AIRPLANE MODE AND OTHER ADVENTURES

This going to work every day again has been a difficult adjustment. The biggest adjustment has been reacquiring some skill sets that I previously had mastered, but lost due to atrophy. It is true–use it or lose it. Here are some things I need to work on:

1. The important skill of remembering to turn your iPhone to airplane mode if you intend to use it to read scripture during a worship service. Easter Sunday it was still dark (and rainy) when the sunrise service began, so I thought myself clever using my iPhone to read the scripture because of the backlight. In the middle of Isaiah my phone asks me if i want to update. I tell it no. It asks if tonight is good. Rather embarrassing.

2. I had forgotten how hard announcements are. I flubbed them up royally yesterday, and even had to rearrange on the fly. Once upon a time announcements were seamless to me and I spoke the language of “put on your calendars” and “you will not want to miss” as if it were my mother tongue. Now I stammer and stutter all the way through.

3. Time management is the hardest. I grossly overestimated how much time I had between small group and worship service yesterday.

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Another skill to reacquire is keeping my eyes open while preaching.

The result was we started everything several minutes later than we intended, thus pushing everything late.

4. Temperature control, for me, is vital. If I get too warm when I am preaching my throat gets hoarse, I cough, and then I feel myself losing energy. That happened yesterday because I did not make certain the thermostat was set at the right temperature. By the time I left the building, I was in need of hydration and a throat lozenge. I used to be on top of things like that, but somehow along the way I’d forgotten.

5. I didn’t make it to the back of the building quick enough on any of the first three weeks. That has got to change, because I have found, through the years, that a lot of pastoring happens at the back of the door after a worship service.

There are other things I’ve got to re-learn, but these are the ones that are bothering me on this Monday morning.

PASTORAL ADVICE

I’ve written several blogs of late on “advice,” varying from money, marriage, children, and a few other things.  One thing I know a little something about is pastoring, so today’s blog is advice for pastors about pastoring.  So that probably makes for a smaller audience, but hey, it’s what I know so here we go.

1.  Make certain your children live in as normal a home as possible.  A pastor has a special responsibility to safeguard his or her children and spouse from the crazy, erratic, and emotionally depleting world they have to work in every day.

2.  Take a sabbath day once a week.  Sunday and Saturday do not count because you work very hard on those days.  I always took Friday, most people take Monday.  Monday never worked for me because I always felt so drained on Monday that when I took that day off I didn’t feel like enjoying anything.  That is when I decided to go on into work on Monday.  If I was going to feel bad I might as well not do it on my own time.  On your sabbath refuse to answer the phone, and train your spouse not to answer her’s/his either because they will call her/him to get to you.  I wish I’d had the strength to hang up the phone immediately whenever I answered and they said, “I know it is your day off but . . . ”   It always ruined my day.

3.  Read books, but don’t read so many churchy books.  I regret spending so much of my time reading one ‘how to do church book’ right after the other.  Maybe pick about five of them that others recommend and then stop, perhaps then reading one more every other year.  Instead read literature (Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Wilde, Shakespeare) and current best sellers.  I also wish I’d read more history and thrillers and less about church.

4.  Accept the fact that church is a broken institution and live in the midst of that brokenness.  People are messed up (including you) and that makes it impossible to have the perfect church system, so stop trying to make it perfect.  You are only wasting your time.

5.  Work hard at pastoring on two fronts.  The most important front is learning to pastor the system(s) of your church.  I know that is counter-intuitive, but trust me it is the most important aspect of what you do regardless of your church’s size.  You have to learn to think systemically and then fix, repair, change, grow and adapt the systems of the church you lead.  The second front is learn to pastor people in their crisis moments.  It is faddish today, especially among those untucked goateed Calvinist pastors to neglect classic pastoral ministry but it is vital for the long term health, credibility, and integrity of people of faith.  Learn how to do a funeral the right way.  Go to the hospital.  Visit the nursing home.  Show up unannounced at a home in crisis.  Dedicate babies.  Learn some liturgy.  Conduct marriage counseling.  Be a pastor, not just a CEO.

6.  Watch your back, at all times and really, I mean this, trust no one.  If you want an example, just read the Bible.  My small group right now is learning about Moses.  Yeah, you see how the people he led treated him.  They will do no better by you.  Love them, but don’t trust them.  Jesus didn’t trust the people around him either (John 2:24).

