Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Gimme That Showtime Preachin'

A Plea For Preachers

I have no doubt that this little blog article may create some havoc for me. As you read this, please note from the outset that I have no particular person in mind, however the shoe may fit someone you know, or alas, it may fit you. As a matter of fact, I have worn this shoe a very few and rare times with my own preaching but I am consciously and diligently trying to weed this sort of thing totally out of my own presentation of the Gospel with the vehicle of preaching.

As a disclaimer, these thoughts are not reflective of the staff, management, scattered friends and neighbors, or anyone else who falls in between those mentioned categories. These thoughts are purely and wholly mine. They may be somewhat skewed but they are mine in their entirety. I will publish any and all comments from readers scattered about the world whether they are in agreement or disagreement. I only have two rules for those who want to comment: (1) You must identify yourself by name at the end of your comments and (2) I will not allow you to specifically name anyone that you might have an ax to grind.

When I was a kid, I had a major scarring event to occur in my life. It was unmistakable in its origin and it descended on me with such rapidity that I was stunned almost into a state of shock. When it was over, I had determined that only the wrath of God could descend quicker upon poor saps than the wrath of my mother.

When I was growing up, there were words that were not allowed in our home. There were even some slang words that weren’t (at least to me) harmful that my mother defined as “Pentecostal cussing” and they were never to be uttered in our home. She was very serious about this and it not only applied to my brother and myself but to any of our overnight guests and other friends that would come home with us on Sunday afternoons.

One day back in the ‘70’s, I am uncertain if I was testing my mother or if it was an accidental proverbial slip of the tongue, I found my mother found cramming a bar of Dial soap, the real orange stuff that they used to make years ago, directly into my mouth. Then she took a washcloth and began to literally wash my mouth out with soap. She had very little regard for my poor little body that maybe there were some carcinogens, free radicals, or other vague and mysterious oxides that might kill some brain cells. It never crossed her mind that there might be some poison in that Dial soap that might kill me. She was far more concerned with washing out my “dirty” mouth and I might add that the trick worked. At the moment, she also had very little regard for my sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Since that time, I have tried to keep my mouth vigilant by at least saying the right things at the right times in the right place and at the right time. What a drastic impact that little session had on my mind and body. As a matter of fact, it only took once for that little exercise to occur and I learned a life-long lesson. From then on, if I had any “Pentecostal cussing” to do, it was not in the presence of my mother.

Yet, very, very curiously as time has passed, I have noticed that some preachers from a wide range of “movements” have let some of these words creep into their preaching. In fact some of these are words that would have gotten my mouth washed out as a kid. What really needs to happen is for my mother to gather up the “gumption” to go up on the platform of some of these places and give them a taste of Dial soap.

With the culmination of the internet, I now have been able to listen to a wide range of preachers (Pentecostal, Church of God, Church of God of Prophecy, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Assembly of God, even some other “highbrow” stuff). Oddly enough, I found that many from this wide range of denominations have some who preach with that show time Gospel flair and mix in all sorts of borderline profanity and forms of crude speech.

I know that you will bring to my attention where that Jesus had some very sharp words to say to the Pharisees and a few others. I am also aware that he probably said some things that are not recorded in Scripture when the Temple cleansings took place. I am also aware that some of the Old Testament prophets like Amos, Ezekiel, Jonah, and Elijah all had some pointed words to say to different groups to whom they were addressing. But it appears to me that all of these events stacked up against the rest of the Book would give these situations a very small minority comparatively speaking.

The reality of the matter is that there are times that righteous, hot, holy anger needs to pour out of a preacher’s soul (not necessarily his mouth). Samuel hacked Agag to pieces and as is mentioned Jesus cleaned out the Temple and Joshua ordered for Achan to be stoned. However, all of these actions were devoid of street slang and vulgarity.

What has brought this whole matter to the forefront of my mind is a small uprising here in Dothan, Alabama. Three weeks ago, on a Sunday night, our two largest city high schools had a combined baccalaureate service and the man who was preaching resorted to some street language. It has been talked about around our little burg of 55,000 and has generated at least one letter to the editor of our local paper. The writer was expressing his embarrassment for his wife and daughter who were with him at this event. As I read this, I tried to filter through the thought processes of the writer and of the preacher. Sometimes preachers get bad raps because people simply do not want to hear the truth of God’s Word. On the other hand, there have been times that the dignity and intellect of the congregation was assaulted by the audacity of the preacher who had a bully pulpit. There is a happy medium somewhere along the way.

