Preaching from The Soul

I came across this verse in my morning reading.  I thought it very appropriate for those of us who pastor a church.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Psalm 66:16)

Our preaching, at least to some measure, needs to be autobiographical.  We can’t take God’s Word and run it only through our mind before we deliver it to those we serve.  We also must let the scripture flow through our heart and soul.

The Danger of Being in the Middle of Ministry

Beginning and ending are the easy parts. It’s slogging through the middle that gets us every time.

When I start a project, whether an up-and-coming event at the church, a writing project, or a home improvement project, it’s usually exciting. When you start something you have high hopes and big dreams.

The ending can be fairly easy as well. After all, you’re near the end! Like a person or a horse running the race you can pour it on. You’re just about done, what you’ve been planning for and working for is just about here. There’s the energy that comes from being almost done.

It’s that middle that gets us most of the time. We’ve lost the excitement of starting and we’re not close enough to the end to feed off the excitement of having it conclude. We’re in the no man’s land of the middle. The ancients called it the “noonday demon.” One of the seven deadly sins, sloth, often comes to visit us when we’re in the middle of things. We’re at dead center and we feel dead!

Those of us who are pastors find ourselves in the middle of ministry for a long time, for the middle is much bigger than either the beginning or ending. The middle of ministry is extra challenging when results aren’t forthcoming as we had expected in the beginning when optimism fueled our efforts. The hope to hear the Lord’s “well done” seems a long way off.

have been pastoring the same church for nearly 37 years and have said on several occasions that I pastor one of the slowest growing churches in the country!  I’ve often struggled with my feelings and attitude as I’ve experienced what I think are less than stellar results for my efforts.  “When are things going to really start happening?” I wonder.

Over the years I’ve not identified any quick fix for ministering well in the middle, just the faithful affirmation and application of some key principles I preach on regularly for the Lord’s people that I need to take seriously myself! First, I’m called to be faithful, not “successful” as the world defines success, or how even I or my peers are often tempted to define success. Second, I need to focus on that which I love about ministry and not fixate on that which isn’t the way I’d like it to be in ministry. Third, my identity is not in what I do but in who I am, who I am in Christ. Fourth, embrace the day by giving thanks for today’s manna of sustenance from the Lord and the other blessings I can identify while doing the tasks He’s assigned for me, just for today.

An Encouraging Word

Was doing my early morning reading and these phrases from Psalm 61 hit home with me.  Good to remember as I carry out my vow to pastor His people.  “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge…So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.” (vs. 1-3,8)

Lord, help me to sing your praises as I go about carrying out my vow to pastor your people.  Help me to embrace the day with a good measure of joy as I stand on You, my Rock!  Amen.

(Photo is one of mine)

This Quote Certainly Applies to Pastors!

The Pareto Principle for the Pastor’s Heart

My wife and I are reading through a book on marriage by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs called The Love & Respect Experience. In this book Eggerichs suggests couples use the 80/20 ratio. He says that no marriage is perfect, that there  might be, say, 20% we’d like to see different. He suggests, though, that we focus on the 80% of the marriage that’s going well.

I’ve heard of the 80/20 ratio before. It’s called the Pareto principle, from the observation of an Italian named Pareto, that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people. The Pareto principle has been applied in a great many areas. It’s suggested that 80% of sales comes from 20% of the customers. Leadership folks suggest that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.

I’m thinking it would be advantageous to apply the Pareto principle to the pastor’s heart. When I look at my ministry I can quickly and easily identify that which I don’t like about it and aspects of the ministry that aren’t going as I’d like. This is what I think about the most and fixate on the majority of the time. The reality is that most of the time there’s a great portion of the ministry that’s going along in a satisfactory manner, maybe about 80%. My problem is that I focus on the 20% that’s not going well, allowing it to have disproportionate influence on my attitude.

I’ve recently noticed in my reading of the apostle Paul’s letters how often he used the word “thanks” and its derivatives in his epistles: 46 times! This from a man who, in the same letters, was addressing some serious issues and problems he saw in the churches to which he was writing. Paul had some serious issues with the Christians at Corinth but he was even thankful when it came to them. He wrote them, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4) He was thankful for God extending His grace to them; he really had to stretch to find a reason to express thanks for them – that they were undeserved recipients of God’s goodness, emphasis on undeserved!  The Pareto principle was Paul’s principle too.

Sure, there are things I’m not satisfied with in my ministry. There are issues and people I wish would change or go away. Often, not always, but often, these negatives are the minority, the 20%. I need to determine that I’m not going to let the minority rule! The 80% of my ministry that evokes thanksgiving to God deserves most of my focus. I’m thinking the Pareto principle is a good one to apply to the pastor’s heart!

I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3)

Different Technology?

In my never ending quest to expand the influence of my sermons I’m trying a different technology, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. OK, I’m kidding.

Remember 8 tracks? They’re so old you rarely even find them on garage sales – better start looking in antique shops.

I want to stay fresh in my ministry, and I’m thinking it has less to do with keeping up with technology and more to do with the nurturing of my soul. Am I regularly feeding my soul with new material, not necessarily with the latest copyright but new to me (which includes the old classics)?

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (Psalm 98:1)

All Parishioners, Strange and Wonderful

The late James Herriot (1916-1965) was author of such best sellers as All Creatures Great and Small. Herriot was a country veterinarian in England. In his books he tells stories of going about the English countryside treating animals of all kinds.

What is most interesting, however, is his description of the owners of those animals. He would describe in vivid detail what they looked like, how they talked, and, most importantly, their often quirky characteristics. It made you want to be there, to experience the visit with him, though often he found himself wading through weeds or trudging through manure to get to the animal needing treatment.

The people Herriot encountered in his rounds as a veterinarian are much the same people I encounter in my pastoral visits, just the names are different! There were James and Rose, both heavy set, mainly because Rose was such a good cook! At a church potluck I tasted her baked chicken, which was absolutely wonderful! I asked her for the recipe, thinking my wife and I could make it. The next Sunday she gave me the recipe, on three recipe cards! There must have been fifty steps to making that chicken dish! We never did make it.

There was Bill, a simple-minded man. He lived in a small trailer just down the street from the church. Bill had the annoying habit of sniffing, inhaling air in quick, short bursts. He loved pie so my wife baked him one and gave it to him packed in a pie box. He took the box, proceeded to tuck it sideways under his arm, and took it home! We never did find out the condition of the pie by the time he got home and opened the box.

Then there was Dick. He sat with his wife in the second pew to my right while I preached. Every Sunday, partway through the sermon, Dick would reach into his pocket, remove a piece of candy, and proceed to unwrap it from the cellophane packaging, making this loud crinkling sound as if he were stoking a small bonfire in his hands!

The people I serve! I just gotta love ‘em! James Herriot’s description of the unique characters he came across as a veterinarian make for enjoyable reading. Thanks to him I find I can more easily move from annoyance to appreciation of the unique, peculiar, and sometimes downright odd people God’s called me to serve as pastor.

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