7.  Learn to say no.

8.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

9.  You’re not the solution to every problem.

10.  Make decisions and stick with them.  One of the greatest defects I saw in pastors and in churches was their inability to make a decision about most anything.

11.  Never use shame, guilt, or manipulation to get people to do things.  That is not how the Kingdom of God works.

12.  One more–enjoy what you do, this divine calling that is also our daily work, or else it will become a bitter pill.  I decided a long time ago that I would have fun, always, because I couldn’t control other people’s enjoyment level anyway.  Therefore, I might as well have a good time.  Yeah, there will be hard times and difficult moments but there must be a level of satisfaction, deep in your soul, that the work you are doing matters.

QUESTIONS FOR PREACHERS or THE HOMILETICAL INTERROGATIVE

So these are always fun.  This morning’s inbox included an email article from sermoncentral.com.  I never preach other people’s sermons, but years ago I uploaded a couple to their website thinking others might be able to use them and ever since I get these articles.  Some are good.  Some are  bad.  Some are ugly.  Today’s was actually pretty good.  It was written by a man named Joel Mayward, whom I do not know.  His profile on his blog indicates he is a youth minister in B.C. and that he was born in Tacoma, Washington.  So, he can’t be all that bad.

Pastor Joel Mayward--He Has Questions
Pastor Joel Mayward–He Has Questions

His article was a list of five questions, all beginning with “Does it. . .

  1. Clearly point to Jesus?
  2. Speak to Christians?
  3. Speak to non-Christians?
  4. Speak to the heart/attitude?
  5. Give people something to do immediately?

I like Joel’s list.  It is meaningful and would help anyone working to sharpen their skills.  My only critique is that I think #1 could get lost in the idea of people wanting to always present a Gospel invitation message.  I believe a sermon should be Christo-centric, but that doesn’t mean every sermon is “here is how you can become a Christ-follower.”  Christ-centered is more about the worldview being presented.  I also think Joel has a different perception of The Homiletical Plot than I do.

But those are nitpicking kind of things.  I really think he is on target, and I especially like #5 as a rhetorical technique in our age.  A sermon really should have something that a hearer can follow up with pretty quickly.

However, I have my own list of questions that I ask regarding my sermons.  Some of these get done while I write them, some get asked as I edit it  down on Saturday mornings, and some get asked in the heat of the moment.

1.  Have I accurately portrayed the main point of the text?  The sermon has work to do, and that work is to communicate the biblical material, preferably as one overarching theme which unifies the sermon.  If it fails to do that, then it is time to get out the red ink.

2.  Will my hearers know that I care?  This is the question that differentiates between speaking and pastoring.  Many people are great speakers, but pastoring requires a different skill set.  The pastor will always be thinking about the connection he or she is making to individual people as the sermon is being prepared and delivered.  For our hearers to know that we care about them as individual people, even when we are delivering difficult material, is vital to living together in the community of faith.

3.  Do I have all my materials?  About half the time when I preach I have a prop, a slide, a book or some other visual that facilitates the logic of the sermon.  It is important that I make sure all of these items are in order.  This includes my iPad, which is what I use to read the Bible from and which has the order of service.  In general I need to do this about an hour before the service starts or I will be in trouble.  If I wait till the last minute, they might start without me and then I am disheveled the whole day.

4.  Is my fly zipped?  Never underestimate the importance of that question.  I suppose if the preacher were female there might be other grooming/clothing/wardrobe malfunctions to tend to, but I don’t know what those would be.  For me, it is the fly.

5.  Do I know how this sermon ends?  Have you ever heard someone preach and as he preaches you’re thinking, “He has no idea how to land this plane?”  It is a sad situation to have worked so hard on a premise, a textual exposition, illustrations, stories, and propositions and then to not clearly know how it should end and when to end it.  In sermon prep I ask this question because it helps me whittle away material that doesn’t lead up to the ending.  Just before I preach I ask this question to keep my mind disciplined because the temptation is always there to chase rabbits and follow tangents.  I must stay on target, and get to the conclusion.

There are many other good questions that probably need to be asked before a sermon is preached.  These might include, “Why am I preaching this sermon?” or “How would Jesus tact with this text and topic?” as well as “Is there some way I can make this sermon unique and different from the way everyone else in town would preach it?”  But, Mayward only had five questions, so for symmetry’s sake, I’ll leave my list at five.