In the past few years, I have attended several events where a preacher took his liberty to use bedroom humor, vulgar slang, and borderline “cussing” and I was certainly glad that my wife and children were not with me. The great question arises. . . . .Does gutter talk really have a place in the pulpit? Does a preacher have to be a ribald, bawdy comedian to communicate the power of truth?

From simple observation, it appears to me that many times when this sort of activity starts that it’s actions are trying to make up for a huge shallowness of the message. I am certainly aware that the Bible uses some very graphic terms for specific people but in the long run when these words are mixed with sarcasm and disdain it creates far more harm than good. We are to feed the sheep (Acts 20:27-31) not put on a show. Some of the worst homiletical advice ever given was “pick a text and pitch a fit.” That is not real preaching but it is having your hobby horse to prance about with much ado over nothing. Shallow preaching will lead to shallow churches. I am for passionate preaching but shallow showmen stuff is never warranted. When the speaker outshines the Savior something is terribly amok. Our words need to be seasoned with grace (Eph. 4:27-30).

The greatness of a message is not the histrionics of the preacher but the redeeming power of the truth issued through the Word of God. Charles Spurgeon, the great prince of preachers, gave the following suggestion from his classic Lectures to My Students:

There is a kind of beetle which breeds in filth, and this creature has its prototype among men…I know it is said “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” but I aver that no pure mind ought to be subjected to the slightest breath of indelicacy from the pulpit. Caesar’s wife must be without suspicion, and Christ’s ministers must be without speck in their lives or stain in their speech."

On a closing thought, we men who preach out to have some “stuff with the puff” when we preach the Word. The “show” of preaching should never outshine the Savior of our preaching. If we are using words to “shock the flock” then what is our real motivation?

My plea to preachers is to let your preaching be so Word driven, Christ exalting, worshipful, and prayerful that there will be no room for confusion in the ears and minds of those who hear you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taking Back Our Homes

I am posting something that was sent to me by another minister. It is not my words but I wholly concur (except I know that you can live without Hollywood and it's influence as I have lived without television in my home my entire life) with what Mrs. Hagelin has to say. Curiously enough some of my time this morning that I spent with God was indirectly related to this. I read a chapter out of Pilgrim's Progress entitled "Vanity Fair" and how the world was attempting to get us to trade our souls for something so cheap and vain.

Taking Back Our Homes

Rebecca Hagelin
Author, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad

REBECCA HAGELIN is vice president of communications and marketing for the Heritage Foundation. Her weekly column, "Heart Beat," appears on several Web sites, including TownHall.com. She appears regularly on television and radio, publishes in several magazines and newspapers, speaks frequently to civic, church and school organizations, and maintains her own Web site at www.HomeInvasion.org. Most recently she is the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad.

The following is adapted from a luncheon speech delivered in the Dow Leadership Center at Hillsdale College on March 6, 2006.


The day I signed the contract to write Home Invasion just so happened to be the day that six teenagers and I set out in our 15-passenger van on a 2,000 mile vacation. We always take other kids along with our own three when we go on our legendary Hagelin road trips. This time we were heading south from Virginia to visit Disney World and the beautiful Florida Gulf Coast beaches. (I always wonder at such moments why my wonderful and wise husband, Andy, can't ever quite make it for the "road" part of the trip-he always has to fly and meet us at our destination…could it possibly be that he doesn't want to spend 24 driving hours stuck in a van with six teenagers? Hmm. As I said, he is wise. But I digress).

It was easy to begin composing thoughts about America's toxic culture as I drove my precious cargo down the highway-painfully easy. Barreling down I-95, the roadside was filled with tacky billboards screaming, "Topless! We Dare, We Bare!" advertising the many topless bars that now dot the countryside. There was no escape from them, state after state. I wondered, "Ok, I've got six teenagers in the car-what messages are the billboards sending them about acceptable behavior? What are they learning about the value of women in our society?" After a few hours we pulled into a gas station that had an ice cream counter. I left the teens to order and made a quick trip to the ladies room. When I returned to pay the bill, there were the two girls, standing at the register devouring their ice cream right beside a product called "Horniest Goat Weed: sex stimulate pills for men and women." So a kid can't even get a scoop of ice cream without being assaulted by a sexual message? I waved the girls away while I paid the bill, only to turn around and find them standing by a magazine rack filled with pornography.

Down the road we stopped at a Burger King for dinner-a safe place, at last. Or at least I thought it would be an opportunity to just relax with the kids while we munched on burgers and fries. We soon discovered that mounted in the corner was a television blaring the images and sounds of one of those made-for-TV movies, this particular scene featuring a naked man and woman bumping under the covers. So a family can't drive down the highway, get a scoop of ice cream, or even eat hamburgers without being assaulted by garbage?

