November 6, 2019
You may know us, but then again you may not. Preachers have a way of hiding behind the pulpit. We can easily be stereotyped. Through experience we often learn to become very guarded and protective of our hearts and homes. Paradoxically though we often feel obligated to give even more of ourselves into our ministry. We come in all shapes, sizes and giftedness–and you may be surprised to learn:
- The church is our life. For better or worse it is difficult for this not to be true. We pour all of ourselves into our ministry in the church. Preaching is not simply a vocation–it is essentially our identity. As a result the church becomes our life. We become consumed with its health and growth. Remember that old joke about preachers only working four hours a week? We may force a smile as it is told, but trust me we are not laughing. Actually–honestly most of us would consider it condescending. This is also why we tend to take it personally when someone leaves our church. We process it as a rejection of us and our ministry efforts within the church. No, that is not a healthy approach or necessarily an accurate assessment, but one almost impossible to avoid. This also explains the tortured look on your preacher’s face when he hears that you decided to go to the lake/ball game/whatever rather than attend the big, special, highly promoted Sunday at church. He has spent weeks planning that Sunday. Hours spent in prayer. His hope is that Sunday will spark a spiritual renewal in someone. It is a huge deal to him and for it to be so easily dismissed by others is disappointing. I am not saying it is fair to hold everyone to our expectations–just explaining who we are. The best way I can describe how the church becomes our life is a quote attributed to Cecil May, Jr. (as told by his son Cecil III). Someone once commented to Cecil, Jr., “I wish I had a job that I never had to clock into.” Cecil, Jr. replied, “I wish I had a job I could clock out of.” I do not make this point as either complaint or as some outstanding virtue–only as informative. To understand your preacher, understand that the church is his life (his family certainly knows it).
- We are an insecure bunch. This is a layered discussion. The first layer is within us. I think God calls some of the most naturally insecure folks to preach. It could be his way of demonstrating his strength within our weak vessels (see 2 Corinthians 12:10). Of course, we have a job in which it is difficult to quantify results. We work with volunteers with varying commitment levels–some of whom occasionally find it necessary to remind us of our insecurities. We wonder regularly if our preaching is connecting and effective. Then there is the church layer. Most churches encourage and support their preachers well, but some don’t. Almost every preacher I know has a horror story or three about mistreatment by good brothers and sisters. Financially, churches as-a-whole do better than previous generations. Yet the overwhelming majority of preachers continue to not have the benefits that those hiring them take for granted–health insurance, retirement, etc. All of this breeds insecurity. I was once told (by someone not a preacher) that this is the way it is supposed to be; that preachers are supposed to live off the gospel. While I do not disagree that we are to walk by faith, I am not sure how an atmosphere of insecurity is helpful or healthy for any preacher or any church.
- We may resist close friendships. I mentioned that we are good at hiding behind pulpits, which can be challenging in making long-term, close connections. There are reasons behind this, of course. First we fight against stereotyping. Often people have fairly strong preconceptions about preachers–making various assumptions about us because we preach. Once at a church workday, a church member expressed surprise that I could use a hammer. Such stereotyping can prevent folks from ever getting beyond that in order to develop a deeper relationship outside of the church walls. Another factor here is betrayal–having trusted someone with intimate information or personal challenges only to have that information shared and even used against us. It does happen. Preachers can be extremely vulnerable within certain church settings. There is no such thing as tenure (part of the overall insecurities) and especially if a preacher has been burned, it can be a challenge to be open to close friendships within the congregation. This is not always the case, of course, but there is a reason that for many preachers–their best friends are other preachers. So if you have ever wondered why your preacher may resist developing a deeper friendship with you–it likely has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with some past unpleasant experience.
