Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I’ll admit it, some people have bad experiences with a church. Here are the top ten signs you’re in a bad church:
10. The church bus has gun racks.
9. Church staff: senior pastor, associate pator, socio-pastor.
8. The town gossip is the prayer coordinator.
7. Church sign says, “Do you know what Hell is? Come hear our preacher.”
6. Choir wears leather robes.
5. During greeting time, people take turns staring at you.
4. Karaoke worship time.
3. Ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
2. Only song the organist knows: “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- The pastor doesn’t want to come, but his wife makes him attend.
If your church is that bad, you might want to look for another church. But the fact is, that there is no perfect church, because the church is made up of imperfect people. The phrase the Bible uses to describe us is “sinners saved by grace.” So before you give up completely on the church, remember this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). If Jesus considered the church worth dying for, then we ought to consider the church worth living for.
An unknown poet put it well:
“If you should find the perfect church, without fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists, made of perfect men,
Let’s cease on looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.”
(This article will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)
(My mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers, was born on July 1, 1935. If you who follow her paintings on Instagram @mymothersart or on Facebook, you know that she is still actively painting, but the most treasured of all her paintings is the one of her grandfather in front of his home in Epley, Mississippi. Below she shares her personal memories of her grandparents, and what life was like growing up in the 1940s in rural Missississippi. It will help you understand why this painting is so special.)
by Joyce Clinton Rogers
When I was a little girl in the 1940s, my parents took me to spend a week in the summer with my Clinton grandparents who lived on a farm in Epley, Mississippi (located between Sumrall and Hattiesburg). I may have gone several summers– I’m not sure. I may have forgotten.
There wasn’t much a young girl could do but explore, so I did. A short walk away past the cemetery was a small bridge over a creek. It was fun to swing my feet into the cool creek water and see what critters were in the water.
My granddaddy was a farmer and a well-digger. Our whole family, my three sisters and three brothers, loved to play around the well. We had running water and electricity and a real bathroom at the teacher’s home at Oak Grove where we lived– but not my grandparents. My grandparents had an outdoor toilet and a Sears & Roebuck Catalogue for toilet paper. (I’m not kidding!) They had a tub used for washing clothes, vegetables, and for getting a bath, and goodness knows what else.
The story is told that granddaddy got baths by waiting ’til dark, stripping and pouring buckets of well water over his head, then drying off naturally by swinging in the swing on the front porch. One night, my Aunt Carol was entertaining a boyfriend on the front porch, and granddaddy’s arrival caused quite a stir!
I remember the house well. Our family visited every Sunday afternoon for years. I did a painting of the ole house, which hangs in back of my favorite chair where we live now. The farmhouse had no electricity and was heated by fireplaces and the kitchen by a stove. The stove had a door that opened and you put firewood inside. There were two fireplaces, one in each bedroom on each side of the house. When we went to visit in the wintertime, we sat on the edge of one of the two beds in the rooms to the right. If others came in, we just slid over. Grandma sat in her chair on the left of the fireplace, and granddaddy sat on the right.
On holidays, occasionally we might eat at the farmhouse. If that was the case, we came early so mama could help with the cooking. And oh, what a great feast we would have! We’d have fried chicken, lots of vegetables from their garden both fresh and “canned” (stored in jars), biscuits and cornbread, casseroles and desserts. As the oldest granddaughter, I got some jobs. Grandma made buttermilk and butter by placing milk in a jar, and I shook the jar until buttermilk and butter formed and separated from the other milk. My arms would get so tired!
I remember well hearing granddaddy say the blessing. He was loud! After he finished, he said, “Now you see what’s here…” I can’t remember what else he said (to finish that phrase). If any family remember, I wish you’d tell me how he finished that statement.
Speaking of being loud and praying, I had an interesting experience on one of my summer visits. I was on the swing on the front porch while granddaddy’s young pastor visited with him. I heard granddaddy praying loudly. I realized that the pastor didn’t come to pray for granddaddy, but for granddaddy to pray for him. Or maybe both ways.
Grandma always wore a long simple dress down to her ankles, an apron and her hair in a bun on top of her head. On Sunday, she wore a white apron. Granddaddy wore overalls and clean ones on Sunday.
Grandma swept the yard with a broom. She didn’t want grass growing in her yard. There was a rooster in the back yard who chased me. I was deathly afraid of him.
There was a long back porch where vegetables might be stacked or the washtub might be the bathing place for the more genteel. On the end of the porch near the kitchen was a shelf where a bucket of water with a dipper and a washpan stood. This is where you got a drink of water and/or washed your hands. Yes, we all drank from the same dipper.
Granddaddy never owned a car. He used his plowhorse, Dolly, to pull the family wagon to go to Sumrall for supplies and to church on Sunday. You can see him with Dolly in my painting.
