I was chatting with a friend recently when I drifted onto the topic of ministry and how my philosophy has changed over the years. After rambling on for a few minutes I was told, “you need to post that for others. I am sure there are lots of folks who feel like you do, but don’t have the courage to say it.”
Now in all fairness to the topic, I have taken two lengthy sabbaticals from preaching. The first was after I went through a painful divorce and didn’t think I would ever preach again. The second was after helping with a church plant in what was supposed to be a temporary position (that wasn’t so temporary). I learned a lot being away from the pulpit and doing “real work” as some like to call it. So here are the basics of what I share with elderships who think they may want me to preach for them:
- Keep it Real – yes, I know this sounds so trite and overused, but let me explain. By keeping it real what I mean is that I don’t live in glass houses anymore. The most effective work in my life was when I was the “interim preacher” and I could say what I wanted and be true to who I was. People genuinely appreciated that the preacher openly admitted his sins, and didn’t try to hide his weaknesses from the church. I think it motivated others to be open and honest about their lives.
- Transparency – this goes with #1. We preach to people about the church being a place you can bring your troubles, sorrows, heartaches and even your sins, but does the leadership model that kind of behavior? How can we expect everyday members to be open and honest when their leadership gives the impression they have it all together. Last month an elder at my home congregation told a personal story of failure in serving as a shepherd. My respect for him grew immensely that day.
- I’m just another guy around town. Local members of the community need to see you as just another guy around town. I hunt with local friends, have a cup of coffee with people I have met and I try to create an atmosphere where they are not afraid to be themselves in front of the preacher. I went fishing with a friend and he pulled a beer out of his cooler and watched me out of the corner of his eye to see what I would do. You might criticize this, but that was not the place to preach a sermon on the “evils of alcohol,” that is if you honestly believe that one beer is going to send someone to hell.
- Preaching needs to be relevant more than its academic. Sure its fun to know who Mahershalalhashbaz is (spell check will never get that one), but I am hard pressed to find a way to preach about Isaiah’s son in such a way that it gives people food for thought for the week, strengthens their faith, or challenges them to live better. But can’t we all relate to Jonah just not wanting to do what God called him to do, or David’s temptation as he looked down on a naked Bathsheba? The Bible is full of real-world illustrations for the problems and sins we face each day.
- I don’t punch a clock! Most of the places I have worked are smaller communities and I am not hard to find. If you want to make an impact in the community get out of the office and meet people. I am more likely to study at a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts than at the office (this is a Dunkin post today). If you need someone to answer the phone, either route it to my cell phone, or hire a secretary. Ministry is about being among the people.
- In my personal journey towards the cross I am searching for God’s will, not some theological treatise to guide my path. An elder in Florida put it well when he said, “During the restoration era we had men of faith searching for truth, today we have men of truth searching for faith.” If you don’t get that the first time round, mediate on it for a while. I want to be a man of faith, and I know God will lead me to truth. In seeking his will, you may not always like what I have to say. It took a long time to realize God has charged us to lead people to Him – pulling out an outline on “3 keys to a happy life,” late on a Saturday night is not going to inspire people to seek out God in their lives.
- Damn the Torpedo’s – preach what needs to be said. If you are unfamiliar with that term it originated in the Battle of Mobile in 1864 when Rear Admiral David Farragut ran the mine fields of Mobile Bay that had just destroyed one of his ironclad monitors, but gained victory of 3 key forts protecting Mobile. Ministry is just that – a mine field of critics, naysayers and like Jesus we need to say, “get behind me Satan – your a stumbling block and an offense” (Matthew 16:23). Peter was interfering with Jesus mission and he didn’t have time for such foolishness – neither do I.
- Finally, model empathy and compassion. I recently talked to a friend who has struggled for years with “church.” Much of that is his own doing. He has made a lot of mistakes, but he was surprised when I called and invited him to our Bible study. He hasn’t been going to church, has enough baggage to fill a 747 Jumbo Jet, but deep down he is searching for God. There are lots of those folks out there if we will just show a little love, empathy and compassion.
Well, thats my list, sorry I don’t have 10 Steps to Effective Ministry. I would love to hear what you think.