5 Posts from February 2009

The Power of Your Words

We preachers talk a lot. In fact, we get paid to talk each Sunday morning. I have found, as I know you have, too, that God’s Word has a way of cutting right through life like a hot knife through butter. Sometimes God’s Word is so “fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11 AMP) that we can’t believe someone hasn’t been looking through our keyhole or reading our mail. Those who hear us preach feel the same way.

Recently a man came up to me after a church service and said, “My wife talked to you, didn’t she?”

 “No,” I answered, “she didn’t.”

“Come on, level with me, Chuck. She called you this week, didn’t she?”

“No, she didn’t call me this week.” The words he heard that day from God’s Word were so specific and so penetrating, he was convinced that I had talked to the one who knew his particular struggle. I’m sure you have had similar conversations.

Your words have the power to change someone’s life. One of the greatest messages we pastors can communicate is the message of Christlike character—both from our lips and from our lives. You want to know how to make an impact in your church where it seems like nobody cares about spiritual things? Here’s how: Speak like Christ and live like Christ. I guarantee you, over a period of time it’ll make a difference. Even when they don’t seem to want to hear your words, continue to live like Christ. It won’t be ignored.

I recently heard someone say: “The only Bible the world reads is the daily life of the Christian. And what the world needs now is a revised version.” I like that! How about offering a revised version of the Christian life to the people with whom you minister? In this day in which the church has run wild with scandal, and has left the non-believer with false impressions of genuine followers of the Savior, this is a great day to write and live a revised version of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

As crucial as our sermons are, they only have impact when they’re backed up by a godly life. As Paul said, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Your words have the power to change someone’s life. How? Because the congregation can see that the message you’re preaching has changed your own life.


Pros and Cons of Gaining a Following

It is hazardous to be a successful leader. It is especially hazardous to be a successful spiritual leader.

In addition to the fight with one’s ego, there are always the dogged, relentless attacks of the enemy. These assaults plead for a place in the flesh, longing to look through the eyes of the pastor and count the number of followers. These and many other hazards tempt us to turn the whole calling of ministry into a tragic—albeit subtle—ego trip.

Let me mention some of the pros and cons that accompany a pastor gaining a following. Among the pros, I would start with the obvious fact that large numbers of people are being helped—for which we are very grateful. There’s nothing wrong with that. The truth of God spreads farther and wider than before. Even revival can sweep into a community as a result of persistent praying and good expository preaching.

Another pro would be that loyal followers who pray provide protection from that which could otherwise distract or discourage. Isn’t it reassuring and relieving to know that many people pray regularly for us as pastors? I have people who remind me somewhat regularly, “You’re in our prayers. We ask God’s protection for you. We’re lifting you up this week.” That is a marvelous benefit—to be shielded by the prayers and support of loyal people.

The con side of having large numbers is that it’s easy for a pastor to become enamored with himself. Far too easy. He can begin to see himself in a role of power that dispenses God’s wisdom, sees its supernatural effects, and takes all the glory personally. The temptation is so subtle, isn’t it? Pride is always ready to take over. Let me encourage you to take God seriously, but don’t take yourself all that seriously.

The downside of gaining a following is that popularity can begin a drift into a cult-like culture. A pastor can become so aware of his own indispensability that he starts to speak ex cathedra—or so he thinks. His opinions are revered on par with Scripture. The elders would never think of crossing him—for fear of losing him and the crowds he gathers (and the money they give). The result? The pastor is no longer accountable. That’s terribly frightening. That’s why I surround myself with a group of men who aren’t that impressed with me . . . and who hold my feet to the fire. I hope you have a similar group around you.

Spiritual leadership is hazardous work. But if we walk with a healthy fear of the dangers of success—and take practical methods to avoid them—we can enjoy the benefits of gaining a following . . . and marvel that God would condescend to use us in His work.


Marks of a Strong Family

Despite the pessimistic headlines announcing that the family is an endangered species, I refuse to sigh and give up hope. Who says “endangered” means doomed? If we’re ingenious enough to preserve the bison, the whooping crane, and the humpbacked whale, I’m convinced we can preserve the family. The “want to” is certainly there with a lot of us—especially us preachers.

