Tag Archives: pastoring

Pastor Appreciation – why some churches don’t do it

I’ve been thinking about why churches fail to honor their pastor during pastor appreciation month. I can think these possibilities:
 
1. In denominational churches at least, the district, etc. needs to contact church board secretaries prior to October, possibly with examples and suggestions, encouraging them to see to it that the pastor is honored. Then in November, they should be contacted again, asking them what their church did.  If the church leadership isn’t being encouraged to honor their pastor by someone with authority, it may never happen.
 
2. I have the idea that church leaders who listen to Christian radio are more likely to honor their pastor during this time. Most Christian radio stations make a big deal out of it. If church leaders don’t listen to these stations (and I’m not saying they should), they won’t be influenced to take action.
 
3. Many churches are so pastor-centric that nothing much happens unless the pastor is either leading it or at least approving it. (I had a women’s council one time that was amazed that I didn’t attend their meetings – all previous pastors had attended.) In the case of pastor appreciation, it doesn’t happen because the pastor isn’t in a position to organize it like he/she organizes everything else.
 
Just some passing late October thoughts.

Pastors need Mondays

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For many years prior to retirement from pastoring I took Mondays off. I generally took a long walk, did some banking, and pretty much crashed. Since retirement, of course, most days are “days off” so Mondays are pretty much like any other day of the week.

Right now, I’m filling in for a friend who is taking Sabbatical leave so I’m back “on the clock” at least in part. My only real responsibility is preaching the Sunday morning sermon although I’m “being the pastor” in a few other ways as well. I certainly don’t have the full pastoral load.

The interesting thing to me is that that old Monday weariness has returned. It has to be the preaching and maybe interacting with a number of people throughout the day because I’m not doing much else. I confess that I’m not much of a people person, so spending a large part of the day chatting and “being nice” does wear me down a bit. Still, I think the preaching is the biggest part of it.

It’s not as though I’m a high energy, pacing, pulpit pounder. My style is conversational, considerably thought through, and much prayed over. To most non-preachers I know that that doesn’t sound like much and some may accuse me of whining or maybe just of getting old and more easily tired. Honestly, there may be some truth in the second accusation and hopefully none in the first.

However, I think that there’s a least a reminder here that pastors work harder on Sundays than most people think they do, even if all they “do” is preach a sermon for 30-40 minutes. The preparation, both academic and spiritual, takes a toll. The energy spent, even with Spirit anointing, is considerable.

I don’t think I’m just whining or wimping out. Pastors carry a burden that takes a toll and they both need and deserve a Monday day of rest.

Preaching for decisions: know when to land the sermon

I heard a well-prepared, well-delivered sermon that was intended to conclude with an invitation. As the sermon was finished a sweet spirit was evident in the service and I fully expected to see several people respond. The case had been made and the Spirit of the Lord was at work.

But the preacher wouldn’t land the sermon! Instead, we heard one more story followed by yet another application. By the time people were actually given opportunity to respond the moment had faded and the response was meager.

There are two points in the sermon that especially need to be well thought through by the preacher. The first is the first part of the sermon. The other is the closing of the sermon.

I’m not saying that sermons should never include “in flight” direction of the Holy Spirit, even at crucial points (like leading to a call for decisions). However, the preacher needs to be careful to leave the Spirit room to work in the hearts of the listeners and be leery of telling “one more story.”

The biggest single change for pastors

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I was just thinking about the biggest single change I’ve seen in my 45 years of ministry.

One big one was the move away from the KJV to the NIV (or some other modern version) being the most commonly used version of the Bible in our services by preachers. That changed sermons from being, to a large part, translating Shakespearean language to modern English for our listeners to being more focused on the meaning of the text itself.

Another big change was the addition of video to preaching. I know some pastors have yet to move toward it, but the vast majority of our churches have video up at least for scriptures, but often preaching is supplemented by professionally produced videos and clips from popular culture.

A more subtle change is that our listeners now consume a wide variety of teaching ranging from TV and radio preachers to reading books or listening to podcasts from a variety of theological perspectives. This is a major change from the day when the local pastor was the primary source of teaching to those in the congregation. I’ve heard fine lay people repeat stuff that it is clearly incompatible with our doctrines. They’d heard it somewhere, and just accepted it because the speaker is a well known, capable teacher.