- We can be our own worst enemies. I like to say that preachers are people too. We deal with the same temptations, tendencies, and trepidations as everyone else. We make mistakes–plenty of them. Ego can get in our way and we can lose perspective along with the ability to listen to sound advice. We can hurt and betray others. We can develop bitterness and cynicism. Our preaching can become imbalanced with agendas other than “Christ and him crucified” creeping in. All of this is on us and we have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves against such. Most of us understand this and strive to not disqualify ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 9:27) or our ministry through harmful behavior and lazy preaching. It is also a matter of maturity. Just like others in their professions, we learn as we grow with sometimes-painful lessons being the best schoolteacher. Looking back in my ministry I have been my own worst enemy on numerous occasions, which makes me even more overwhelmingly grateful for good churches and godly elders who were more than patient with me.
The Bible describes the feet of those who proclaim God’s message as “beautiful” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). I am not sure how many of us who preach see ourselves that way. We get the thought, but we also live with ourselves and are more than acquainted with our failures and weaknesses. But we would not have it any other way. Preaching–well that is just who we are.
October 26, 2016
I am intimately familiar with preacher fails. I have lived through a host of my own. Here are five common ones.
- Lack of discipline. Usually the church world allows quite a bit of daily freedom for preachers to be about their ministry. This freedom can be easily taken advantage of—preachers staying at home and away—not being fully engaged in productive ministry. We preachers already put up with the “you only work three hours a week” barbs. Let’s not allow laziness and lack of discipline to give that any credence. Instead let’s fully “carry out the ministry God has given” us (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT).
- Inattention to study. Lack of discipline can also lead to sloppy study habits, which in turn damages our ability to effectively speak truth in love. Don’t take shortcuts on sermon preparation. We should put the proper study time in—so that we can be both confident in our presentation and content; that we are in fact handling correctly the Word of God.
- Inability to listen. I once was convinced that I pretty much had all of the answers and I was eager to share them! Failure on my part to appreciate and to listen to other’s council, to hear proper constructive criticism, to simply learn from wiser and more experienced people hurt my ministry at times. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak!
- Complaining. Everyone needs a place to vent on occasion—the same is true for preachers, but be very careful not to be seen as a whiner or complainer. This can undermine ministry. I have participated in and heard my fair share of elder roasts, how-terrible-my-church-is conversations, and complaints about everything from salaries to worship style. If things need improving usually complaining or whining is not the catalyst to make it happen. Instead let’s try to do all things without complaining and grumbling (Philippians 2:14).
- People Pleasing. We all desire affirmation—preachers are no exception. And as preachers we certainly want to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I may save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), but not to the point of compromising personal or biblical integrity. Ultimately we will give account of our life and ministry to God. We simply cannot allow a desire to please people set the agenda for our work. It can be harmful to us, to our families and to our ministry. There is a balance here that we all must find.
Preaching is one of the most noble and needed callings! Let’s do it with a passion for excellence. I praise God for good preachers!
October 19, 2016
From one preacher to another I gently offer this advice for building stronger relationships within your church and with other preachers.
- Don’t go all robo-preacher. A while back I was a guest at a church. I was acquainted with the preacher, but had not talked with him recently. So I asked the “how are you” question—genuinely wanting to know how he personally was doing. I got back what I call the “robo-preacher” answer. His church was doing incredible and was growing. They had recently added more leadership and renovated their facility. He was in more demand than ever as a guest speaker at other churches and conferences. God was good! Well, okay. Glad to hear it, but that was not the question I asked. Being a preacher I recognize the tendency we have to attach our value to the good things God is doing through our ministry and those around us, but perhaps this information does not always need to be in the foreground and we need to engage others in a different way. Opportunities to share good news about our ministry will happen.
- Don’t start posturing. In one city as a new preacher I arrived late (had to find the place) at a graveside funeral service. It was raining. As I made my way to join the crowd a man kindly shared his umbrella with me. After introductions I discovered he was a fellow-preacher in town but at a church that I soon found out that was suspicious of mine. His entire demeanor changed and he began to posture over certain biblical theological positions. Later when encountering this brother, he would barely acknowledge me. I have never understood this. Even if we disagree why this treatment? Wouldn’t it be healthier and more productive to engage each other as brothers and perhaps even enjoy open dialogue about different viewpoints?