Known in the community as “Uncle Charlie” and “Aunt Marthy,” this is how things were in rural Epley in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s. Both are buried in the little Clinton Family Cemetery with their parents, their grandparents and some of their nine children and grandchildren, including one of my brothers, Donald Clinton. Also buried there are my parents, Rankin Anderson Clinton, Sr. and Lucy Rutledge Clinton, and Gwen Clinton, the first wife of my brother Sam.
R. Scott Pace, professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written this concise, but thorough, manual on how to preach expository sermons.
The chapters are structured — like many sermons– with alliterated titles, under three main parts (The Foundation, The Framework, The Finishing Touches), and chapters under those parts (Inspiration, Investigation, Interpretation, Implementation, Introductions, Illustrations, Invitations, Conclusion). However, a better way to understand this book is found on page 18, where he gives a chart of a seven-step process of sermon development. The rest of the book fleshes out the skeleton of these seven steps. As an experienced preacher myself, I can testify that this is a very helpful, balanced, and Biblical approach. It is helpful because it is practical and applicable. It is balanced between theory and practice, and balanced in cautioning against extremes (such as not using too few or too many illustrations). It is consistently affirmed with Biblical reasons and quotations. The only major omission I noticed was no discussion whatsoever of Bible translations, which is a dilemma for many preachers.
Given the brevity of this book (115 pages of text), I was surprised at how much it covered. He does not go into great detail, yet he covers every important topic in the sermon process. He gives sufficient information and examples where needed, such as on page 62, where he gives a sample outline of a text. He frequently gives practical advice, as on page 15 where he advises the rule of thumb that the preacher dress one degree more formal than his listeners, and on page 106 where he suggests a preacher give those responding to the invitation one word to say as they come forward, to cope with their nervousness.
Overall, this can be an excellent textbook for a class on preaching (supplemented by a professor’s assignments of practicing sermon writing and delivery), a primer for a new preacher, and a tune-up for the seasoned preacher.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from B & H Bloggers. I was not obligated to write a positive review.
I once heard a dignified preacher talk about visiting Hoover Dam. He said, “I looked over the whole dam project.” There was a pause, and then he blurted out, “I mean the project of the dam!” That’s when the congregation erupted in laughter.
It’s an occupational hazard of preachers. As pastor Chuck Pourciau says, “If you say a lot of words, the odds are that eventually something will come out wrong.” I asked some pastors to share their stories, and they generously told the following. Don’t judge them for things that sound risqué by accident. It was not their intention.
Preachers know it is dangerous to talk about politics, but Jonathan Kittrell remembers trying to say something about Osama Bin Laden and accidentally saying Barack Obama. However, his biggest blooper was not when he misspoke but when he miss-stepped. He did a character sermon on Job in costume. It going beautifully until he sat down on the stage. He forgot to put shorts on under his biblical attire. (I think that story is brief enough.)
Dick Allison was pastor of FBC Jellico, TN. He was preaching about Joshua and the walls of Jericho, except that he continually said throughout the sermon, “The walls of Jellico came tumbling down!” (Now that’s what I call bringing the sermon home to the congregation.)
Larry Robertson says that once he was preaching a topical series on Sunday nights about “Hot Potatoes,” hot topics/ethical issues facing the church. That evening he was going to be addressing the issue of pornography, and he was encouraging everyone to be there, only that’s not how it came out. He said, “We’ve been looking at ‘Hot Potato’ issues facing the church on Sunday nights lately, and tonight we’re going to be looking at pornography. You don’t want to miss tonight’s sermon as we look at pornography together…”
Robbie Passmore says he was preaching a funeral and instead of saying Lighthouse, he said Outhouse. (He may have been in the dog house after that funeral!)
Chuck Pourciau was once doing a graveside service, and said, “Thank you that Mrs….” He meant to say the name of the deceased, but instead he said the name of a friend of the deceased who was sitting under the funeral home tent, very much alive. He thought, “I can’t say, Thank you that Mrs. So-and-so isn’t dead, too,” so he just started the sentence over again and said the correct name.
James Canada says that once he meant to say “a live organism” but he left out a syllable, which undoubtedly caused the congregation to gasp.
Joe McKeever was in the middle of a sermon, when suddenly, it occurred to him that the purple tie he was wearing illustrated the point he was making. “Now, take this necktie,” he said. “Someone gave me this tie. I hate this tie. This is one ugly necktie.” Long pause. Getting uncomfortable. Small laughter. “Uh oh. I just remembered who gave me this tie.” The congregation erupted with laughter. (Brother Joe was relieved that the couple who had presented him with that necktie the previous Christmas were laughing harder than anyone.)
