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Some translations say: “He will make your paths smooth.” Or “straight.”)
That’s a promise. Not everything in Proverbs that looks like a promise should be considered one. But this is. And it’s been time-tested over the centuries.
A father warns his son about infidelity. This is strong stuff and right on target. I love his statements: “Drink water from your own cistern, fresh water from your own well.” Stay at home, boy. Focus on this woman whom God has given you as a wife. Don’t have a roving eye. Still on that theme, he says, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth… Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.”
Such teachings convince us Solomon did not write this particular bit of advice. Nor did he write what we call “The Song of Solomon.” No man with 700 wives and 300 girlfriends (1 Kings 11:3) can focus on one woman to the point of appreciating her the way he should. He may try to say, as Hugh Hefner did, “I’m not a womanizer but one who loves women.” No matter how he glosses it, the result is the same and it’s not pretty. No one should give Solomon a free pass here. Scripture sure doesn’t.
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” And on the same theme… Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
Laughter is healthy. And cheerfulness is attractive. Sometimes in presentations before high school assemblies, I’ll ask the students to study my face in its relaxed position. “Now, watch when I smile.” The face brightens up, the lines lift, the eyes open, everything comes alive. They laugh. “Same with you,” I tell them. “Everyone looks better smiling.” And yet, you’d be surprised how often people tell me, “I don’t smile.” I’ve actually had pastors say that. Few things would cause me to question their salvation like the glum face. “Joy,” said C. S. Lewis, “is the business of Heaven.”
“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Nothing encourages us to pray for “kings and those in authority over us” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) like this reminder that no ruler is off-limits or too big and important for our Heavenly Father.
“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” This is a variation of “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Several proverbs promise that “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17 for starters).
“A good name is to be more desired than great riches; favor is better than silver and gold.” This was my dad’s favorite verse, which makes it more precious to me. Your name is your reputation, a testament to your character. Making it strong and shining should be the goal of each of us.
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite.” One reason I love this is the humor of it. “Put a knife to your throat!” It’s good advice on numerous levels. When you have the boss over. When you are meeting “her” parents for the first time. When you want to impress someone. (Some of us have found it’s a good idea to snack before the big meal!)
“Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.” Or, stated positively, Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who rules his spirit (is better) than he who captures a city.” Want to see someone with no control over his spirit? Watch a motorist who gets cut off in traffic. Or you merge into his lane when he had planned on having it all to himself to speed to his heart’s content. He endangers everyone on the highway by his antics. Not a pretty sight.
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The person who thinks himself wise is unteachable and uncooperative. He wants his own way and will not take rebuke or correction. Pity the person married to such a one. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41). Same point, but not everyone will get it. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven begins with humility and becoming childlike.
10. Proverbs 27:6
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” A friend will tell you the truth even if it hurts. But the enemy will lie to you as a sedative.
On the other hand, a manipulative person can misuse this text. “I’m going to tell you something for your own good.” Uh oh. Time to run.
11. Proverbs 27:17
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This is what I call a “blacksmith shop text.” I used to help my dad in the ancient blacksmith shop built by my grandfather in the early 1900s. I loved to work the bellows that pumped air into the fire and made it blaze brighter. Dad would leave a piece of metal in the fire, take it out with tongs when it was white-hot, and hammer it on the anvil into whatever shape he needed. A blacksmith shop is filled with heat and noise, hammering and friction. If the piece of metal had feelings, it would be hollering to high heaven. And yet, the smith is turning it into something useful and strong.
So it is with men who sharpen one another.
“Beauty is deceitful and popularity is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her own hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.” This was my wonderful mother’s text, and it applies to her if it has ever been right for any child of God since creation.
I once asked Ruth Bell Graham for her favorite scripture. She laughed, “It keeps changing!” At the moment, she said, it was Proverbs 3:13-20. No telling where it was the next week. So it goes with those who live in the Word as she did.
These are a few of my favorites. I love them and thank God for the Proverbs.
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