4 Posts from September 2011

Longhorn Sermons

There are all kinds of sermons: topical sermons, biographical sermons, expository sermons . . . and longhorn sermons—a point here, and a point there, and a lot of bull in between! It’s easy to preach those kinds of sermons, isn’t it?

A mentor of mine told me about the time he worked for an older pastor who used to come to the pulpit unprepared. So he would try to prepare during the song service.  “Lord, give me something to say,” he’d pray. “Give me Your message.” After another song he’d ask again, “Lord, give me Your message.” Every Sunday it happened.

“One day,” the pastor said, “the Lord finally gave me His message. God told me, ‘Ralph, you’re lazy. That’s my message.’”

To be blunt, the issue of pastoral sloth is one of the major battles we must fight as pastors. It breeds longhorns.

When I’m sitting there some Sunday morning during hymn number 275 and I’m trying to remember point number two of my message, there’s a quiet sweating that goes on. Because—to be honest—I feel unfaithful. I think, These people have come wanting to be fed, and I feel as if the Holy Spirit is saying, “You have not sufficiently prepared for this moment.”

So here’s what I’ve found that helps me to present myself “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

·         First of all, tell yourself the truth. If you’re faking it, you’re faking it. (Most people know it whether we admit it or not.)

·         Next, sit down with your calendar and schedule the time. Except for life-or-death situations, have your assistant cover for you. Or have your wife cover for you at home. But guard that time in the study.

·         Then, when you have time alone, stay there! It’s amazing how you can fritter away your hours—wiping dust off your books, getting a drink of water, going to the bathroom, catching an article in Time magazine. Don’t let yourself do that! Put your tail in that chair, turn that light on, get that pencil moving (or keyboard clicking), and start putting something on the page. Force the beginning of it. I force it at times. Tell the Lord you have to get this down. Ask Him to give you the thoughts. When He does, you’ll be thrilled with how it begins to fall together. I am always amazed with how God multiplies the fish and loaves I pray over.

·         Finally, after having formed the habit, explain to the board and others the value you place on those times of study. It’s not that you don’t want to be with them, but that when you are with them on Sundays, you must have a prepared mind and heart. Very few times will the board say, “We don’t believe in that.” Rather, they’ll say, “Thank you for caring enough.”

Falling into Saturday night panic is a habit. I’ve done it just enough to know I don’t want to go there another time.

Discipline is also a habit, I’ve discovered.

It kills those longhorns.

—Chuck

Make or Mar Your Ministry

I don’t think the Lord gives mates to us pastors to frustrate us.

God gives a pastor a wife for life, knowing full well that it will take time to cultivate that relationship. In fact, when we give our time to our spouse, we are demonstrating devotion to Christ. I don’t think we’re missing out on anything God has for us to do at the church.

A passage we’ve read many times—maybe even preached—also applies to those of us who are engaged in ministry: “But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:33–34).

Unfortunately, we live in a day in which people think if our activity is not at the church, it lacks devotion to Jesus. As pastors, we can believe that lie if we don’t continually guard against it.

One of my cherished mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, once made a tremendous statement: “Your marriage will either make or mar your ministry.”

It has taken years for me to get my arms around that significant statement . . . and I’m still learning the truth of its implications.

Does spending time with your wife take away from your time with God and your work for God?

In a word: Yes.

And it should.

—Chuck

Serving Good Sermons

Dr. Bruce Waltke tells the story of his wife’s days in home economics in college. They did a test on two white mice, feeding them two completely different diets. They fed the first mouse whole milk, wheat bread, oatmeal, carrots, and fruit juices. They fed the second mouse coffee and doughnuts for breakfast, white bread and jelly for lunch, candy, potato chips, and Coke for supper. Can you guess the results?

In less than ten days there were marked differences in the two mice. One was healthy and robust, dancing around in the cage. The other one was already showing signs of ill health, losing its hair, becoming irritable, and preferring solitude. As the diet continued, the second mouse soon lay down completely listless and shortly thereafter, died. Why?

Wrong diet.

Let’s apply this to our pulpits. If we feed our congregations the wrong food—spiritually speaking—they will wind up listless, irritable, weak, and lacking inner peace. But if we feed them the right diet of God’s Word and the living water of life, the difference in their spiritual health will be remarkable.

I heard of a young minister who frequently boasted that all the time he needed to prepare his Sunday sermon was the few moments it took to walk to the church from the parsonage next door. You could probably guess what the congregation voted to do: They bought a new parsonage eight miles away!

True, serving good, healthy sermons is hard work, my brothers. But what a difference it will make on others . . . and in ourselves!

—Chuck

Balance

My word to those of us engaged in ministry can be summed up in four words: keep a healthy balance.

If you teach, also remain a good student. Stay teachable. Read. Listen. Learn. Observe. Be ready to change. And then . . . change! Admit wrong when you are wrong. Stand firm where you know you are right. Since you are called to be leader, make sure you also follow well. You cannot do it all, so delegate and deliberately allow others to help you. And when they do it well, give them the credit. Our calling is serious, so cultivate a good sense of humor.

Laugh often, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself! I do that at least once a week! And once a year, I sit down and laugh out loud. Here’s why. Recordings are made of my messages—which is sort of a frightening thought to begin with. At the end of the year those who do the work of putting the messages on the radio give me a CD of all the things they took out during that year. It’s sort of a “Christmas gift.” Some have even had the audacity to play this CD at an Insight for Living Christmas party for others to hear and enjoy. I cannot believe some of the dumb things I have said! It is enough to reduce one to the size of an ant. A very small ant.

I like to say to other pastors what I often tell myself: Take God seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. That helps us stay balanced.

—Chuck