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When You are Weary With Your Work

Nehemiah’s trouble with his workmen was not that they wanted higher wages. As a matter of fact, they didn’t get any wages. His trouble was that they grew weary, and lost both their interest and their vision, as though their labor was being done in vain. Do you ever feel like one of Nehemiah’s workmen? It’s not the wages or the pay – instead, it’s that dread sense of incompleteness. The work is never done.

Perhaps there is no better test of one’s courage than how they act when enthusiasm vanishes. No sea is always at full tide; in every ocean, there is an ebb. I’ve had to remind myself that, how I act in the ebb-tide of life, and when life is bounded by swampy uncertainty, is one of the surest marks of character. We have to adjust to the reality of ministry under pressure and with a tangling web of weariness. It has been accurately said, “The world is run by tired men.”

Whence the Weariness

Aloneness

Dr. David G. Congo surveyed ministers in thirty-two denominations in thirty-eight states to discover the significant factors involved in ministry burnout. His study isolated a number of significant factors involved in burnout. Of the pastors surveyed:

● 70% worked more than sixty hours per week.
● 85% spent two or less evenings per week at home.
● 75% spent less than one evening a month purely for social time with their wives and other couples.

His pastoral burnout survey also showed that 61% of pastors spend less than one hour a week talking with other pastors. A key factor can be noted from Congo’s survey. Beside becoming burned out because they “grow weary in well-doing,” many pastors receive little support from their peers.

Wrong Motivation

In Galatians 6, Paul warns of “sowing to the flesh” saying it only reaps corruption. It is in that setting that we are warned to not be weary in well-doing. Perhaps it is possible for those in a noble work to “sow to the flesh.” In Mastering Personal Growth, part of the Leadership Mastering Ministry series Gordon MacDonald notes that some motives tend to result in weariness. Specifically:

● The need for approval.
● A need for validation by achievement.
● The longing for intimacy.
● Idealism.

Such motives seek their satisfaction in the “here and now.” It may be found in a position . . . or the size of a congregation one pastors . . . or the pulpit one is invited to fill. Those motives are ever unsatisfied and become the source of weariness.

Remedies for Weariness

An Adequate God

Historians note that Charles Spurgeon struggled with deep depression. One time as, Spurgeon was riding home after a difficult day at the church, feeling “weary in well doing” a scripture came to his mind: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon began imagining he was a little fish in the Thames River, fearful lest by drinking so many pints of water each day he might drink the Thames dry. The Thames said to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”

Spurgeon’s mind then took him to the granaries of ancient Egypt, where he was a little mouse, afraid lest his nibbles would drain the supplies of the Pharaoh and cause him to starve. Then Joseph came by and said, “Cheer-up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”

Finally, Spurgeon imagined himself a mountain climber, ascending to some lofty summit. Once there, he feared his breathing might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator then boomed from the heavens and said, “Breathe away, oh human, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.”

It is easy in the hectic pace of ministry to “forget with whom we have to do.” Your God is adequate. Be encouraged as you know His grace is sufficient. His faithfulness is not exhausted. In my weariness, He is not weary! Any spiritual work depends on Him. He is more than capable.

Change Gears for a Bit

If one follows the movement within the gospels Jesus and His disciples are in an almost constantly changing scenario. It was never the “same old, same old.” Repetition is often the foundation of weariness. Winston Churchill wrote an essay titled “Painting As a Pastime” in which he revealed his secret of maintaining a peaceful mindset.

Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose . . . some travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.

It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated. It is no use saying to the tired mental muscles if one may coin such an expression — “I will give you a good rest.” “I will go for a long walk,” or “I will lie down and think of nothing.” The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into action. . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

Churchill made a valid point. More modern research has indicated that this works. Take a bit of time to read about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique suggests changing what you are doing every 25 minutes. There are apps to assist in doing this. I’m to go do something else for 5 minutes before returning to the project. After three such cycles, I’m to spend an extended period of time doing something different. The Pomodoro Technique works when I work it. 

Do Something Different

Shifting gears and doing something different is clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ. How often He must have been weary. We must learn that like long distance Airforce bombers, we can’t land every time we are out of gas. You have to learn to refuel in midair. Another of the Leadership books, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation talks about the need to refuel by:

  1. Divert daily – do something that’s fun.
  2. Withdraw weekly – take a day off every week.
  3. Abandon annually – get away from the church to vacation and don’t call in.

What is being communicated is that rest comes by moving away from the problem at hand . . . dealing with another issue, making a call to a peer or mentor, visiting a church a few cities away, reading a good book . . . or the Wall Street Journal. Just doing something different.

Your different can be horseback riding or a golf course. What you do is not as important as to do something different. Simply put – change! In practical life, there will be times of exhaustion and weariness. There is nothing wrong with feeling weary, but there is everything wrong with abandoning ship in the midst of the fight.

If the world is actually run by tired people, and I think it is,  then some tired people are reading this. My reading audience is made up of “impact making” men and women. I’ve looked at one facet of the challenge of staying fresh for the sake of life. I’m interested in learning what has worked for you. Please share in the comment section.

I recently published a book on encountering depression.  You know someone who needs to read, Light in a Dark Place – Encountering Depression. To read a sample chapter click here.

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7 Things Learned from Tom Fred Tenney

The afternoon before Tom Fred Tenney departed for glory I started this blog. T.F. Tenney was a unique and influential leader. His impact ranged across organizational boundaries. His “one-liners” are legendary.

(For the sake of brevity, in referring to Bro. Tenney I’ll occasionally use the initials TFT. No disrespect is intended. In personal notes and communication, he would on occasion use my initials. My responses or appeals for his input would often identify him as “TFT.”)