Home Invasion

Everywhere we go, from the grocery store check-out stands with their tacky women's magazines, to the mall with windows filled with mannequins and photos of young women in their underwear, to the video store with ultra-violent and pornographic movies, to the sexually graphic books many public schools are using to "teach" our kids, our sensibilities are under attack.
But tragically, the toxic culture that is poisoning the hearts and souls of our families and our children isn't just "out there." Often times the American home has become the sump for cultural sewage. It used to be that the home was the nurturing oasis providing relief from outside dangers. It used to be that a parent's greatest worry was looking out for the guy in the trench coat lurking in the shadows at the edge of the school playground. Well, that guy in the trench coat is now in our homes.

Don't believe me? Log on to the Internet. According to the London School of Economics, nine out of ten children who go online, usually to do homework, will stumble across hardcore pornography. Let me repeat: 90 percent of children will fall victim to pornography in their own homes. And then there's intentional porn consumption by kids. Oh, children might pass around a pornographic Web address at school, but it's in the safety of their own homes-often in their own bedrooms-that they close the door and consume hours of pornography. Over 50 percent of kids who enter chat rooms-where conversation is often raunchy and racy-say they have given out personal information to complete strangers. Chat rooms and sites such as MySpace.com have become playgrounds for sexual predators, often luring kids to situations of abuse and even death. Online pornography is more than a $10 billion a year industry, working 24/7 to make porn addicts out of our kids-and too often succeeding.

Tired of Internet porn? Turn on the television and flip to MTV. Why? It's what your teenagers are watching. As a matter of fact, MTV is the number one viewing choice for teen girls. And if you haven't seen MTV in a while, well, let me just say that our kids are not just watching artsy music videos anymore. Today's MTV programming is filled with reality-based shows that feature kids dressed in teeny-weeny bikinis licking whipped cream off each other. Or "pooh diving"-a "sport" in which teen boys swim in open sewers filled with human waste. Or the infamous "pooh cams" where kids watch other kids go to the bathroom. Think the problem is just on cable? Why not switch to Desperate Housewives, the third most popular television show among today's teens. By the way, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Report on media uses of teenagers reveals that 68 percent of children say they now have a TV in their bedroom, and the vast majority say their parents have no idea what they are watching.

Had enough Internet and television porn? Check out the video games our teen boys are playing. The second most popular of these games is Grand Theft Auto, in which the player actually becomes the character who steals cars, rapes women, has sex with a prostitute and then clubs her to death. And that's not to mention the decapitation of policemen.

If that's not enough, check out the books. Gossip Girls is one of the most popular romance series for girls ages 12-16. Published by Simon and Schuster, recurring themes are incest and graphic sex among children. What about some of the books our kids are reading for school-assigned reports? When I was researching Home Invasion, I decided to thumb through a few books from a list of those recommended by the American Library Association for ages 12-14. Good teachers, well-meaning teachers, hand out such lists at the end of every school year-I'm sure you're familiar with the "summer reading list" concept. After that, good moms everywhere drive their kids to the library and say, "Honey, go pick out a few books to read this summer and get started right away on that report. Go up to your bedroom and read if you're bored, because I don't want to hear you complaining that you have nothing to do." Well, I pulled a few novels off the shelves and what I found disgusted me. One described a sexual encounter between fourth graders. Another was written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who describes, in detail, watching his first homosexual encounter. In one book, you only need to get to page four for the first of many uses of the term "motherf---in." So moms and dads should know that sometimes when Susie is upstairs being a good little girl reading her book, her mind is being filled with rot. Of course you should also check out the sex-ed class materials that may include contests where kids race to put condoms on dildos and cucumbers.

And then there's the music. The number one music genre of choice for today's youth of all races and socioeconomic groups is the often verbally pornographic and violent rap and hip-hop. According to the media study I mentioned earlier, our kids are consuming six-and-one-half hours of media every single day. And as I've described, the vast majority of it is sexual, violent, uncivil, and often plain stupid.

But what's the harm? Isn't this just entertainment? Well, let's see. Corporations spend billions of dollars every year on advertising. Why? Because they know that media affects behavior. Today's youth are the most marketed-to generation in the history of the world. Our kids are spending an estimated $200 billion a year on trinkets and toys and clothes and media. Marketing executives at MTV and other youth-oriented media do not brag about how they know what kids want, but about how they have learned to manipulate the teenage mind. They are selling a "lifestyle" to our children that robs them of their innocence and their best futures, and capitalizes on the natural raging hormones that mark the teen years. Instead of helping channel that energy into worthwhile activities, the media fuels the flames in an effort to keep them tuned into the programming.

