For fifteen years I served in a church staff position. I was surprised when God called me to the pastorate. Early in my ministry I had no desire to be the Senior Pastor…but God changed my heart and the direction of my ministry. I count myself a blessed man for having served as both a staff member and a pastor. Both churches I’ve pastored have been multiple staff situations. The church I presently serve has a ministerial staff of seventeen plus support staff, school staff, and others.
Having served on both sides of the desk, I believe I can speak in some small way to a few of the issues related to staff and pastors. While this list is not exhaustive, it is clear to me that the following issues can and will undermine or ultimately destroy a pastor’s ministry.
It is easier to preach on prayer than it is to pray. The hardest thing we do in ministry, in my opinion, is to carve out time to pray. The phone is always ringing. Someone is standing outside your office just dying to see you. There are six calls to return, three of which you dread. You’ve got two sermons, a Bible study, and a devotional for the Senior Adults to prepare. Who’s got time to pray?
I heard Warren Wiersbe preach on prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21. The first question he asked was basic and blunt: Am I praying? Jesus said, “Can you not watch with me for one hour?” We are commanded to pray without ceasing. I dare say all of us would be embarrassed if our congregations knew how little we really pray about our ministries, messages, and methods.
Don’t be a minister who starts a ministry just because someone else is doing it. We aren’t called to keep up with the Joneses; we are called to stay in step with the Spirit. Everybody’s doing it may be a reason NOT to do it. Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “The self-sufficient do not pray; the self-satisfied will not pray; the self-righteous cannot pray.” Anything we do that is built on self is destined to fail. It may look good in this life, but it will be wood, hay, and stubble in the next. Most of my most effective ideas have been birthed in the prayer closet, not by reading a church mail-out or promo piece.
I’ve heard the following quote attributed to a number of preachers. It goes something like this, “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day.” Maybe you can’t spend two hours, but, unfortunately, the average pastor—like the average Christian—struggles with an effective prayer life. Once I heard a minister say he hated the hymn Take Time to Be Holy. I asked him why. He said, “Who’s got time to be holy?” I don’t think he’s in ministry today. Now I think we refer to him as a statistic.
It is my responsibility as Pastor to lead in this area. While I would never consider myself the greatest prayer warrior in the church, the prayer life of the church will never rise above her leadership. We are called to be people of prayer. Paul prayed for the churches. We would do well to follow his example. A little more time in prayer and a little less time on the phone or the internet wouldn’t hurt any of us.
I don’t know about the denomination you serve, but most denominational meetings seem to be full of politics. Sometimes conventions can call to mind a smoke filled room prior to an election in Chicago when Al Capone was running the show. It’s all about who you know, how you look, and what you wear.
I had a gentleman call me a few years ago. His question nauseated me. He asked, “What are your political aspirations in our convention?” He wanted to know what office I would be interested in down the road or what committee I would like to serve on. Forgive me, but, who cares? Vance Havner said, “You never have to chase key men when you know the One who holds the keys.” This guy proceeded to tell me what his political aspirations were in the convention. I wonder if God called him to ministry or to serve as a mayor.
I was sitting at lunch one day with a leader in our state convention. Someone else approached me and asked if I would ever be interested in serving as state convention President. I didn’t have to pray about it. My response was twofold. First of all, I’m not interested in presiding over a business meeting for two days. In the denomination I serve, conventions are a series of reports and votes. It is a gathering of preachers who hate these kinds of meetings in their own churches.
Secondly, I barely have time to do what is required of me as a pastor of a local church. Why give the free time I have to traveling to speak to people who aren’t going to change or act on what is said? If it really made a difference, it might be worth it. I’ve yet to see a revival or an increase in giving come because someone with a title showed up.
Be careful, the trappings of power are lethal. My wife and I were once invited to the White House for a ceremony on the South Lawn. I’ve also had the privilege of being in the Oval Office for a meeting with President Bush. Both were moving experiences, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. As I’ve reflected on those moments I’ve realized that, for all of us, having a position of power (pastors are powerful people) can be seductive. It can easily corrupt. The young, humble minister can turn into a control freak if he’s not careful. There is a pull, an energy, a lusting for more that comes with power. Being in a position of power can turn your head, causing you to compromise (all the while convincing yourself it’s for the good of others) and lose perspective. After those two events, I thanked God for the privilege and reminded myself to stay grounded and focused. I know that I’m nothing but a middle class kid from Mississippi, saved by the grace of God.
