Good Communication—Be Well-Prepared

If sweat were blood, my study would be red. So would yours. As pastors, part of what helps us become good communicators is paying the personal price for being well-prepared. That takes hard work.

“The Preacher,” Solomon tells us, “also taught the people knowledge”—and this occurred by “pondering, searching out, and arranging” his thoughts (Ecclesiastes 12:9). These verbs are in the intensive stem in the Hebrew. In other words, in becoming well-prepared, you have to sacrifice. The cost is high! Both in time . . . and in tools.

Buy books that help you understand the Word of God. Some of my best books are what I call my “blood” books. When I was in seminary, I used to donate a pint of blood and in return receive twenty bucks. I bought the Old Testament series by Kyle and Delitzsch with blood money. I bought Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament with blood money. They were supposed to take my blood only every six weeks, but I’d occasionally go in after five weeks. One time I pushed it to four weeks! Cynthia told me, “I think you’re kind of pressing it on this thing with your library.” And she was right. But hey, where else can you have 100 scholars at your fingertips when you’re stuck away in Fargo . . . or Frisco! Get and use good tools.

You’ll have to deal severely with the temptation to dance around a passage rather than to dig in deeply—especially when time is of the essence. So start early. We both know that Saturday night panic doesn’t yield quality stuff on Sunday. “A mist in the pulpit puts a fog in the pew” is another way of saying it!    

I would encourage you to write down more of your ideas. Don’t rely on your memory. Write down those fleeting thoughts that come to you in the middle of the night. Many times I have gotten up to write something I didn’t want to lose. Those times that I didn’t do that, almost without exception, I forgot them by the next morning. I must go through half a yellow tablet of paper per sermon writing things down. I have discovered that it is in the writing of my thoughts that my ideas take shape and narrow into understandable terms. It is in the “pondering, searching out, and arranging” of thoughts that the preacher is well-prepared.

Oh, and please . . . don’t feel bad about taking your notes and outline into the pulpit! (They never told you that at seminary, did they?  Me either.) What could be more frustrating than being well-prepared to communicate only to forget half of it after the choir sings? The best expositors I’ve heard use notes.

Changing lives is God’s job. We rely on Him for that—unquestionably. But being well-prepared . . . that’s our responsibility.

                              

—Chuck

Good Communication—The First Step

I don’t mind being called a preacher. One of my lifetime goals has been to be a good preacher. That takes hard work. You know that. Good communication is never automatic. Sometimes you may think you’re coming through clearly only to be surprised when a member of the congregation, or even your wife, without your asking, shares with you that your message didn’t come through. We’ve all been there!

I want to write in the next few posts about helping your message come through.

The greatest privilege in the world is to have people listen when we speak. But I never assume that the congregation comes to listen—to really listen. Rather, I usually assume they approach my message with a ho-hum spirit. Therefore, I have to earn the right to be heard every Lord’s day. We owe it to our congregations to prepare and then present good meals. I think that’s what Solomon had in mind when he wrote about the Preacher:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. (Ecclesiastes 12:9)

Did you notice where preaching should begin? With being . . . before doing. Before you teach the people you are to be a wise man. Remember how Jesus chose twelve men, “that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). Notice the order? First they were with Jesus . . . then they preached.

The hard work of good preaching begins with the fear of the Lord—true wisdom. Don’t assume its presence. As you work hard to cultivate a genuine, growing relationship with God, wisdom will come.

Don’t take any shortcuts with that first step.

                —Chuck

Pastoral Traps: Greed

Pastors can easily fall into the trap of money-grubbing. Or in simpler terms, we can be greedy.

This is true if money winds up in the pastor’s pocket that was earmarked for some other realm of ministry. This is true if the minister is asked about his financial policy with regard to ministry money, and he responds with a “that’s-none-of-your-business” type of reaction. Dependable shepherds are not motivated by what Peter referred to as “sordid gain” (1 Peter 5:2). The old King James Version bluntly calls it “filthy lucre.” That’s an archaic expression, but it says it straight. “Not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”

My counsel to all in ministry is to keep your hands out of the money. Period. Don’t take cash from people. Don’t give change. Don’t take up the offerings. Don’t count the offering . . . or even concern yourself with where the money is counted. And by all means, don’t try to find out who gives the most! If you do, it will affect the way you preach. On the other hand, if you don’t know what passage of Scripture will offend the largest donors, then you’re free to preach the truth to everyone!

We pastors have to watch out for doing ministry just for the money. Or officiating at a wedding, for example, because there’s money in it. Or doing a funeral because you’ll get a hundred bucks. Greed has no shame. It will wink at you and tempt you, especially in a day when many pastors are underpaid relative to their education.