These marketers are teaching our young girls that their lives are all about their sexual power and our young boys that life is all about who can be more crudely funny or irresponsible. Sexual activity is expected and has no consequences. Civility does not exist. And the only brand of respect that's taught is a twisted brand of "self-respect."

The harm, then, is that in addition to the obvious degradation of our humanity; to the destruction of common decency and morality; and to the virtual death of civility; our children are paying a terrible price with their bodies, their emotions and their futures.

A September 2004 report in the medical journal Pediatrics reveals that children who watch a lot of sexualized television have twice the rate of sexual activity as teens who don't. One out of three teenage girls will become pregnant at least one time before she is 19 years old, giving the U.S. the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrialized western nation. Twenty-five percent of sexually active teenagers will contract a sexually transmitted disease that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Half of the new STD cases in this country every year are in young people ages 15-24. The suicide rate among children 14 years old and under has increased 75 percent in the last ten years. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, freshmen are entering colleges in record numbers with clinically diagnosed depression. The college suicide rate is the highest it has ever been.

And have you ever heard of "cutting"? It's a heart-breaking phenomenon of self-mutilation now common in middle schools across the country. Our teenage daughters are using razor blades and knives to make slashes in their arms, just so they can feel alive.

Are we crazy? Has our culture gone stark-raving mad?

Taking Responsibility

Before we point the finger at Hollywood, the government, or the business community for what is happening to America's youth, we must look at ourselves. I've worked on family public policy issues for 20 years, and I know the solutions to these problems do not rest in Washington, D.C. Most of the solutions can be found in active, loving parenting. It doesn't take an act of Congress to take back your home.

The last time I checked, a 13-year-old boy didn't have 60 bucks to buy a video game unless his daddy gave it to him. Eleven-year-old girls can't drive themselves to the mall, nor do they have the cash to buy trashy clothes that make them look like street walkers. And who pays for the cable television, orders the Internet connection and buys CDs for Christmas presents? Well-meaning moms and dads who are too busy or too absorbed with their own lives to see that their kids need them to push back against the toxic culture, not invite and pay for it to invade their homes.

Many parents are more concerned about being their children's friend than they are about parenting. But kids don't need more drifting friends; they need their moms and dads. Our children are feeling around for boundaries, for a firm foundation on which they can build their lives, for love and nurture.

The greatest gift we can give our children is to teach them that there is a God that loves them; that He knows their names, and knows how many hairs are on their heads. They must know that God created them as unique individuals, in His image, with unique contributions only they can make to their fellow men. We must teach them the two greatest commandments: to love God with all their hearts and to love others as they love themselves. And we must teach them to tell truth from lies, good from evil.

We should remember that it is adults who create pornographic Web sites and spam our children's inboxes with pornographic e-mail; adults who design and build trashy billboards and run topless bars; adults who design thongs for ten-year-olds; adults who create MTV programming and own the record labels and publish trashy teen romance novels. In other words, our battle is not with our children, but with adults who hold a corrupt view of the purpose of life.

Please hear my heart on this matter: Modern technology is not the enemy. I believe that modern technology has the potential to be a great liberator of families, allowing more parents to spend more time working from home. My goodness, the world is at our children's fingertips, enabling them to access information and do research in minutes that used to take hours to complete. But there are a lot of people who use this technology for harm, too. We must harness the good and filter out the bad. I wrote Home Invasion as a wake-up call to parents and as a handbook for how to take back their homes. I didn't want just to talk about our societal problems; I wanted to provide resources to help people fight back. So it lists counseling organizations that can help if someone in the family is addicted to pornography; resources on educational choices; information about controlling Internet infiltration; and research on the tremendous impact that simple acts like having family meals together can have on children.

Probably the single greatest safety act you can perform today is to download an Internet filter. The one I use takes a few minutes and a few keystrokes to download, and costs about 50 bucks a year. As far as the television, don't throw it out; just monitor how it is used. If you subscribe to digital cable television, you can obtain parental controls at no charge by contacting your local cable provider. What about the movies your kids see or rent at the video store? Be smart. Check out movie reviews written by people who share your concern for decency. Internet sites such as pluggedinonline.com are excellent tools in this regard.