My friend Tim Mahoney has said several times, “If T.F. Tenney had not been called by God to preach he’d have been in the U.S. Senate or he would have become President.”  I’m glad God called him to preach. Bro. Tenney was a:

  • Student who perpetually worked to understand scripture. He studied the nuances of the Bible. During times when the General Board would take a 30-minute break, Bro. Tenney generally sat in “TFT’s Spot” yet again reading the Bible. His love of God’s word showed in his preaching.
  • Prolific reader. I would occasionally ask T.F. Tenney, “What are you reading?” He always had several titles to suggest. Most of his recommendations were not “fluff” reading. On occasion, he passed me a book he had recently read. Those books are treasures.
  • Prince of a preacher. He had something meaningful to say. From the early years with that shock of his dark hair flying as he preached, to the more sedate preaching of later years Tom Fred Tenney said something worth hearing. A closet in our home has a box with dozens if not hundreds of cassettes and compact discs of TFT’s preaching. If anyone wants to send me more via mp3, or as cassettes or compact discs I’ll gladly take them. Bro. Tenney’s preaching helped  me to think.
  • Author of meaningful books. From, “Pentecost, What’s That,” to “For Preachers and Other Saints,” his books had weight.
  • Voice that mattered in significant situations. An honorary member of the General Board of the United Pentecostal Church, International has a voice but not a vote. Bro. Tenney was such a member. In my eleven years on the General Board, T.F. Tenney did not often speak. When he did, what he said was thought-provoking. Also, it often clarified and gave historical perspective to a matter being discussed.
  • District Superintendent Extraordinaire. He quickly returned phone calls. He had time for Norma and me, even when we were no longer in Louisiana. As District Superintendent, he might preach a church anniversary for a congregation of twelve people on Sunday morning; and Sunday night preach to thousands. Whether 12 or 500, both congregations got his unique best. Not many people can do that! Bro. Tenney never resented going to smaller churches. I asked Sis. Tenney if her husband ever regretted going to any situation. She said, “No, Tom thinks he can help everybody. So he tries.”

T.F. Tenney is one of three men I took as a model or mentor. The late G. A. Mangun, Crawford Coon who is now quite ill and T. F. Tenney were men I watched closely. For the main part, my education came from observation rather than conversation.

T.F. Tenney influenced many. He directly influenced me in the following seven ways.

The Lasting Impact of Written Communication

Bro. Tenney authored several books. For me, something else was more important than his books.  In the decades of Bro. Tenney’s service to the Louisiana District each month Louisiana’s preachers received a Superintendent’s Communique. Bro. Tenney’s writing was targetted, practical, beneficial, relevant and thought-provoking. His Superintendent’s Communique was my favorite periodical.

My file of Bro. Tenney’s Communiques is thick. It was material worth saving. It wasn’t that Bro. Tenney had to say something every month, instead, he had something to say. There is a difference! The Superintendent’s Communique addressed the unique needs of preachers.

An example: TFT Do We Have Room For A Prophet  

When it was my lot to be a presbyter, I modeled a Sectional Doings newsletter after TFT’s Superintendent’s Communique. A bit later, my place in life changed and our team at North American Missions developed a bi-monthly Director’s Communique. We mailed it to every preacher. The main goal was to communicate about missions and missionaries. But, to get people to read that portion the Director’s Communique needed an article directly beneficial to a preacher’s ministry.

Our effort worked. T. F. Tenney gets credit for showing me the power of consistently and repetitively providing beneficial and targeted written material.

The Subtle Power of the word:  “So”

A while back, I needed Bishop Tenney’s advice on a difficult matter. Bro. Tenney listened to my story. When I finished, Bro. Tenney’s first words were, “Bro. Carlton, I’m so sorry that you and the others are going through this. I’m just so sorry for your pain. I wish I could make it easier for you, but I can’t.”

He then helped with perspective and direction. Before I left, as he always did, he prayed for me.

Before I walked out the door of his temporary office at the Pentecostals of Alexandria he again said, “Bro. Coon, I’m just so sorry.” The word, “so” stuck in my mind. In that context, the word “so” had value. To be “so sorry” somehow super-sized his regret at this unfortunate event.

In reality, Bro. Tenney could do nothing to fix the situation. He could advise me and he did.  But, he was “so sorry” this mess had happened.

From that day forward, in similar situations I use the phrase, “I’m so sorry.” When I’m unable to resolve a matter, whether illness, an unexpected death, a failure not easily repaired or the loss of employment I use TFT’s phrase “I’m so sorry.”

It is a necessary and helpful part of my pastoral vocabulary. Somehow the phrase “so sorry” in such situations adds weight to the regret.

A Leader says, “No” to Some Opportunities

In the late 1990s, Bro. Tenney and I were part of a pastoral anniversary in Kenner, Louisiana. After a service Pastor Walker took us to dinner.

It is a wonderful thing to ask questions and then listen to people who have accomplished meaningful things. Much better to listen than to talk. Through life, I have done a lot of listening. On that night Bro. Walker and I both did a lot of listening.

Sis. Tenney was also there. In a side conversation, I asked her how Bro. Tenney accomplished so much. Her response was educational. She said, “Tom knows what he is to do and that is what he does. He does not take on anything that he does not feel is on God’s agenda for him.”  Sis. Tenney continued, “Even when I say, ‘Tom, somebody needs to do something about _________.’ His response will be, ‘That’s right Thetus, somebody needs to do something about it but it isn’t going to be me.'”

I immediately stopped trying to do everything that came along. Some committee opportunities were declined and I resigned from some things. My goal is to focus on the “God things” of my life. An effective leader says “No” to many opportunities or needs. Those who try to do everything excel at nothing.

