Prayer and Preaching

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You have to love Paul’s humility. Here was a man in his sixties who has been preaching for years asking for prayers for a clearer delivery. Read his words carefully:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)

There was no pretense with Paul.

No Hooks

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We who love to fish know that the better the lure, the more deceptive it is. We try to appeal to the appetite of the fish by hiding the hook in a worm.

We use a certain kind of lure that’s attractive, with eyes that sparkle or a body that glitters.

The fish gets caught because it thinks it will get something soft and delicious, but it gets something sharp and painful. That’s deception.

The pastor is not to be deceptive. I love Paul’s simple declaration:

Our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit (1 Thessalonians 2:3).

Paul was who he was . . . wherever he was. He made no empty promises. He didn’t pilfer from the ministry’s money. He didn’t say one thing in one place but something else in another.

Authenticity and Action

Parenting
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The temptation of any child of vocational Christian ministers is to see the work of the ministry as just another thing, just a religious gig. Parent-ministers must break through the “stage show” perception of religious work if their children are to understand that this isn’t big business, a slick profession, or an entertainment arena where Mommy or Daddy puts on a performance.

The key word is authenticity. Not perfection, for no one gets it right all the time. But being real. Admit your faults, own them completely, ask for forgiveness, be quick to give it, allow children plenty of room to fail, and let them see you live your life behind the scenes with love, grace, and humor.

Three Ministry Essentials

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In every ministry, there are at least three essentials that produce an atmosphere of joyous cooperation. They are . . . objectives, people, and places.

First, whatever God plans, He pursues. That has to do with the ministry essential of objectives. There’s nothing wrong with having a clearly defined mission statement that gives direction and purpose to the vision of a ministry.

In fact, there’s everything right about it as long as it is the Lord who provides the direction. God’s plan unfolds in ways that confound human wisdom and sometimes defy common sense.

Beware Playing the Politics Game

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I see it every night on the news. The politics of backslapping and handshaking and making sure “so-and-so” isn’t turned off—it’s maddening! (We call it “smoke-blowing” here in Texas.)

At the end of the political rainbow the pot of gold is “favorable public opinion.” Period.

If we’re not careful, we can let politics work its way into our churches. And even worse, into our pulpits. In fact, the pastorate is a breeding ground for this sort of thing—maybe more than most professions.

I love the way the apostle Paul keeps our motives clean and focus sharp:

His Power, Our Preaching

Exit Sign
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In the middle of the week not long ago I walked into our church’s sanctuary. The room was empty and quiet. In fact, it was dark except for the exit lights that never go out.

I came down the middle aisle and stood there with no one else in the room. You know what? It wasn’t at all exciting or inspiring. Without the presence of God’s people and without the Spirit of God igniting the place with His power, there wasn’t a whole lot to it. It was just an empty, dark room.

I have learned that the same is true of the preacher.

It is important that we pastors hone our skills in preaching and teaching. But it is more important that we lean heavily on the Holy Spirit for power in these things.

Any pastor who does not feel weak—and on occasion, fearful and trembling—is not being honest with himself. Don’t go there.

Even Paul struggled with such weaknesses:

I came to you weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3–5 NLT).

You have to love Paul’s humility, vulnerability, and dependence. He tells the truth. He admits his weaknesses. He describes his feelings.  He doesn’t worry what others may think.

Paul tells the Corinthians in effect,

I’m a needy person just like you, and I have to depend on the Spirit for the strength just like you. Because it is not about me; it’s about the Lord.

This week, take a walk all alone into the room where you preach. Stand there for a few minutes in the dark, quiet, and empty space. Let the silence envelop you.

Remind yourself, as I try to do regularly, that it is ALL about Him—about His power and glory—and it is not about the preacher.

Without His power working in our weakness, brothers, our preaching is like that dark, empty room.

–Chuck

Preventing the Accountability Breakdown

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Isolation . . . Loneliness . . . Solitude. Though surrounded by scores of people, pastors know these feelings all too well. Our position as shepherds, separated from the flock in many ways, can cause us to become closed off to much of the world.

Living a private life in secrecy or inaccessibility leaves room for self-betrayal and, ultimately, to what I call an accountability breakdown.

To prevent that breakdown, we need the vulnerability that connecting with others provides. Recognizing our need for others means that we stay aware of any tendency to compromise. We also understand that we are not immune to a fall. We must be willing to open up and connect.

So how do we maintain genuine accountability as pastors?

Powerful Preaching

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As one responsible for communicating biblical truth, I want to share four principles. Pay close attention; read slowly, thoughtfully and carefully as I apply this to your ministry of proclaiming God’s Word.

First, always stay on the subject—Christ. For Paul it was always about Christ. Paul spoke of the “God who made the world and all things in it” to the followers of the “unknown god” of Athens, and everything for Paul pointed to Christ (Acts 17:10–34).

Preaching that which doesn’t exalt Christ is empty preaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

For Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain. Clearly, his subject in preaching was Christ.

Second, always speak the truth. Do not hold back. Do not fear. Do not be overly impressed with those who have come to the class or who sit in the church where you serve. It makes no difference how much they’re worth or how little they contribute. Speak the truth.

Third, always start where your audience is. Paul hooked those men in Athens with his first sentence. You can, too, if you spend some time thinking about it. Know your audience well enough to build a bridge quickly.

I’m Third

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Occasionally, when Cynthia and I attend a party, she’ll say to me, “Let’s not be the center of everything. Why don’t we just sit on the side and listen for a change?”

That’s a great reminder in our narcissistic culture, and especially for pastors who are expected to exhibit a servant’s heart.

This reminds me of a story that always makes me smile. Imagine the scene: James and John approached Jesus one day and asked Him to write them a blank check, to do whatever they asked of Him.

When Jesus inquired about what they wanted, they said, in effect, “We don’t want to be the center of Your kingdom, that’s Your place, but we want to sit right beside You, one on Your left and the other on Your right.” Can you imagine?

The Integrity Assault

Pastor
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Our jobs as pastors are not without work-site hazards. We don’t wear hard hats, of course, but maybe we should! The hazards I’m speaking of are those within our hearts.

One of the greatest of these is what I call “the integrity assault.” I believe our integrity is assaulted when we yield to the temptation to allow our position—and the privileges that come with it—to lower our standard and to weaken our witness.

With every privileged position comes trust. You may carry a church credit card. You are trusted to use that card with integrity. You may drive a car provided by the church.

That is a privilege. Your time and how you use it are at your discretion. Your board and congregation look to you to give a full day’s work for a full day’s wage.

You have a computer and, probably, a private study. A dangerous combination if you lack integrity. The statistics are maddening to me how many in ministry confess to viewing pornography on the Internet!