There are several practical resources available to help us make wise choices for our kids. But the best tool we can use is our expression of our love for them as people. And sometimes, that commitment is difficult. I know what it's like to have my 13-year-old daughter look at me with tears streaming down her face and say, "But Mom, all my friends are going to that movie." It rips my heart out. But in those moments, I sit Kristin down and I say, "You know what, Kristin? God made me your mom, and I love you more than anybody else in the world could possibly love you. I have to do what I think is best for you. Please allow me to be your Mom, allow me to love you, allow me to protect you the best way I know how. I might make mistakes, but as long as there is breath in me, I will be here for you." And then, we always find something else to do that's fun for her.

Those situations could easily turn into ugly scenes where I scream, "No, you're not going to that movie and I don't care what you say! Go to your room!" Or they can turn into moments where I give in, too tired to fight another battle, sending my daughter off with the message that standards only apply when I'm not worn out. Instead, when I remember that I'm the one who is supposed to model love, forgiveness and integrity, those situations turn into wonderful bonding moments that we both cherish, and that children desperately crave.

We must remember that our kids want us to be involved in their lives. They don't really want or need another gadget or the hottest video game. What they really want is more time with Mom and Dad. They need us desperately, not to build walls around them that shut them off from the world, but to build within them a moral compass that will guide them when they go out into the world each day. Not only will they be spared much harm having this compass, but they will succeed better as adults. And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us commit now to taking back our homes, there will one day be enough adults to reclaim our culture.

Editor, Douglas A. Jeffrey; Deputy Editor, Timothy W. Caspar; Assistant to the Editor, Patricia A. DuBois. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Copyright © 2006. Permission to reprint in whole or part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: "Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu." Subcription free upon request. ISSN 0277-8432. Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. Patent and Trade Office #1563325.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Some Things I Would Like To Say To Young Preachers

A friend of mine, Scott Phillips, fired off a very productive missile in my busy life this morning. He wrote an article that basically was forcing our minds to think about “transitioning” moments in the life of a church. We are now facing a generation of aging pastors who will be passing the mantle of the pastoral office to a younger man. Since time waits for no one, that mantle will either be passed with a blessing or it will be forcefully snatched from the hands of these aged elders. It is my thinking that the elder who is prepared for the transition will serve not only the church well but the Kingdom of God well.

In the last four months, I have been involved in the continuing education process called life. During this time, I have chalked up several “units” to add to my profile and it has been quite advantageous for me. I hope for those who are closest to me it has also been beneficial. More and more, I realize that I have to be incredibly grateful for what has been placed into my life. This whole week has been one of those weeks that I have felt a lot of gratitude toward God for the direction that He has put my life on.

As you are aware from some previous posts on this blog (see Thursday, March 2, 2006 in archives), I personally have been in transition from the role of co-pastor to now that of pastor. This process has actually been ongoing now for several years and I will not be-labor the point here. It has been a very good process for which I am thankful.

I will leave with you some points that I have found to be very helpful to me over the last 14 years of being in the role of the “second” man. I will comment greatly on some and others will be simply be a point to ponder.

1. Be Patient.

You must understand that ministry is a marathon and not a sprint. James said it best when he recalled that life was nothing more than a vapor. How quickly that this life passes! I can remember vividly all of the high points of ministry “accreditation.” I can remember the public acknowledgement of the call. I remember the first sermon I preached. I recall the move to Bible College and the graduation night. I remember the nervousness of facing a District Board for my general license. I can remember the promotion to associate pastor. I can remember the promotion and business meeting from associate to co-pastor. I can remember the process of preparation for ordination. I remember meeting the District Board for my ordination approval. I can remember the charge that was read to me last summer in Montgomery, Alabama. I can remember the installation service lead by Rev. Michael Harrell, our presbyter, as pastor. In one paragraph, I have summed up 14 years! Life is a vapor!

In the early days, I thought that it would never open up and that I would never get to the place that I am currently residing. This place now is not the end, this is merely the beginning of the rest of my life. The problem is that youth is often bumping it’s head with the process. Patience in the process is crucial.

David was anointed by Samuel and then he was promptly sent back into the pasture. How unfair! Anointed as king but no throne, scepter, or kingdom. Always be patient with the process of pasture. Leading sheep is a lot like leading people. You cannot drive them or herd them, you must lead them.

Let go of your need for immediate gratification. Promotion will come it just takes time. Do your best not to let your current situation simply be turned into a “stepping” stone for bigger and greater things. Impatience will lead to frustration, anger, a feeling of being overlooked, misunderstanding, and resentful. All of these emotions are ministry killers. They will sap your life of productive spiritual growth.