Bro. Tenney once advised me, “Carlton, you can’t accent every syllable of life. Something has to be your main thing.”

The Importance of Facilitating the Ministry of Others

Around 2000 I began preaching or teaching an occasional camp-meeting. One was in the Rocky Mountain District. One evening District Superintendent Russel said, “Bro. Coon, I’ve known about you a long time. When you were about 23 years old a letter came from T.F. Tenney telling me about you. He suggested that you were a good evangelist and that if we could ever use you in our district you would be a blessing to us.”

The fact of such a letter was news to me. I’d not asked Bro. Tenney to write a letter. He never told me about writing the letter. Unbeknownst to me, my District Superintendent had attempted to expand my opportunities.

Bro. Tenney wanted growth, progress and expanded influence for my ministry. Facilitating the ministry of others was part of  TFT’s identity. I try to apply that principle. One of my computer files is named:  People Getting the Job Done Who Not Enough People Know.  

Developing preachers need more opportunities than we currently provide. My goal learned from Bro. Tenney is to champion up and coming preachers and expand their opportunities. To this end, I find myself regularly inviting developing preachers in to fill our pulpit. 

Don’t Waste Words

T. F. Tenney did not have many casual conversations. He did not waste words. TFT did not use 15 words if six words would do the job. His use of words was one reason his preaching and teaching was so effective. He did not chase rabbits.

Words are the currency of communication. Bro. Tenney used that currency wisely.

Seldom did Bro. Tenney make a misstatement. If he used a particular word or words it was intentional. You’d better be listening, the words he used and the words he chose not to use both meant something.

Observing this in Bro. Tenney changed my preaching, speaking, counseling, and writing. My goal became to really communicate what I mean to say.

In communication, the difference between a good word and the perfect word is the difference between a firecracker and dynamite. TFT used dynamite! I want to do the same.  

Empower Rather Than Control

Bro. Tenney became Louisiana’s Superintendent in 1978. He followed C.G. Weeks, a strong leader in his own right. When Bro. Tenney became Superintendent, Louisiana had a district board and other leaders who were strong, capable people.

These were people who were aging but not particularly set to move aside from their various leadership roles. The majority of these leaders were older than their new District Superintendent. Part of “TFT’s” role was to transition the district into the future.

After a few years as superintendent, Bro. Tenney developed something called “All Church Training Series” (A.C.T.S.) events. A.C.T.S. brought training to every section. On a Saturday, a broad array of training would be provided. Youth workers, Sunday School teachers, and ministers all had access to targetted teaching. The caveat:  no trainer was to provide the training in his or her section.

The Genius of Developing Leaders

Now the TFT genius part. To provide the training for preachers, Bro. Tenney drew together a group of young men in their late 20s and early 30s. The group included men like Rick Marcelli, Donald Bryant, Ronnie Melancon and Ronnie LaCombe. Every person in the group was at least 20 years younger than the still relatively new District Superintendent.

Bro. Tenney sent the young men to various training events. They were commissioned to go and learn. From the events, the young men brought back material on leadership, stewardship, and ministry. These same young men then shared their newly gained insights at the Sectional “A.C.T.S.” events.

“How To” Develop Future Leaders

With the actions he took Bro. Tenney had:

  • Validated the arriving generation by drawing them near.
  • Given them an opportunity to be equipped.
  • Prepared them to be heard.
  • Empowered them to serve their fellowship, most of whom were older than they were.
  • Introduced these young men’s voices and capabilities to a broader array of their peers. 
  • Gave them a forum at which to be heard.

He did not control their message. In one year, Bro. Tenney had raised the profile of people who had the potential to be future leaders.

The majority of people involved in the A.C.T.S. endeavor became influential in Louisiana or beyond. Bro. Tenney did not dominate. He chose to influence and facilitate.

No leader can both control and empower. You do one or the other. Boards are the same way. Every board either controls or facilitates. From T.F. Tenney I learned the value of facilitating up and coming leaders. From him, I learned some specific steps toward facilitating others to be influential.

As a pastor, Director of a District Men’s Ministry, a presbyter and as leader of North American Missions it became part of my job to facilitate growth. I wanted to create an environment that encouraged future leaders to develop. I learned how from Tom Fred Tenney.

Get Out From Behind the Desk

As a young bi-vocational pastor I was struggling. My secular employment was enjoyably challenging. I was good at it. At the same time it seemed our church was stuck.

Quite confused I asked for an appointment with Bro. Tenney. With our schedules, it was several weeks before we could connect. When we finally met he surprised me. We didn’t stay in the executive office.

Instead, we moved into a reading and prayer room beside his office. Bro. Tenney sat in the rocking chair he used for prayer. I sat nearby. My frustration was dumped on Bro. Tenney. I said, “This gospel thing works for other people, but it isn’t working for me. I’m a failure at this. I don’t think God even called me to preach.” 

Bro. Tenney rocked, watched and listened. When I finished he quietly began, “Bro. Carlton, I know God called you. I’ve watched your ministry unfold. You have made an impact and will make more of an impact. Preachers go through seasons. The discouraging time is a difficult season for you. But every season ends. This season will end and a better season will come. Don’t you dare quit on what God has started in your life.” He then prayed for me and sent me on my way.

I left unconvinced but willing to struggle on, at least for a while. For several months, every second or third week my secretary at Louisiana Business College would ring my office, “Bro. Tenney is on the line for you.” I’d pick up and that unique voice would say, “Bro. Carlton, I had you on my mind today. I prayed for you. How are you doing? Is there anything I can help with?” The call lasted no more than 3 or 4 minutes (remember he didn’t waste words).