- Do Reply. Maybe this just happens to me (or maybe all of this just happens to me—I could be the common denominator creating all of these situations! LOL) but often when I email and/or call other preachers I never get any reply. Nothing. Not even a “no thank you—not interested.” It is puzzling. I know everyone is busy, but try to reply. It is the gracious thing to do. Speaking of…
- Do be gracious—to all and specifically toward other preachers. We are a brotherhood within one, you know. All preachers are not gifted the same. We all have made our mistakes (The reason I can write this post is because I recognize myself in it). Let’s be kind to each other even if and especially if—I go all robo-preacher on you or start posturing or whatever. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, encourage one another, and help each other grow in the gift of preaching. It is a gift God values highly.
I love the preaching life even with all of the insecurities and bumps along the way. The rewards far outweigh those temporary challenges. I also appreciate the work of my brothers in the pulpit. Let’s always strive to learn and grow as preachers and always try to be encouragers of each other to preach the Word!
October 26, 2015
Churches and their preachers–always an interesting relationship.
I know of wonderful stories and of horror stories. I have experienced huge doses of the former and a small taste of the latter. As a result of the latter category here are a few things I have learned–four ways not to treat your preacher.
- Do away with the comparisons. I suppose it is human nature to make comparisons. We do so consistently with almost everything, but it is not always wise–especially when it comes to preachers. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and most importantly–giftedness. We are most definitely not in competition with each other. That comparing/competitive spirit got one New Testament church in bundles of divisive trouble (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead of comparing your preacher to your favorite past preacher, how about accepting him as he is and appreciating his giftedness? This will encourage him to grow in his ministry.
- Avoid foyer ambushes. Every preacher knows about these. This is when some good church member takes issue with a sermon point and decides to air it out immediately after worship in the church foyer. Never really a good idea here. Regardless of the point being made, it becomes an embarrassing situation that puts the preacher on the defensive. Trust me, he will not hear much of what is being said and instead feel like he is being attacked. Try to speak with your preacher in a more private setting and you will likely be surprised about how cordial and profitable such a conversation can be.
- Stop the demeaning jokes. It may seem funny to tell your preacher that perhaps “he will make a good preacher one day.” Or to rib him about his salary. Or to say that he only works a few hours a week. Or to introduce him as your “little preacher.” Every preacher everywhere has heard versions of all of these and every preacher everywhere really does not care for them–even if they grin and go along. Overwhelmingly preachers take their calling seriously. It is not just a job for us–it is who we are. While we work in congregational settings with our greatest desire being for our church to be healthy, to grow, and to make a difference–we still answer above all to God. Most of us love to joke on occasion, but do not consider our calling a joke.
- Do not make your preacher starve. Okay, admittedly this is an extreme way of saying honor your preacher and his family with a fair wage and benefits. From what I understand generally we are at a much better place here then in the past, but still be sensitive to your preacher’s financial needs. Providing a comfortable salary, health insurance and retirement benefits, etc makes a major supportive statement to the preacher and his family. It messages to them that the church is investing in the preachers success and expects a prosperous, healthy relationship. Preachers can flourish in such an environment.
This is not a comprehensive list of course–just four things that can commonly happen.
Here is my favorite Bible verse about preachers. It demonstrates the high value God puts upon us. It is also incredibly humbling.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)
Value your preacher. It will be a blessing to him that will return to you many times over.
*To be fair my next blogpost will address the ways preachers should not treat their churches
July 13, 2011
I first met Stan Williams at the Woodward Park Church of Christ in Fresno, California. We were both there to participate in their Spiritual Growth Workshop a few years ago. Stan immediately welcomed me, embraced me and made me feel like we had been friends for life. Since then we have become friends for life. It is just that way with Stan.