2. You Are Involved in “Real” Ministry.

One of the biggest difficulties that young ministers have is being made to feel as if they are not really accomplishing much in their position as youth pastor, assistant pastor, or other roles. Bro. Patterson never made me feel like a second-rate citizen in my role as “second man.” However, there were ministers whom I begin to avoid like a plague.

The reason that I avoided them was because that every instance that they were around me it was always seemingly to ask the obtuse question, “When are you going to do something for God? When are you going to get a “real” ministry?” I have come to understand that one of the reasons that they asked me this was because when they sat in the role as a second man, they did nothing. So they immediately equate that their own past experience is just like yours. I came to realize that nothing further from the truth could be true. The face of this thought is changing (thank God!) but a lot of older men feel that assistants, associates, and youth pastors are unnecessary and unneeded. I would hate to try to do what we are doing here in Dothan without some help of some good men.

I was always doing “real” ministry here. Whether it was preaching (every other week), involved in teaching home Bible studies, helping other unlicensed ministers improve their own skills, etc., etc. I was involved in “real” ministry.

Very early in my ministry, I can remember how that these very ignorant comments were sent in my direction and they would create a sense of depression and uselessness in my own personal life. After many, many prayer times trying to keep my heart right, I was prompted one day by the voice of God to evaluate where I was spending my time. Wherever one is spending his time this is where he is spending his life. Through a personal journal, I allowed God to help me to see what my life was being spent on. Guess what? It was being spent on “real” ministry.

3. Ignore the Dingbats.

See the preceding number. Some people are not happy with themselves and therefore they are not happy with the world around them. Their mission, perhaps even their “spiritual” gift is to create the same sense of misery in your life that is in theirs. It pays to figure out who these people are and then avoid them and ignore them.

4. Develop Your Family.

Realize that in the role of a second man you will have time to develop your family and your marriage. I can distinctly remember several years ago, that Teresa and I were on the way with our kids to St. Simon’s Island (perhaps my most favorite place in the world) and we were made aware of a situation in the church that needed immediate attention (a funeral). Bro. Patterson called me and told me to keep going toward my vacation and that he would take care of it. Had I been in the role of a pastor at that time, that would not have happened, I would have had to turn around and come back to Dothan.

While you are in the role as a second man, the responsibilities of ministry do not rest entirely on your shoulders and you can do things that pastors cannot ordinarily do. Take advantage of this because there will be a day when you will have to fulfill the responsibility of your calling. Enjoy your freedom now!

5. Sleep Well.

As a second man, there were situations that did not require all of my time or attention simply because I was not the pastor. There were pressures that I was never aware of and I could sleep well because I was not the pastor. You should be thankful that you are not entirely responsible for trying to patch up families, help others walk through financial struggles, or simply said doing the ministry of “the daily care of the churches.”

6. Love the Word.

Be concerned with preaching and teaching the Word. Constantly give yourself to the reading of books that are going to stimulate your thinking. Stimulated thinking leads to stimulated meditation which leads to stimulating preaching. Make sure that you love the Word and let it put some principles in your life to help you make decisions that will be not so much popular as they are lasting. I even read things that I do not personally or theologically agree with but I find that they stretch my thinking and actually shore up my views on my own beliefs.

I have made much of this thought in other posts on this blog.

7. Keep a journal of ideas.

If you don’t think a certain program or a certain method works, don’t make a lot of racket. . . just journal it. This program or method has probably worked for the pastor you are serving with for all of his ministry and it is what he is comfortable with. Change it when you get the opportunity to do so but don’t create a fight over methods and mechanics.


Your ideas over time will add up and then when you become the pastor you can implement them as you feel the direction of the Spirit. Remember that we are all unique individuals and we all have preferences and you need to make room for other people’s preferences.

I might also caution that rapid change is rarely beneficial. If rapid change creates chaos in educational halls, in industries, and everywhere else, it will do so in a church. You owe it to yourself to wisely select the changes that you want to make. Then I personally believe that those changes need to be slow and with the approval of some elder. We are not running businesses, we are trying to build churches which simply speaking means lives.

8. Thank God for your “job.”

I spent twenty years working in a hospital as an RN. It was a very good job. It was very challenging and I can see what it has created in my life as far as discipline and hunger for personal and professional growth. It is not a sin to have to be bi-vocational. Paul made his tents, I worked with stents.

In fact, there were times that problems were going on in the church and I could go to work and “zone” out while I put someone to sleep. We could put an iliac artery stent or renal artery stent in. Because of the pressure of my secular job, the church problems did not consume me with anxiety, worry, fear, or doubt.