Finally, Bro. Tenney called one day. As the conversation was ending I said, “Bro. Tenney, I know your life is full. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for praying for me. Thank you for calling. With your help and God’s grace, I’m going to make it. My crisis is over. You don’t have to call me quite so often.”

The thing that lingered was TFT intentionally leaving the executive desk to sit close as we talked. I immediately began getting out from behind my desk to converse with people. Later, I would read that a truly effective communicator removes barriers to communication. This includes moving from behind the desk.

In crisis times people don’t need a “desk” leader, they need a “rocking chair” leader. Actually, at all seasons of communication, the rocking chair is more effective than the barrier of an executive desk.

Sad but Oh So Blessed

I’m sad. Not for TFT. I’m sad for myself and so many others who will learn no more lessons from this master teacher.

Of late I’ve found myself wishing for the opportunity to again phone Jesse Williams, C.M. Becton, N.A. Urshan, James Kilgore, W.C. Parkey, J.T. Pugh, James Lumpkin, Stanley Chambers, Jack Yonts, Kenneth Haney, G.A. Mangun, Murrel Ewing, E.L. and Nona Freeman, or Tom Barnes.

I didn’t call any of them often, but I knew I could call. Like Bro. Tenney, they always made themselves available to me. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about them responding when I held a certain position. They were available when I was a “nobody from nowheresville.” I hope to be just as accessible.

Not many of these voices remain. Some time back, my wife had a frightening conversation with another minister’s wife. Norma was mentioning the loss of pillars of the church. She specifically mentioned J.T. Pugh and Jack Yonts because they had served in the office where I was then serving. The sister with whom she spoke said, “Oh Sis. Coon, your husband and others like him are our generations J.T. Pugh.” My response:   No . . . no . . . no . . . no . . . no! I and others like me will do our best, but the shoes of these we cannot fill.

Now, yet another phone number I occasionally dialed will receive no answer. I’m sad for me. I still have some questions on my legal pad. Questions I hoped TFT could answer.

Yet, the lessons and memories remain. Thank you Tom Fred Tenney for taking an interest in me. Thank you for believing in me. You did this for so many of us. Often you believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves.

This is a blog I wish I’d completed six weeks ago. It was on my mind but life intruded. The night before Bro. Tenney died I sat at my temporary desk and listed the seven things I gained from the elder. It was stunning on the next afternoon to hear of his promotion to glory.

Readers, you will have had other experiences. Things that happened, practices and behavior you observed in T.F. Tenney that shaped your life or ministry. Please share your perspective in the comment section. 

  • What was it like to be on the Youth Committee when Bro. Tenney was the President of the Conquerors Division?
  • What were the experiences of missionaries who were on the field when he led Foreign Missions?
  • He pastored some of you in Monroe or Deridder – what of those memories?
  • District Board members who served with Bro. Tenney – what was it like?
  • Louisiana folks you got a lot of time with T. F. Tenney at every district event what did you gain?
  • Fellow General Board members your experiences were unique as well. Share please!

It will enrich me and many others if you will share your stories and what you gained.  It will mean a lot to me.

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Identifying Disrespect

The ability to identify and minimize connection with those who are patently disrespectful is important. Disrespect affects revival, destroys unity and limits a group’s ability to function effectively. This post is part of a semi-regular series of “Spotlight on the Scripture” writings posted directly to the Facebook page of  Calvary – Springfield, Missouri.  Springfieldcalvary 

Matthew 27:5 And he (Judas) cast down the pieces of silver in the temple . . . 

The late Billy Cole would often speak of the importance of respect. Respect validates others. Respect sets boundaries for our behavior. Those who respect, seek a way showcase other people in a positive light.

Recognizing Judas Disrespect

Because Judas may have supported a revolt against Rome, he has been called, “Judas the zealot.” He could also be labeled, “Judas the disrespectful.”

  • Judas disrespected Mary’s worship. He said her offering could have been used in a better way.
  • A kiss of betrayal disrespected Jesus. It also disrespected the significance of a kiss.

Did Judas respect anything or anyone? Probably not. When disrespect is a person’s norm, nothing is off limits.

Judas’ behavior at the temple was disrespectful. Every Jew was taught the sanctity of the temple. The temple had several sections. The Holy of Holies was where the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement. Nobody else went there.

A second section was the Holy Place. It contained the table of shewbread, altar of incense and golden candlestick. The Holy Place was busier than the Holy of Holies. Priests were constantly serving in the Holy Place. Again, there were constraints. Nobody but a priest was to be in the Holy Place. Judas knew all of this.

The Source of Disrespect

When Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver, the English translation reads, “He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple.” The Greek word translated temple is naos. Naos referred to the “Holy Place.”  The area of the temple where a sign might have read, “Priests Only!”  Judas was not a priest. He was not even from the tribe of Levi.

What was Judas doing in the holy place?

  1. Perhaps Judas presumed that his business relationship with the priests allowed him access.
  2. Judas could no longer respect anything. Not only did Judas not respect Jesus, but Judas also did not respect the constraints of Judaism.

How to Know Those Who Disrespect

Mark those who disrespect and carefully watch for such behavior in yourself. Be careful of a “disrespector.” Several characteristics you will see in those who lack respect:

  • They never say a good thing about any other person.
  • When anyone comments on the positive qualities of someone else, a “disrespector” rolls their eyes or something similar. . .
  • The word “I” will be one the person uses often. Those who have a bold “I” in their vocabulary are never a team-player.
  • They say or do things at the most inappropriate times. An example:  confronting one of your failures or some area of conflict in front of other people. The intent is to bully and humiliate.
  • They have no sense of boundaries. You can hear Judas saying, “If I want to go in the Holy Place, bless God I’ll go to the Holy Place.”