Stan has spent his life, his energies and his heart serving God and his people. He preached at Woodward Park for several years during which they realized incredible growth. Stan is one of the best evangelists I have ever known. Over the course of his ministry he has been a visionary and demonstrated almost indefatigable energy for the sake of the kingdom. More recently he has served as the preaching minister for the Lassen Street congregation in Vallejo, California. I had the privilege again to see Stan there in May as he helped his church host a wonderful workshop. His smile was as bright as ever, but his body was weakened by an ongoing struggle with colon cancer.
As a result of this disease Stan is having to retire from active ministry. While the prognosis looks good, he simply is not able to continue serving at the level he is accustomed. Like many other ministers who spent their life emptying themselves for others, Stan never thought much about retiring and now is faced with some financial challenges as he makes this transition. The Vallejo church has committed to assist Stan and his wife, Sherrie, but because of costs related to health care and insurance needs still remain.
Word is spreading among friends of Stan. Our brother needs our help. The Woodward Park church has agreed to process any assistance by individuals through the “Williams Assistance Fund” at this address: 7886 North Millbrook Avenue, Fresno, CA 93720; attention John Ed Clark, elder. The Sherrod Avenue church in Florence, Alabama (where Stan’s son, Kerry preaches) is processing assistance by congregations at this address: 1207 Sherrod Avenue, Florence, AL 35630; attention Kerry Williams, minister.
Stan is a mighty soldier of the cross and I know that regardless of whatever challenges he now faces- he will face them with strong and unwavering faith and with a smile that cannot be diminished. I also know that others will be blessed everywhere he may journey. That is just the way it is with Stan.
May 3, 2010
The blogosphere is a wonderful sharing and dialoguing tool. I know I have been blessed through blogging to meet and get to know people who otherwise I would not.
I always greatly appreciate those who stop by here, read and occasionally comment and those who also respond through email and Facebook. It is good to know that this blog stimulates a little kingdom thinking and discussion. So thanks for your visits! It does mean a lot.
Now just some random bullet points:
- The “Beautiful Feet” blog which profiles the good work of preachers among us is updated for the week. Stop in and meet Darin Hamm.
- I am an avid Fantasy Baseball fan. My two teams are not doing so well thus far. Is it okay to pray for them? lol
- Friends Richard and JennaLynn May are expanding their What God Has Joined Together marriage ministry. This couple would be a wonderful resource for your church.
- Several of us guys at Gateway just concluded a “Wild at Heart” retreat at an awesome facility in the middle of two lakes and 550 acres. It was an incredible time! There is just something rejuvenating to run around and act like boys again.
- Please be in prayer for the many so affected by the recent severe weather. Whenever such weather happens I again hear the cries of “the world is ending” and “it is all because of global warming.” Is it just me or are both of these an attempt by man to play God?
Have a great first full week of May!
April 21, 2010
Beautiful Feet is a brand new blogsite dedicated to recognizing ministers within the restoration fellowship and the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches.
It is my plan to profile every week preachers among us who through their faithful ministry are making kingdom differences in their church and community. It is my prayer that this blog will serve not only to give honor to these preachers, but also become as a resource for those seeking to get-to-know these good men.
My motivation and inspiration to begin Beautiful Feet (the title is a reference to a Scripture Paul quoted in the context of Romans 10: 12-15) came as a result of the effort John Dobbs recently led to honor preachers through blogging (Passing the Torch) and the terrific response from one of my recent blogposts recognizing the good work of preachers.
Beautiful Feet first recognizes Eddie Lewis who is currently the Associate Minister in Education at the Germantown Church of Christ near Memphis, TN. I simply cannot think of anyone more appropriate to kick off this effort. Eddie is a wonderful servant of God. I hope you enjoy his story.
I also solicit your help and input. Please let me know of ministers who have influenced and inspired you. Their stories can encourage others also. I would enjoy introducing them and highlighting their life and ministry through this blog.
Also If you serve in the ministry and would like to use this site to spread the good word about your ministry please contact me.
Click here to visit Beautiful Feet. I hope you will make it a regular part of your blog reading.