My secular jobs in the medical field put me in contact with some of the most brilliant minds in Dothan, AL and Houston, TX on a daily basis. The professional excellence of the physicians and other staff members stimulated a hunger for spiritual excellence for me. I was always under the belief that if they were doing so much development for a corruptible crown then my pursuits for the development of an uncorruptible crown should not be lazy, haphazard, or shoddy.

9. See Your Elder as An Elijah.

The longer I live, the bigger the footprints of Joe Patterson become. It is amazing what this man has accomplished just by day-in and day-out pouring himself into the Kingdom of God. I can see him as an Elijah who flung his mantle on me very early in my life. When I was much younger, I cannot say that I entirely perceived what was occurring but now with the passage of time, I am acutely aware of what God has developed in my life through his efforts and assistance.

Work with your Elijah. Sometimes before you can build your own church, you have to help another man build his. Paul placed much into Timothy and Titus. Your elder can put much into your life. Make wise choices about what you do.

10. Remember that God is Sovereign.

Of all of the attributes of God, this one has become the one that I lean on the most. It has freed me from huge burdens and huge expectations both real and perceived. The sovereignty of God means that God called me and he has positioned my life and I am exactly where God means for me to be.

11. Listen To Your Wife!!!

My wife had a line that she periodically would give me: It is not your church! I would then realize that it was indeed not my church. Teresa also helped me to see the fact that there were generally some more details or pieces of the puzzle that I did not see.

In conclusion, I realize that these are not "pat" answers for every situation. However, I do know that God honors his servants and that sometimes the disputed passage brings the most spiritual and personal growth to our lives.

On a future post, I will give you some things that I would like to say to "old" preachers coming from the view of a "second" man.

Friday, May 05, 2006

How To Have Spiritual Growth In Your Life -- Part Three -- Guard the Ear-Gate


From the previous posts, we are gaining an understanding that spiritual growth will not simply happen in one’s life but it is something that has to be pursued on a daily basis. How much we pursue this goal greatly affects what sort of relationship that we will have with God.

John Bunyan, long dead, but having the ability to speak beyond his grave through his writings has greatly impacted my own personal walk with God. He is most famous for his great work Pilgrim’s Progress. However, he was written another classic work that is less recognized but almost just as significant as the first. It is entitled Holy War. You would do yourself well to read both of these allegories.

Just outside the gates of Mansoul, Diabolus sat down in a hellish huddle with his comrades and they begin to discuss the best course of action to gain access.

  • They determined that it would not be best to assault the city as a group because their appearances would betray who they were.
  • Secondly, they then decided that it would be best not to approach the city of Mansoul without some form of disguise.
  • Thirdly, the decided that it would also be imperative that the intent of their presence into this city not be revealed because Diabolus and his comrades were certain that the “strong people” would not allow such a take-over.
  • The fourth idea won out. They decided that it would be of necessity to go in and find one, Captain Resistance, and remove him through battle and then they would immediately gain control of Mansoul.

The devious demons decided that the best approach would first be to approach through the Ear-Gate. Once this was determined, then Mr. Ill-Pause, the ambassador and spokesman for Diabolus began his great piece of oration that caused the men of Mansoul to compromise the Ear-Gate. “Hath God said. . .” Shortly, they begin to eat from the fatal fruit whose lasting effects still touch us today.

“Hath God Said???” This was the first line that Satan approached Eve with on that day so very long ago yet in reality only a short time ago. The Ear-Gate was assaulted with doubt. In the end, Captain Resistance lay dead at the feet of Diabolus consumed by one of Tisiphone’s arrows. Shortly thereafter, Lord Innocency fell dead in his tracks. Once Resistance had been felled and the enemy had gained a foothold, Innocence of Mansoul was lost.

Truth has almost disappeared from the landscape of the American church today. Truth has been replaced with a sense of humanistic “fairness” that claims that one absolute truth is not good enough. Apparently, they say, because God has a sense of justice and “fairness” then He will have an alternative plan to help fix the problem of human depravity. There is only a very slight but fatal error with that frame of thought. . . . It is not based on the truth of Scripture and therefore it is wrong. A half-truth is still a whole lie. Mr. Ill-Pause has been using this line for thousands of years now with very good success.

We must be very careful to guard the Ear-Gate. What we hear has the great capacity to effect the decisions that we make in life and the very direction of our own eternal destinies.

The great question for this post: What is entering your life through your Ear-Gate? I realize that some will immediately evaluate (at least I hope you will) what this world is erroneously telling you.

The great question: What is entering your life through your Ear-Gate? Discernment is an imperative during our day. We must pay attention to the words that are being sent in our direction.