Donnie Brannen has several stories about the bloopers of other preachers. He heard a syllable stumble like the one above, and another blooper by a preacher friend who was asked by the deacon body at his church to address the issue of women wearing pants to church. As he preached, he said, “When the Bible was written, pants weren’t even invented. What the Bible says, is that men shouldn’t dress as women and women as men. But women’s pants are not men’s clothing. They don’t look the same; they aren’t cut the same. Men, have you tried to get in your wife’s pants lately?”
Now before you get offended at these stories, let’s acknowledge that many Christians need to lighten up and not take ourselves too seriously. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is a time to laugh, and Jesus pronounced a blessing on laughter in Luke 6:21. So when the preacher’s tongue gets tangled, smile a mile, forgive, and remember that we are all sinners saved by grace.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses? – Numbers 12:8, NASB
I often hear people complain about their pastor and other ministers. They complain about the lack of visitation, or about all the changes being made in the church, or about the style of preaching, and on and on.
Moses was the recipient of complaints all the time from the Israelites. Chapter 12 of the Book of Numbers tells us that his own brother Aaron and sister Miriam got in on it. As a result, Miriam was struck with leprosy, and the Lord asked a penetrating question, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant…?” (Numbers 12:8) This is a good question for any church member to ask before speaking against their ministers.
I’m not saying that pastors can make no mistakes. Moses was not perfect. He made excuses at the burning bush, and he lost his temper with the Israelites. He had to suffer the consequences by not leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. But that was for God to decide, not the people.
I’m not saying a church member should remain silent when the pastor is guilty of moral failure or doctrinal error. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
What I am saying is that for many church members, when it comes to their opinions about their ministers, there is too much speaking and not enough silence. And not enough prayer. And not enough soul-searching. After all, Numbers 12 indicates that the issue that Aaron and Miriam had with Moses was not really his leadership– their real problem was that they didn’t like his wife. But since they knew how petty it would sound to complain about his wife, they complained instead about his leadership.
So before you speak against your pastor, take a deep breath, and realize the seriousness of what you are considering. Then spend time praying about it, and ask God if there is something else really bothering you that you need to address in your own life. Then if you still feel you must speak, go to your minister privately with your concerns. Go no further, unless the pastor is immoral or heretical.
Just in case the scriptural warning is not enough cause for pause, learn a lesson from history. Eudoxia was the Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire, wife of Arcadius, the Emperor who reigned at Constantinople around A.D. 400. The bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, boldly preached against the wealthy living in luxury while the poor suffered, and Eudoxia didn’t like it. So Eudoxia had the bishop deposed and sent into exile. Shortly thereafter, she suffered a fatal miscarriage.
It doesn’t matter how important you are in your church, be afraid of speaking against the servant of the Lord. Be very afraid.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
A few days ago, an employee at the hospital where I work as a chaplain stopped me to complain about his pastor’s sermons. He said, “I’m thinking about leaving my church. I’m not getting fed.” It’s a common complaint about sermons, but what exactly does it mean? I decided to ask him. “What is he preaching?” I asked.
The man said, “He is going through the Gospel of Mark, one chapter each week, and he reads it and explains it.” Then he repeated his complaint, “I’m just not getting fed.”
I said, “Wait a minute! You just told me that he is preaching the Bible, and then you say you’re not getting fed? You have a responsibility to eat the food that is put in front of you!”
As I asked him more about the pastor’s sermons, it turned out that the real issue was that he thought the sermons were boring, because the pastor didn’t add illustrations or personal application. I encouraged him to talk to the pastor privately, thank him for preaching the Bible, and ask if the pastor could add some illustrations and application to help him understand it better. I urged him to conclude the private meeting by praying for his pastor.
When I told this story to my wife, she said that I should also have encouraged him to take notes on the sermon. Her advice reminded me of an episode in my own life. I visited a certain church when I was out of town, and I went to lunch, feeling that the sermon was boring. But as I prayed about it, God reminded me that the sermon was directly from the Bible. So I returned to the evening service with a pen and paper, and took notes on the evening message. It was amazing how much better the same pastor preached was when I came with a different attitude.
Not every preacher can be as eloquent as Charles Spurgeon, but I’d rather have a boring preacher who preaches the Bible than an interesting one who simply entertains. Jim Jones was an interesting preacher, but in 1979, he led 900 people to Guyana and they committed mass suicide following him.
So if you feel you aren’t getting fed by your pastor’s sermons, let me ask you a question: Is he preaching the Bible? If so, are you bringing a fork?
Copyright 2017 by Bill Hurt
(Dr. Bill Hurt is the senior pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi. When he posted the following thoughts on Facebook, I found them so profound that I asked his permission to share it as a guest blog post, and he graciously agreed.)
The other day I shook hands with an individual and they commented on the softness of mine. They went on to say: “I bet those hands have never seen a hard day’s work.”