I think, though, that the biggest change is the move away from Sunday night services.

As I’ve just been saying, the pastor’s voice is diminished in the lives of church attenders already. So, while people are consuming a variety of religious teaching through the week, most pastors only address their congregations on Sunday mornings during the sermon. That limits the pastor’s influence over the congregation.

I’m not saying, though, that this change is necessarily a bad thing. It was late in my active ministry that our church yielded to the reality that most people simply didn’t want to attend a Sunday night service. And it was only with that change in the church schedule that I had a taste of Sunday being a Christian Sabbath. For many years of my ministry I came to Sunday night exhausted. The concept that the pastor should take a different day as a day of rest never really worked for me. My weekly “day off” was filled with the kinds of things that most everyone does on their days off and not especially restful. I came to greatly appreciate Sunday afternoons as a time to unwind without needing to “reload” for the Sunday evening service.

Beyond that, being able to focus on Sunday morning only made me, I think, a better preacher. All my preparation time was toward one sermon. For non-preachers this may not sound like much but I think most preachers who read this will agree that focusing on one sermon a week makes a huge difference in preaching.

Of all the changes I’ve seen, I think the elimination of Sunday night church is the biggest.

What do you think?

Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone”

parkingThe story of the Crucifixion is powerful. The cross was more an instrument of torture than it was one of execution. Some film makers have made it their mission to portray the agony of the cross with as much graphic realism possible.  Maybe it’s that realism or something else but it seems to me that many Christians are stalled at the cross, thinking it is what Easter is all about.

It’s not. Easter is about victory, hope, and redemption. The only reason to go to Good Friday is because we can’t get to Easter without it. However, the enduring symbol of Christianity isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a crucifix. Rather, it’s an empty cross. The reason we don’t make a cross with its victim our primary symbol isn’t because we can’t bear seeing Jesus hanging on it. We make an empty cross our primary symbol because Jesus is no longer on the cross. He has defeated it and all it stood for.

So, for believers, Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone.” We spend time on Good Friday remembering the cross and especially the love of Jesus for us that caused him to endure it. But we happily turn the page to Sunday morning, Resurrection Day.

Easter services shouldn’t be about the Crucifixion. References to the cross should be about Christ’s victory over it. If pastors and other church leaders have done their job the ordeal of the cross should have already been brought to the attention of the Church. That paves the way for Easter.  Individuals too should make it their practice to visit the cross on a regular basis, but not park there.  Its the Resurrection that transforms the crucifix into an empty cross and its the Resurrection that should be our primary focus.  Let’s turn the page from Good Friday and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and what it means to us.

Advise to young pastors: Baptism

Coming from a low church background I had very little pastoral training for conducting baptisms.  Also, in spite of my denomination’s acceptance of infant baptism, it was never practiced in the portions of the country where I grew up or ministered – everywhere I served people wanted to get wet all over and that’s what happened.  Because of that, I’ll focus in on baptism services for youth and adults – and, for the sake of this article, I’m more thinking of in-church baptisms rather than I am those that take place at a lake or river (although most of my suggestions work either way).