What I’m saying has nothing to do with “muzzling the ox.” My warning is simple: If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself justifying greed.

Please . . . don’t go there.

                    —Chuck

Pastoral Traps: Exclusivism

A major trap pastors can fall into is exclusivism. That’s the attitude that says, “I alone am right.” It’s the “us-four-and-no-more-and-I’m-not-sure-about-you-three” kind of attitude. An exclusive spirit occurs when a pastor allows (or even promotes) a clannish, cultic kind of following around him.

Paranoia often accompanies an exclusive spirit: “Other ministries don’t do it as well as I do”—or some similar statement. Watch out for that kind of attitude. Guard yourself from too many first-person pronouns. It is nothing more than pride.

One time John told Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38). Jesus’s rebuke revealed that we don’t have to be one of the twelve to minister to people. And others don’t have to be one of us either.

We have no corner on the best way to serve Christ. We need to display an absence of competition and an absence of jealousy . . . while cultivating genuine humility. Pray that your attitude and words—and those of your church’s staff—will not become exclusive.

                    —Chuck

Pastoral Traps: Authoritarianism

Not long ago I put together a short list of some of the unique battles that accompany the role of the pastor. I’d like to share them with you over the next few blog entries. While the battles we pastors face are many, I want you to consider five in particular . . . not necessarily in the order of their importance.

The first is the problem of authoritarianism. It’s easy for the pastor to become authoritarian. What does that look like? If the minister needlessly represses the freedom of God’s people, if he becomes inflexible and dictatorial, tyrannical and oppressive, if he bullies people with threats, if he lacks a servant’s heart, if he himself is not teachable, if his arrogance has replaced humility, then he has become an authoritarian. He needs reproof . . . even if he is the pastor.

Tell just a few who are close to you, perhaps a trusted colleague—even your wife, if you have the courage!—to let you know if you start to drift into authoritarianism. It’s not the same as leadership. It is leadership gone wild. Put bluntly, it is sin.

Remember Jesus’s words to His twelve men when they were haggling over who should be first in importance: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served . . .” (Mark 10:45).

You remember the rest.

                    —Chuck

Pastoral Traps: Rationalization and Unaccountability

I know a minister who began to live a lifestyle of sensuality. He got around it by preaching the doctrine of “privacy.” I’ve never seen anything near the doctrine of privacy in Scripture, but he found it. (I should say he forced it!) And it became one of his major messages.

When black-and-white facts are whitewashed, when wrong is justified with a defensive spirit, when inappropriate actions are quickly glossed over and/or denied—watch out. Something’s wrong. Rationalization is occurring.

As pastors, we have to be careful that we don’t exchange our role of teaching what the Word means with a dogmatic deciding what it means. Scriptural truth must never be altered to fit the pastor’s lifestyle; it’s the other way around.

We are to be accountable—not isolated islands of independence. Sustaining unaccountability in a pastor’s life is like moral quicksand. Beware of becoming a secretive and untouchable man. And by all means, don’t rationalize your way around it by claiming, “I am God’s anointed.” Please . . . don’t go there. Don’t even think it! You are the Lord’s servant. So am I.

No matter how eloquent or how competent we become, none of us is above accountability. It’s good for us. We need it. Otherwise, rationalization may worm its way into our pulpits . . . or, worse, into our hearts.

                    —Chuck

Stubborn Independence

I’ll never forget a principle I first heard from Francis Schaeffer while attending one of his lectures. There he stood in knickers and a turtleneck sweater, delivering a message to a group of young, idealistic listeners—many of us struggling to find our way. I heard him say this again and again: “The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way. The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way. The Lord’s work must be done the Lord’s way.”

If you’re in a hurry, you can make it work your way. It may have a pure motive and all the marks of spirituality, but it won’t be the Lord’s way. Stop and realize that.

John Pollock, in his splendid book The Apostle, states,

The irony was not lost on him that the mighty Paul, who had originally approached Damascus with all the panoply of the high priest’s representative, should make his last exit in a fish basket, helped by the very people he had come to hurt.1

That about says it all, doesn’t it?

Just to set the record straight, our lives and ministries are not caught “in the fell clutch of circumstance.” Our heads are not to be “bloodied, but unbowed.” You and I are neither the “masters of our fate” nor the “captains of our souls.” We are to be wholly, continually, and completely dependent on the mercy of God, if we want to do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way. Paul had to learn that. So must we.

My question is: Are you learning that? If not, today would be a good day to start.