In some ways that statement is true, and it got me thinking about these hands of mine. They’ve never overhauled an engine on a car. Never plowed a field. Never hoed a garden. Never worked on an assembly line.
There are a lot of hard working activities these hands have never done, but they have taken a lifeless baby from the arms of a broken mother. They have taken a gun out of the hand of a man about to end his life. They have taken a bottle from an individual who was drinking their life away. They have raised and lowered children and adults in the baptismal waters. They have written numerous sermons. They have joined couples in matrimony. They have built churches on foreign soil. They have held the hands of the dying. They have received strangers into the Kingdom. They have dedicated and blessed countless babies. They have wiped the tears from grieving parents, spouses, and children. They have shaken the hands of the upper, middle, and lower class of society. They have held the hands of those who have prayed to receive Christ. They have removed debris from the rubble of destroyed churches. They have welcomed the homeless and offered them a place to sleep. I’m no different from any other preacher out there. Our hands are used quite frequently to serve. The endurance and strength to do these things come from another set of hands which happen to be nail pierced. After all, we’re called to be his hands and feet. I guess these hands are soft, but they are forgiven and ready for service.
“God…rewards those who seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6b, HCSB
I like rewards.
I’m a member of the Holiday Inn Priority Club, and I like getting rewards for staying at the Holiday Inn. They give me a gift bag when I arrive. They let me check out late. I earn points and occasionally get to stay one night free.
But no rewards program can compare with God’s rewards program. Yes, we’re saved by grace, not by good deeds. The greatest reward is our salvation and eternal life in heaven. However, God also grants amazing rewards for serving Him. Here’s my top ten:
1. Reward for good deeds. First Corinthians 3:11-15 says that Jesus is the foundation of salvation, but if anybody builds on that foundation, “he will receive a reward” (v. 14).
2. Reward for giving up sin. Moses gave up “the fleeting pleasures of sin” for Christ, “for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
3. Reward for humility. Jesus repeatedly said that if we do our good deeds humbly and in secret, that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
4. Reward for generosity. Jesus said that if you invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner instead of your friends, family or rich neighbors, “you will be repaid at the resurrection” (Luke 14:12-14).
5. Reward for discipline. The apostle Paul said that athletes receive a temporary crown that fades away, but if we live a disciplined Christian life, we receive an “imperishable” crown (1 Corinthians 14:12-14).
6. Reward for service. Colossians 3:23-24 says that if you work heartily for the Lord, “you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
7. Reward for enduring trials. The “crown of life” is mentioned twice in scripture (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for the one “who remains steadfast under trial.”
8. The prophet’s reward. The shepherd (pastor) of the flock of God is promised “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Jesus says this reward is also available to all, for “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).
9. Reward for looking forward to the Second Coming. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord… will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
10. Reward for leaving a legacy. Abraham, the father of faith, was told, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Think of Abraham’s legacy of faith as Father of the Hebrew nation, ancestor of Jesus, and role model of faith for all people. There can be no greater reward than a legacy of faith that leads others to faith. There can be no greater reward than seeing others in heaven because we shared our faith with them on earth.
How about you? Are you in God’s reward program?
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Outreach magazine publishes a list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.
But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?
Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.
1. Leaders who equip
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)
Just as healthy medicine requires a good doctor to make a diagnosis, healthy churches have leaders who equip their members.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”
Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.
Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.
Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.
If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.
2. Members who serve
“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)
Just as good hospitals have nurses everywhere who serve, healthy churches have members who serve. Churches that grow rapidly from sensational entertainment often burst like a balloon and wither away. But when members serve, they reproduce healthy growth.
The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.
It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
3. Unity in the faith
“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)
Just as medical staff work in coordination during a surgery, healthy churches are united and cooperate. Unhealthy churches are divided and refuse to cooperate. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”).
Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!
4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness
“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)
We take vital signs to check physical health: temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure. Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth, but that’s the wrong vital sign. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.
Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.
Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.
5. Teaching that provides stability
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)
The last thing a sick person needs is a “quack” doctor. Likewise, a healthy church guards against heresy and false teaching. Instead, the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by “quack” preachers and teachers.
Years ago, a powerful wind storm blew an oak tree on the youth building of the church where I was pastor. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.
6. Honest and loving relationships
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)
People often say to their physician, “tell it to me straight, doc.” They want a doctor they can trust who cares enough to be honest with them. Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.
7. An environment that encourages involvement
“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)
A hospital strives to maintain a healthy environment, washing hands, putting on gloves, etc. Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”
Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?
A hymnal in my left hand, a Bible in my right
Tossing a communion cup on a one-foot hop.
Cascading with a committee on Sunday night
Spinning a budget, now what will I drop?
A juice-stained Bible by my foot on the floor
Heart cut on the cup, fingers shut in the door
I thought diabolo was a juggler’s trick
But I ended up falling on the devil’s stick.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)