Professor Nick Stinnett launched a fascinating study some years ago. All sorts of questions were asked to families from many backgrounds, cultures, and countries. His research represented a wide swath of the families of humanity. The goal? Very simply, to discover what makes families strong.

Dr. Stinnett writes of his findings:

All together, we studied 3,000 families and collected a lot of information. But when we analyzed it all, we found six main qualities in strong families. Strong families:

•    are committed to the family,
•    spend time together,
•    have good family communication,
•    express appreciation to each other,
•    gave a spiritual commitment, and are able to solve problems in a crisis.1

Look back over that list. There is enough there to fill out your preaching calendar for the rest of the year! When I first came across this information, I used it not only as the basis for a miniseries of pulpit messages on the family, but I also posted that list in my home. It became the topic of numerous conversations among the Swindoll tribe! I would suggest you try the same experiment with your family.

Then preach it.


1 Nick Stinnett, “Six Qualities that Make Families Strong,” chapter one in Family Building: Six Qualities of a Strong Family, ed. Dr. George Rekers (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1985), p 38. 

A Special Invitation to Pastors

As we anticipate the summer season, let me tell you about an exciting opportunity. I want to invite you, my fellow pastors, as well as your spouses, to join Cynthia and me, along with several hundred other conferees, on the upcoming Insight for Living 2009 Alaska Cruise, June 28–July 5, 2009.

As ministers of the gospel, we all need words of encouragement from one another. Having spent more than forty-five years in ministry, I fully understand the pressures that you face. I’ve been there. . . . I am there! In spite of its immense privileges, serving in full-time ministry can be challenging. You need to know you’re not alone.

I hope that you will join us. You will have an opportunity to learn a lot and to  be very encouraged and refreshed throughout the week.


Selecting Your Elders . . . Be Careful!

Every church is the lengthening shadow of those who lead it. Therefore, no issue is more important in any church than having the most-qualified people who model true spirituality serving in leadership as elders. This explains why the lists of qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) are so strict and demanding. Unfortunately, in most churches of America the method of appointing and selecting those who lead is skewed. In those churches leaders are chosen by majority vote, having been selected because the candidates are good businessmen or popular among the congregation or wealthy or long-time members or well-known, impressive individuals in the community. Nice and important as those factors may be, they have nothing to do with whether a person is qualified to be a servant leader, able to guide the flock of God in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

Being a spiritual leader calls for qualities only the Lord can cultivate in a person’s heart. It has to do with maturity, not popularity . . . inner character, not external image . . . faithfulness and godliness at home with one’s family, rather than being successful and influential in the marketplace . . . gentle and peaceable in difficult/complicated situations, rather than strong-willed, argumentative, and intimidating . . . competent and accurate in handling the Scriptures, rather than a mover and a shaker in the midst of “church politics,” a person of humility, sensitivity, and grace, one who is genuinely submissive to the Lord’s will, not someone who is power-hungry or operates with his own agenda (to name only a few contrasts). The qualified individual is vulnerable, quick to acknowledge his own limitations, weaknesses, and inadequacies. He has known great personal pain, experienced loss, failure, grief, and brokenness, which qualify him to deal wisely and compassionately with sheep who struggle and/or stray. Such broken vessels have inner strength of character, great depth of understanding, and patient endurance through hard times. They remain committed to the discipline of prayer, to doing what is right according to scriptural guidelines, and to sacrificing their own time and energy without reluctance, self-pity or complaint.

Since Christ is the “head of the body, the church,” He must “have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18). And that means everything! In other words, whoever serves in leadership as an elder must be willing to listen to Him above all, honor and obey Him above all, please Him above all, and exalt Him above all.

It isn’t difficult to realize that those qualities are rare, not only in the church at large, but equally so in the ranks of the local church. Therefore, it takes time to find such individuals, to observe their lives as they serve others over the long haul, and then to determine if they are the Lord’s choice. Such a decision calls for prevailing prayer, keen observation, wise discernment, waiting on the Lord, and finally unforced, mutual agreement among those already serving in leadership. That process takes an enormous amount of time and patience.