I am graced to know men who have no political aspirations. My mentors have been men like Vance Havner, Ron Dunn, and others who walked humbly before the Lord. They were a breath of fresh air. They served out of nothing more or less than love for Christ and His church. We must all pray that we do not fall into the trap of serving to be seen of men.
It’s up to God to open the doors of service. Our responsibility is faithfulness. We must never become the thing we preach against. We have a tendency to fuss about the power brokers in our churches. We must not turn around and seek to be power brokers ourselves. The call to be a servant is still the highest calling. We are servants, not celebrities.
3. PREACHING WITHOUT POWER
There are a number of ways you can preach without power. Let’s look at a few.
– Preaching someone else’s sermon.
This is a nice way of saying, we’ve stolen someone else’s sermon and preached it as our own. If we aren’t spending time getting a word for our people in our church, we are robbing ourselves and our congregation of a blessing. There’s nothing wrong with using helpful resources that are biblically sound. However, preaching someone else’s tape, or downloading a sermon and preaching it as a revelation from God’s lips to our ears is another story. If we feed our people leftovers, they will eventually become weary of sitting at our table. If we use someone’s material, we should give them credit. They’ll think we are readers, not thieves.
– Failure to make sermon preparation a priority.
As shepherds called to feed the flock, we must wrestle with the text. We must prayerfully ask God to show us what our people need this coming Sunday. We need to dig, study, read, meditate, and develop a sermon that is Scripturally sound. What we say from the pulpit needs to be out of the overflow of what God is saying to us.
– Preaching to the mind and not the heart.
I’ve heard that Samuel Chadwick said, “A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles.” Vance Havner said, “We are not here to feed giraffes, but to feed sheep.” We need to put the food where the common man can reach it. You might be able to impress people with your knowledge of Greek, but are you showing them how to live it out during the week? The bottom line is: get the best training you can, but don’t depend on it. We should all seek to train our minds, but we must not lose our hearts in the process.
– Preaching to please people.
Some ministers are scared of offending their big givers, so they preach on tithing in an apologetic tone. Some are worried that preaching on sin might lead people to become uncomfortable. That’s what prophetic preaching will do. They may hate the prophet, but they need the truth.
– Preaching that lacks doctrinal integrity or good hermeneutics.
Someone said, “Error in the pulpit is like fire in the hayloft.” Don’t be guilty of taking a text and departing from it. Stay true to the text and the context. Preaching sound doctrinal sermons comes by comparing Scripture with Scripture. We never build doctrine on an isolated verse. We can never build a great church if we’ve avoided doctrine, thinking it’s boring. Try preaching a sermon on some of the great doctrines of Scripture. More problems have been birthed in the church by a failure in this area than we can possibly imagine.
– Only preaching to felt needs.
The prophets nor our Lord spent much time meeting felt needs. They addressed heart problems and sin issues. We should not ignore felt needs, but we must get to the real heart of the issue. What will the congregation do with the message of the Word of God? The real need of men and women is forgiveness, holiness, and obedience.
We all know the difference between having to preach because it’s our job and wanting to preach because we have a word from God. Preaching is a blessing and a burden. It is a privilege. God has chosen the foolishness of preaching. That doesn’t mean our preaching should be foolish. It simply means that God inspired preaching might sound foolish to the outsider, but to those seeking after God, it is the power of God unto salvation…and sanctification.
Never neglect sermon preparation for less important tasks. Set aside time to dig in the Word. I give one full day a week to nothing but research and background work. This keeps me studying ahead and helps me to stay fresh. I never want to walk into the pulpit flying by the seat of my pants. I want to walk in the pulpit, having been on my knees with a word from God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Someone told me once that one of the great preachers of the 20th century would actually pray over every word in his manuscript. Praying over our text might be a good editing process.