In our age of social media dumping those who respect others will become people we prize. What about you?  Do you respect or disrespect?

My latest resource for evangelism – “What the Bible Says . . . “ a seven lesson topical Home Bible Study is available. It provides student handouts and worksheet for perpetual reuse. A pdf of the student handout material is made available to you.  The seven lessons in What the Bible Says . . . :

  • The Word of God
  • Salvation
  • Repentance
  • Baptism
  • The Holy Ghost
  • Speaking in Tongues
  • The Nature of God
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How Leaders Correctly Respond to Criticism

In modern ministry, experiencing criticism is a norm. Unfortunately, my peers tell me that such criticism is increasing. Perhaps there should be, but there is not a class at Bible College or seminary titled, “How to Respond to Criticism.” Few preachers are prepared to deal with it. Criticism is often mishandled.
Expect criticism! Some people are never criticized. It is the people who do nothing, make no changes and do not press for progress. Such people are non-entities in shaping the future. They will never be criticized!  
My readers are different. You are world changers.  Expect to be criticized!

Critical Realities

  1. Accept that criticism is part of the job description of ministry. No meaningful Bible character was not criticized. Roman numeral II of the pastor’s job description should read:  “You will be criticized. Sometimes the criticism is fair. Often it is not.”  Of course, the job description I refer to is imaginary.
  2. These days, criticism is over rather trivial things. A leader needs to keep that in mind. If you don’t keep it in perspective, you can turn something minor into a “big deal.” Rarely will doctrinal matters, or some grand philosophy of evangelism or disciple-making be challenged. Criticism will be about a perceived mistreatment or even something as inane as the color of the usher’s badges.
  3. Unanticipated criticism will come your way. A now retired heavy-weight boxer said, “It’s the shot you don’t see coming that knocks you out.” The unexpected criticism is what gets you. This will likely come from people you have treated with kindness.

More important is how to deal with criticism.

Explain but Don’t Defend

As a pastor, you cannot defend yourself. Adopt Jesus’ model. At Pilate’s hall, “He opened not his mouth.” A leader may attempt to rationally explain a decision. However, you cannot defend your decisions. The challenge is this:  some people don’t want to understand, they want to gripe. Logic and rational explanation will never satisfy such people.
It is tragic but true, much criticism is fueled by emotion. Any time a leader responds to criticism in an emotional way that leader begins to be sullied by the process. As a leader, leave the anger, hyperbole, over-statements and long-standing feud to others. Effective leaders rise above the criticism.

Add no fuel to the Fire

For some years, I led North American Missions for a major religious organization. Early in my administration, an email came criticizing a decision our board had made. I was angry. The email was filled with innuendo, inaccuracies and had the tone of intimidation. I was loading the cannons to fire back.
Before I did, thankfully, I reached out to Mike Williams, a friend who pastors in the Orlando area. Mike’s advice was simple, “Carlton, don’t escalate the problem. Don’t add fuel to that fire. Let the fire die.
Wisdom: if you don’t add fuel to a fire, it will die.
  • A pastor who addresses a parishioner’s complaint from the pulpit adds fuel to the fire. Actually, that pastor just poured gas on the fire!
  • Seeking support from others in the church body in hopes of getting them on “your side” does not work either. This creates division, unlikely to be healed.

In my experience, if a criticism has little merit and the leader has been gracious in dealing with people – others will become defenders. Mike had it right, “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”

Turn it Over to Jesus

Really! At least talk to Him about it. This is His church you know. Pray and surrender the criticism to the Lord. In many instances, you will have to give it to Him more than one time. Either the criticism will continue or the echoes of the criticism will resonate in your mind.
I’ve offered some suggestions on how a preacher can approach prayer in an earlier blog:  Five Steps in a Preacher’s Quiet Time

Lessons that Come from Criticism

The corporate world teaches leaders to look for a lesson in a customer’s complaint. It helps to be able to learn from criticism, even criticism that is intended to be destructive. To learn from criticism requires three things:
  • Step back from the heat of the moment. Look at the situation as though these events were happening to someone else. Are there things you could have done better?
  • Stop being defensive.
  • Get over the “papal” inspired idea that we preachers never make a mistake. We can and do make wrong decisions. When we get it wrong . . . learn and if necessary do everything possible to correct the mistake.

Leaders do not please everybody. While in an executive role and as a pastor, I knew decisions would come under close scrutiny. Decisions were made knowing that someone would be disappointed with the decision. Count the cost of the decisions you make. Three questions may help:

  1. Will the decision stand up under the weight of Biblical scrutiny?
  2. Is the decision the ethical thing to do?
  3. Does the decision make good business sense?

Consider the Source of Criticism and the Method of the Criticism

When criticism comes, consider the source of the criticism. One of my most vehement critics was a person who would not be considered a saint anywhere. My response was to basically ignore the person. That person was not going to help pay the church bills or grow the church. Why be concerned about the opinion of someone who is playing for the other team.
Second, if a mature person has come directly to you the person has handled the issue correctly. Hear them out. Such a person usually has your best interest in mind. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6) 
Daily Unity is the goal for the entire body. The friend who speaks to you, expressing wise and valid concerns is not seeking to divide. That person can often be your best help.
Will you ever get beyond being criticized?
Simple answer, “No!” The later James Kilgore told one of my peers, “As a pastor, no matter how long you have pastored, you must always sit easy in the saddle.” The elder was referring to a horseman never being complacent in the saddle. Even the best-trained horse can be startled by a snake or rabbit. A good horseman is alert. A pastor needs to be similarly alert.
No matter how long you have been in ministry or how long you have pastored in a particular location – don’t imagine yourself to be beyond criticism. You aren’t. You never will be!
So wrapping it up. Criticism – it is going to happen. It is happening, whether you hear it or not. Being forewarned that criticism will happen is the first step in preparation.
Decide now how you will handle the whispers, rumors and occasional character assassinations. As you do – keep an “old rugged cross” on the horizon to help guide your response. Some years ago, a mentor, directed me to Marshall Shelley’s book that further addresses these issues. It was helpful. I recommend it. His title is fitting:  Well Intentioned Dragons
What has been the most unfair criticism that has been sent your direction? How did you respond and how did it work out?
A final note of interest to some:  My book Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask is available to you for free. You pay the shipping and handling.
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Six Ways to Keep Your Preaching Cupboard Full