                            —Chuck

1. John Pollock, The Apostle: A Life of Paul (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1985), 45.

Trusting God in the Shadows

Have you ever felt God wasn’t using your ministry? Ever felt forgotten in the shadows? I want to dispense a fresh supply of hope. To help accomplish that, let me suggest four principles.

First, when God prepares us for effective ministry, He includes what we would rather omit—a period of waiting. That cultivates patience. As I write these words, it occurs to me that I’ve never met anyone young and patient. (To be honest, I’ve not met many old and patient folks either.) We’re all in a hurry. We don’t like to miss one panel of a revolving door. Patience comes hard in a hurry-up society. Yet it’s an essential quality for ministry, cultivated only in extended periods of waiting. Most often, God imposes it.

Second, as God makes us wait, hiding us in His shadow, He shows us we’re not indispensable. That makes us humble. One major reason the Lord removes us and has us wait in His shadow is to remind us we’re not the star attraction. We’re not indispensable. That realization cultivates genuine humility.

Third, while God hides us away, He reveals new dimensions of Himself and new insights regarding ministry. That makes us deep. What we need today is not smarter people or busier people. A far greater need is deeper people. Deep people will always have a ministry. Always. God deepens us through time spent waiting on Him.

Fourth, when God finally chooses to use us, it comes at a time least expected, when we feel the least qualified. That makes us effective. The perfect set-up for a long-lasting, effective ministry begins with surprise. “Me? You sure You don’t want that other person?” That’s the idea. It’s refreshing, in this highly efficient age, to find a few who are still amazed at the way God is using them.

Some of God’s greatest work begins in the heart of a pastor. Patience . . . humility . . . and depth. Make these your ambition even when you feel in the shadows. God alone is in charge of the results.

                            —Chuck

The Crucial Issue

What will it take to convince us that the last will be first and the first will be last? For some it will take a lifetime. For others only a few semesters in seminary.

Each May, at the end of the spring term at Dallas Theological Seminary, we have the joy of listening to the school’s top preachers. They’re nominated and selected by pastoral-ministry professors. One year a talented young man preached on that pivotal passage in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. After a compelling exposition of that simple text, the young senior class preacher leaned low into the microphone, looked across the faces in Chafer Chapel, and asked his fellow students, “Do you want to have a great ministry . . . or do you just want to be great?”

The packed chapel went silent. Nobody blinked. I’ll never forget his question. None of us will. I hope he never does either.

In a single question he captured the crucial issue: greatness. Not as the world defines it. But greatness according to the standard of the Almighty God. Great leaders are servants first. Like Paul . . . like Paul’s Master, Jesus Christ.

This is for you, and this is for me. If you’ve never submitted fully to the Master, this is your moment. If you’re still arrogant, you probably won’t be struck down with blindness or find yourself shackled in a Roman prison. That was Paul’s experience. But now that I have your attention, I suggest you take a good look within.

You do know how strong-willed and proud you are. So do the people you lead. You know how slow you are to encourage and how reluctant you are to affirm. They do too. You know if you’re greedy. You know if you’re self-serving. Frankly, it’s time to give all that up. We’re back to the crucial question: Do you want to have a great ministry, or do you just want to be great?

How you answer will determine how you lead.

                                    —Chuck

Affectionate Leaders

Good leaders have affection for people. Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God . . .” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Is that great, or what? Paul didn’t shrink from sharing his emotions with his flock. That strong man, an apostle of Christ, looking back on the Thessalonians said, in effect, “Oh, what an affection I had for you. How dear you were to me!” Those are affectionate words of intimacy.

To keep this simple and easy to remember, I want to suggest that affection for people can be demonstrated in two ways: small yet frequent acts of kindness and stated and written words of appreciation. Those you lead should have a few notes of appreciation and encouragement from you by now. They should be growing accustomed to your expressions of affection that include small yet frequent acts of kindness. No one is so important that he or she is above kindness. That aspect of leadership calls for courage and a spirit confident in God’s grace.

I came across a couplet that summarizes this point nicely:

        Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand in stone.
        Kindness in another’s trouble. Courage in your own.

I’m grieved by strong leaders who consistently walk over people. We wonder how people like that make it into significant places of influence. Here’s some free advice I give from time to time: If you don’t enjoy people, please, do us all a favor, don’t go into leadership! Choose another career stream. Everyone will be better off. Say no when you’re offered an opportunity to lead.

Neither the world nor the ministry needs more bosses. Both need more leaders––servant-hearted souls to lead as Paul led, with sensitivity and affection toward others. Love and affection, when appropriately given, fill the gap when words alone fail to comfort. If people know you love and value them, they’ll go to the wire for you. Paul told the Christians at Thessalonica that he loved them. They never got over it.

Neither will your flock.

                                                —Chuck