  • Be sure people are prepared for baptism.  Pastor, that’s your job.  Don’t leave it to the youth pastor or Sunday School teacher or a parent.  Be ready to sit down with a candidate and, in an age appropriate way, work through what it means to be a Christian and why we baptize.  Of course, that means you have to understand it.  In our tradition we baptize as a means of grace.  That means, to us, it’s more than an outward witness.  It’s a sacrament – can you explain what that means to a 12 year old?  That’s exactly what you have to do if you are going to officiate at their baptism.
  • Write your own version of the baptism ritual.  I don’t mean that you have the freedom to make it say something it doesn’t already say, but if your candidates’ (and your congregations’) eyes glaze over as you read the ritual you are just saying meaningless words.  Say it in such a way that they will understand what you are saying to them.
  • Have the candidates write out (or video) their testimony and have it read by a spiritual mentor just prior to their baptism.
  • Have everyone say the Apostle’s Creed together.  Don’t read the creed to the candidates – have them and the congregation say it and affirm it together.  After all, you are, by baptizing the candidates, uniting them with the congregation at a whole new level.  By the way, you and your congregation ought to be familiar with the Creed…maybe not memorized, but used to saying it.  This is who we are and what we believe.  Work it into Communion services or just include it in a service once a month.
  • If you are using some kind of hybrid baptistery where people sit down, etc.  then practice!  Let them get into the baptistery when it is dry and see what you expect of them (and yourself).  This is a big deal!  We rehearse weddings, why shouldn’t we rehearse baptisms?
  • Be prepared to help people in and out of the baptistery – they are nervous and distracted, and then wet!  Have someone ready to lend them a hand and hand them a towel.
  • Depending on how your baptistery is set up, invite family and guests to come to the platform to serve as witnesses (and take photos).  Beyond that, if you can, have the children and teens of the congregation to come up front to see it all.
  • Have everyone ready to cheer after each one – this is a big deal and a time of celebration.  Don’t let people just sit there watching the candidates get wet.
  • Once in a while, maybe once a year, prior to the baptismal service, preach on baptism.  Tell the congregation why it is a means of grace – have some of the senior saints ready to share the story of their baptism.  Then, with everyone freshly reminded of how wonderful it is, bring the candidates up!  Wow – what a great time you will have!
  • Once you are finished with the baptisms, and depending on your setup, take a bowl of the water from the baptismal and walk through the congregation inviting people to touch the water and “remember your baptism.”  If your sanctuary is set up to allow it, you might even have all who will to come forward and touch the water in the baptismal.
  • Even as you conclude the service, announce that you are ready to meet with others who would like to prepare for baptism.  You might just end up keeping the water for use next Sunday!

These are my thoughts…what are yours?

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

IMG_2465.JPG Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

100_3734.JPGOur winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.
clearlakenaz.jpgAll in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.

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Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?

Reflections on the 1st Anniversary of my Retirement

Time flies. It was one year ago this Sunday that I preached my final sermon as a pastor and said farewell to our wonderful congregation. We turned the page to a new chapter in our lives.

While I doubt that I will ever quit being a pastor at heart, I’ve begun to learn to go to church and sit in a pew. I’ve been learning what it means to go to church and have no responsibility other than to worship. I’d almost forgotten what that was like. For me church attendance was filled with responsibilities. I gave my all on Sundays and came home weary and, quite often satisfied. These days I come home less weary and less satisfied. Going to church no longer has “work” associated with it but it doesn’t carry with it the satisfaction only a pastor enjoys after an especially blessed Sunday morning.

Of course, Jackie and I didn’t retire in a normal way. The day after my last Sunday we headed out on a great adventure, traveling the country in our RV. It’s been a great year and we hope it has been the first of what will be many.

During the past year I stopped carrying an ink pen in my pocket. That meant I could shop for shirts without pockets for the first time in years. It took several months, but I finally stopped wearing a watch. I have a sun tan instead of a white band around my wrist! During the year Jackie and my mornings have morphed into a leisurely time punctuated by a long coffee break about 10:00 each day. Then, many evenings have been spent sitting outside watching the sky; counting the satellites that glide overhead. We’ve even seen a good number of shooting stars. We’re enjoying each other’s company in ways that were almost forgotten.

We aren’t quite there yet but we’re rediscovering something we haven’t experienced since childhood: the joy of doing nothing. Don’t get me wrong: we do a lot. We’ve gone sightseeing, taken hikes, and visited museums and National Parks. However, mixed in now, are days of reading or just fooling with the computer. There are times to just sit and watch the world go by; or blow an evening watching TV. Over the winter, when it was unusually old outside, we watched the entire Star Wars series, from beginning to end, every night for six nights in a row. No meetings to attend, no need to bundle up and go out and fight the weather or the traffic – just time to do what we wanted to do, which was, at that particular moment: nothing.

We’ve missed having family close by. Most people retire and spend more time with loved ones. We, in our own crazy way, retired and immediately traveled far from them. That absent time, though, was somewhat balanced out by the months when we were close by and available to them as never before.

So, here I am, one year into retirement. When anyone asks me how I’m enjoying retirement I generally respond with the quip that had I known it was this much fun, I would have done it 30 years ago. There’s no small amount of truth to it.

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”