You can stay powerful, relevant, eternal and interesting with your preaching. Bruce Mawhinney’s book Preaching With Freshness is recommended for anyone serious about being consistent in the pulpit.
This topic is important. A pastor, evangelist or anyone who fills the pulpit must offer quality in feeding Jesus’ flock. Having one “A+” sermon or Bible Study per month and everything else grading a “D” or “F” won’t do.

An Attitude for Consistency

How does a “man of God” have a consistent “word?”  Part of this comes with being mindful that another time to preach or teach is ahead of you. Even for someone who occasionally fills a pulpit, preparation does not start when you are asked to speak. This is, even more, the case when someone is in the role of a pastor or evangelist. Good preaching and teaching is the result of good work.
You are never not getting ready. It does not work out well if the preacher is always a last-minute chef. Having a “meal plan” is better.  Preaching or teaching in series will make your preparation easier. My observation is that at times, a pastor has the foundational concept of a 4 or 6-week series, but tries to get all of it into one message. This is often a misuse of resources. It also over-estimates the average person’s ability to receive.
Take the same material and use your outline to develop four sermon/lessons instead of a single forty minute discourse. Then spend some time each week reviewing the prior week’s material. People will respond. People will retain more of what you are sharing. Repetition is the mother of learning.  Beyond that, here are some things that work for me.

Be always gathering material.

Be like the ant rather than the sluggard. Never stop gathering resources. Every thing you might ever use, about any thing you may ever teach or preach about should be drawn into your net. This is not material you will use this week, or even this year. Today, I use material brought into my net 30 years ago. For years, this looked like 8-12 file drawers full of “stuff.” Today most of the “stuff” is digitized.
To be sure, some will never be used. However, you never know where life will take you. The resources you put in the cupboard today may well benefit you in situations you cannot currently imagine.

Read, read and read some more!

In addition, read! Leaders are readers.  I collect and read sermon books. I don’t read them for sermons. Such books help me provoke thought. I don’t think I’ve ever “cut and pasted” someone else’s sermon. However, the sermons I read are the source of seed thoughts and illustrations. Treasures can be found in sermons preached by C.E. McCartney, G. Campbell Morgan, Vance Havner, C. M. Ward and dozens of others.
Incredible nuggets are found in the old journals from events such as the Keswick Convention in England and Founder’s Week at Moody Bible Institute. My preference for both, are the journals more than 50 years old.
Books I read are well-used.  Where I see a thought that is preachable the initials “ST” for “Sermon Thought” are placed in the margin. Any quotation or illustration that resonates with me is put in parenthesis and a letter “Q” for “Quote” is put in the margin. These “ST” and “Q” items get copied or typed and saved. Use my pattern or create your own. Do something to retain access to these resources.

Listen, Listen, Listen Some More

Through the years, any inexpensive audio material available became part of my resource library. Cassettes by the thousands are stored away. I’ve listened to 99% of them. While driving, constantly listen to something enriching.
My listening is not limited to my own organization. The flow of communication from fellows like Jack Hayford, Warren Wiersbe and leadership resources from the corporate world have helped me. These days, podcasts including TED Talks help keep me thinking.

Systematic Study

Do some study “the book” for a sermon instead of in order to get to know the author of “the book?” Good preaching and teaching should flow from a constancy of study, rather than study being based on needing a sermon.
There are many ways to study. Read and apply Tim LaHaye’s book, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. The What the Bible Says Home Bible Study that I teach the unconverted is based on a topical study. Other forms of systematic study can include the study of a particular book of the Bible, the study of a person of the Bible, the study of a particular epoch of history – such as the life of Christ or the early church.
In my approach, the systematic study is usually moving toward teaching. But, it becomes the source of my evangelistic preaching. It has been said:  study yourself full, pray yourself anointed and preach yourself empty.
Anointing on an empty head is not as effective as an anointing on a head that is full of the good word of God.

Stay Focused

Furthermore, work with a limited number of topics in mind for your preaching and teaching. My Twenty Topics to Preach About Two Times Each Year keeps me focused on thinking about relevant truth.
It is easy to get lost studying and teaching the typology of the Old Testament and miss the fact that marriages are struggling because they don’t know how to budget their money. Irrelevant truth seldom benefits. Stay focused and simple. My twenty topics help keep me on point.

Take Notes

Take notes as you listen to other people preach or teach. I’ll never totally make the digital transition, so I’ll continue carrying my legal pad or journal to any meeting I attend. Pen and paper have a much better memory than I do.
When I listen to others preach or teach, good preaching ideas come to me. Often the ideas have little to do with that preacher’s topic. However, that idea won’t stay with me if I don’t write it down. If I want to keep it – I write it down.

Freeze and label your “stuff”

My parents had a garden. A benefit of the garden is the produce frozen to be used later. In preparing these things for future use my mom would label the freezer bags then freeze it. The garden produce was collected, identified and preserved.