What voices are you hearing?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Book Review -- O Shepherd, Where Art Thou?


Periodically, I pick up books and read them simply for the “agitation” factor that I find in them. You ask, “What is the “agitation” factor?” The agitation factor comes into play when you purchase a book that you know is right, correct, and on the mark but the precepts are going to burn you.

Generally, when you read a book that has a high “agitation” factor in it you have to pick the place you read the book. It is best to read the book either at home when no one is literally home except for you, the reader, or to find some secure place like your study when no one else is in the building. The reason for this is that if they hear you mumbling, angrily shouting, or throwing things then no one is there to witness what might be perceived as borderline insanity.

Calvin Miller has written such a book. I should not have bought it much less read it because I knew that I was not going to agree with it. I could tell that from the dust jacket cover and the reviews. It frankly flies right in the face of all of the church growth books, seminars, gimmicks, and shall I say, propaganda of the church growth movement. But my disagreement with it doesn’t make any difference at all, because Mr. Miller is right! I am not a CEO, I am not an organizer, I am not a church growth expert. . . . I am a pastor who loves God, loves his family, loves the Word, loves to preach the Word, and loves the church that I am honored to serve.

Calvin Miller writes the book in such a manner that he hooks you with his story and then nails you to the wall with his published side notes on the opposing page. He writes a story about Sam, who wants to spend more time on the golf course, the pastor of a church that is just that, a church. He has sick folks in the hospital that he doesn’t want to go see. He has members who cannot get along and need some discipleship and shall we dare say a little discipline. But he also has a friend who is a megachurch pastor and the grass at Biff’s joint is much greener.

Biff is described for us: His entrance both inflated and deflated Sam. There he was: Ralph Lauren slacks, one-hundred-dollar Hush Puppies, a Tommy Bahama shirt, three pounds of mousse on his ruthless hair, and he smelled of Chrome Azarro. No wonder his church was growing. He was a perfect blend of John the Baptist and Versace.

Before some of the quotes, I will add a disclaimer. I did not agree with everything in this little book and I also realize that if a man is the least bit lazy in ministry this book will fit very well. The reason that it will fit well is because Calvin Miller will load your wagon for all sorts of excuses for you to keep doing what you are doing. On the other hand, if you are an ambitious, Katie-bar-the-door-and-jerk-the-stocks-down sort of fellow, this book could very well be exactly what you need. There is a vast difference in building people and in building churches. Build the people and the church will take care of itself. Build a church and the people will stay for a while, but sometime down the line a bigger, better, and sweeter program will leave that “church” an empty shell.

This book is nothing more than a plea for a commitment to the role of pastoral ministry as we come to understand from the Pastoral Epistles.

Here are some quotes:

The world is full of hurt; it needs a pastor.

I just want to encourage you to remember that the world is full of multitudes of dying people who can only be reached one at a time.

I told Calvin Miller he did not know what he was writing about with this quote and then I had to agree with him: Does God intend for every church to get bigger? And is the only way to get bigger to have more members? I always counsel my students to make sure they are making bigger people and not just bigger congregations. There are many pastors serving in areas where the population density is too small and static to support a growing congregation. Are these servants to live under the pall of inferiority just because their churches are not getting bigger? I think not.

I wrote “Ouch!” out in the margin by this quote: Marva Dawn realizes how futile it is to try to trump up a vital self-image by pasting together the best part of those heroes we might wish to worship. It struck me one day in a Christian bookstore that most of the “church growth” books I picked up in that store were not books on vision but on image. They hadn’t been published to help me see the world in a particular way but to help the world see me—were I a megachurch pastor—in a particular way. They were books that enticed the pastor of limited self-image to be like somebody else the world admired. What a cul-de-sac of emotional poverty this is. These books were published to serve the idolatries of megapastor wannabes.

I did agree with Miller here on this one: Robert Schuller was the first pastor I ever heard claim that he had polled his neighborhood to find out what people wanted in a church with the specific intention of giving them just that. But this has become the market-driven ploy of the contemporary beltway church. The church as too infrequently stopped to ask themselves, “Are we called to give them what they want, or is something more involved in the whole idea of ministry?” Would something have been lost if Jeremiah would have determined to give Zedekiah what he wanted in a national prophet? Would God have smiled down on John the Baptist for saying, “I must try to be more of what Herodias would like in a man of God”? When it is all said and done, the reason we should not attempt to give people what they want in a church is that God wants so much more for them than they can imagine wanting for themselves.

There are numerous other quotes that I could bring about but I think that these quotes can give you a pretty good idea about the thesis of this book.