A good preacher is almost always intent on collecting, preserving and labeling material for future use. From whatever source(s) you gain good material, the best way to “label it” and “freeze it” is a program or app called Evernote.
Evernote is a program that saves ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Handwritten notes can be scanned or a picture taken. Audio files. Adobe PDF Files, Files imported from Word or Wordperfect, pictures, emails or through direct input.
Evernote allows “tags” the equal of the freezer bag labels. You can find your “stuff.” So get the material off your notepad into Evernote.
This can be done by something as simple as taking a picture of your handwritten note using an Evernote companion called Scannable. Evernote for the Preacher is a good resource to learn about how one church planter is using Evernote. With Evernote, you can tag what you save. It is also easy to search for the material you have saved. For most people, the free level of Evernote is adequate.
I’m sure some others have even better ideas for staying fresh. Please share them. If you have a question, please ask it as a comment. I may not be able to answer it. More than likely one of my readers will.
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Daily Evangelism

The apostles stayed busy evangelizing. They had been imprisoned, intimidated, physically beaten, and warned to stop, yet they returned daily to teach and preach. They practiced daily evangelism. A story is told of Jesus Christ returning to heaven after His resurrection. All the angels gathered for a gala celebration. During the festivities, as the story goes, the angels gathered around the Son of God to hear about His many experiences on earth. Christ told the angels of His many miracles. Then, He told them the story of His death on the cross and how he had risen from the dead on the third day. As Jesus finished His account, all heaven was silent. Suddenly one of the angels declared, “Lord, it’s our turn to participate. We will go to earth and tell the masses of all you’ve done for them.”

The Lord quietly shook His head and answered, “No, that will not be possible.” All the angels were puzzled and another asked, “How, then, are you going to send this message to everyone on earth?” In a confident tone the Master answered, “I have left this responsibility in the hands of eleven fishermen.” With a questioning look another angel quickly responded, “But, Lord, what if they fail?” Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”

The story illustrates the magnitude of the responsibility to evangelize. The apostles understood the significance of evangelism. God’s only method is men, men devoted to the task of evangelism.white-male-1834099_960_720

Wrong Attitudes Toward Daily Evangelism

Unfortunately, evangelism has mistakenly become the labor of the “super-christian” and not a normal function of Christian living. Music, singing, and sermonizing do not fulfill the Christian’s mission.

Miscomprehension of the Task

Furthermore, let’s consider our attitude toward evangelism. Most Christians do not relish going door to door. Yet there are many other opportunities to evangelize. Christian giants are not needed to evangelize, Christian friends are. Our first error is misunderstanding who we are to evangelize. The mission field starts outside your door. Your co-workers and neighbors are the first candidates.

Wrong Focus

How do we feel about evangelism? We know we should evangelize, so why don’t we do more of it? The answer could be fear, laziness, lack of knowledge, or thinking we are too busy. Usually most of us would simply rather be doing something else. We have no ambition to share the good news.

Irrelevance

Additionally, we lack relevant compassion. Kindness and caring are in shortage. If we do not care, the church should close her doors. We must feel people’s pain. Jess Moody said, “A church, like a newspaper, can soon be out-of-date. When that happens, like the newspaper, it becomes good for nothing but wrapping fish that someone else has caught.”

Bible Instruction to Evangelismstudy-862994_960_720

Jesus distinctly commissioned evangelism:

Matthew, 28:19

There are three instructions given.

First (go, teach)

  • “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”

Second {convert}

  • “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Third (teach, disciple)

  • “teaching them, observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”

It is the three-step process from sin to becoming a fruitful member of the body evangelism, conversion, and discipleship.

“But ye shalt receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

You shall receive power! What is the power for? To be witnesses! We can do all things through Christ which strengthens us. Power is given to evangelize.

While evangelizing and discipleship are not hard concepts, they can become complicated if the church does not have an open-door policy. If you find yourself in this position, please read my other blog on “Closed to New Disciples”.

Jesus’ Example of Evangelism

A very important principle of evangelizing is getting acquainted with people. Reaching out to people and involving them in your life, leads to bonding. Many Christians are isolationist, preserving their smiles and friendliness for other Christians. It is also important to keep in mind the way to which we speak to them. Our role is to convey the truth so that they can understand it. We must be bridge builders from our world to the world of the unsaved.

What are some ways that you have had success with evangelizing? What you have done may be exactly what someone else is looking for so please share your examples with us!

Additional resources are available on this topic from my book titled “Daily Things of Christian Living”, please visit carltoncoonsr.com.

daily

 
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My 20 Topics to Preach on 2X per Year

This idea is not original to me.  I heard Anthony Mangun speak of his strategy in this regard; later I read of something similar in one of Warren Wiersbe’s books.  This was developed into a chart that I kept in the front of my Bible that I used to record the name of the sermon and the date I preached it.  My list included the following topics I wanted to preach about.  This was helpful because there are certain topics that do naturally flow from so

 

Commitment                                     Outreach

Communion                                      Overcoming the Flesh

Discipleship                                      Praise

Discouragement/Encouragement   Prayer

Doctrine                                               Prophecy

Exalting Jesus                                   Revival

Failure                                                Stewardship

Faith                                                   Suffering

Forgiveness                                       Vision

Holiness                                              Worldliness

 

There are also special days that have the potential for specific preparation.  Such events: Easter, Christmas, Pentecost Sunday, Baby Dedications, Mother=s Day and Father=s Day

 

 

You can use something similar in preparing evangelistic sermons.  (Such a list is available in Masterful Preaching by the author; Truth Publications, Inc.) This sort of planning gives structure to the process of study.

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No Favoritism–The Science of Shepherding

There are people a pastor/shepherd has a lot in common with. Other people are almost a mystery. The basis of common interest of enjoying someone’s company includes:

  • Personality
  • Temperament
  • Mindset
  • Interests
  • Hobbies
  • Education
  • Value-system
  • Approach to life

Some People Never Realize How Wonderful Their Pastor/Shepherd Is 

The previous observation is “tongue in cheek.” Admit it, some people don’t like you. Oh well, I’ll admit it for all os us – there are people I don’t particularly like. Welcome to pastor/shepherding. We don’t get to pick our flock. The Chief Shepherd does the assigning. He may send certain challenging people my way to help me be a better Christian. An elder called such people our “grace builders.”

I’ve effectively pastored people who did not particularly like me.

Being respected and trusted is more important than being liked.

If you pastor even a few dozen people and you will likely pastor people

who you love but do not like.

The Youtube Vido clip below may well describe how a pastor feels at times.

Understand the Human Dynamics

Is a pastor/shepherd likely to have people he spends more time with?  Sure! Jesus did. Does a pastor have people who seem to be nearer to him? Sure, Jesus did.  John even described himself as, “the disciple who Jesus loved.” How do such relationships occur?

By the bond of investment!

Those who have worked with livestock know certain animals tend to become better known. The pet may be a calf rejected by its mother. Bottle feeding a calf will create something of a connection. In a similar way, helping people through the early stages of their Christian development may create a bond. Standing alongside a person as they overcome addiction or a troubled past becomes a special glue.

Due to Common Interests

Pastor/shepherds will lead some people to whom they relate well. These are people with whom you are a bit more comfortable. It may be like my experience with Curtis Thornton. He was our first convert in Vidalia, Louisiana. Curtis and I were the same age. We both enjoyed sports. He was easy for me to be around. We had common interests. I performed he and Sherlene’s wedding ceremony. Taught his mom and some siblings a Home Bible Study. Dedicated their son Benton to the Lord. We had and even today have several common interests.

Dedication to a Shared Cause

Not only were there common interests, there was a shared cause. Leaving an old life of drugs, Curtis quickly bought into everything at the Vidalia Revival Center! He prayed, worshiped with exuberance, taught Home Bible Studies, influenced others, helped with fireworks stands and fund-raising barbecues. We worked together. Because we had much in common and a shared cause.

But . . . Favoritism Is Not Allowed

A teacher’s pet who does not have to do the homework is everybody’s enemy. Under no circumstances can a pastor/shepherd show favoritism. Having people with whom you have much in common is fine.  What is wrong is “favoritism.” Favoritism as described below causes people to lose confidence in a leader. On occasion, I’ve seen favoritism.

Don’t Play Favorites With Your Family Members

You love your family. To allow your love for family to cause you to abandon principles is wrong. Such behavior will impair your ability to lead.

Let me give an example.  The pastor requires that any person on the platform team be in pre-service prayer. The pastor’s son plays the drums. The young man’s habit has become to arrive at church minutes before church starts. His reason. He has been working late. His father, the pastor gives the son a pass. Not having the same requirement of the pastor’s son is a grave mistake. The pastor is doing for his son what he would not do for another. Such behavior is favoritism. Favoritism erodes trust. The pastor may justify the behavior by saying, “Well, I know my son. I trust him. I’m sure he prayed earlier.” Or possibly the pastor fears that if the son is not involved in music it will lessen the son’s commitment. Neither justification or the will override reality. Reality is the pastor is treating his son in a favored way. Don’t do it.

Where family favoritism happens

Some prime and unfortunately too common examples of family favoritism.

  • Grandchildren who do not adhere to the lifestyle disciplines of the church continue to sing on the praise team.
  • High profile platform opportunities like singing the solo almost always involve the pastor’s family.
  • A pastor’s adult son or daughter are as unstable as water. Yet after a trip to the altar, the pastor’s unstable progeny are quickly designated as the leader of a ministry. No other returning backslider would ever be elevated in such a way.
  • The pastor’s family get a pass on the grunt work like church cleaning, lawn care, working in the nursery or church work days.

These things seem minor. To the “Great Shepherd” and his flock, they aren’t. Ezekiel indicted failed shepherds. His indictment was primarily about shepherds being motivated by self-interest. Every person in the church has a similar feeling about their children and grand-children. If you give your offspring special treatment – in any way, the flock expects you to treat their offspring in the same way. In matters of principle and in leading a church to healthy growth – good pastor/shepherds do not favor family members.

In matters of principle and in leading a church to healthy growth – good pastor/shepherds do not favor family members.

Playing Favorites With People

I’m not particularly oriented toward “hanging out with people.” I mentioned earlier that Curtis and I played golf. Actually, we worked on church projects far more than we golfed. In a similar way, Jesus had a working group. There were the twelve disciples. Jesus also spent much time with an even smaller group. Jesus strategy seemed to work well. Peter, James and John became cornerstones of the New Testament church.

A good question to ask regarding Jesus behavior with His inner circle is, “What is the motive?” The significance of the work drove Jesus. He spent strategic time with people who were keys to the future. Jesus was not playing favorites. He was accomplishing what He came to do!

Sum it up this way. As a pastor/shepherd, there will be people you enjoy. A few people may make you almost go running for cover. For such to not be the case would defy human nature. Be wise! Even as you enjoy the company of particular people don’t play favorites.

 Four Suggestions for Not Playing Favorites

#1 – Never position an “inner circle” as “us against them.”

I’ve got an acquaintance who pastors this way. He pastors by pedigree. People of the right culture or background and those who have been supportive (almost to the point of subservience) are permitted in the small Pastor’s Golden Circle. In this particular situation, the group becomes ears collecting information for the pastor about any negative thing being said. Such behavior smacks of being a cult of personality. A “us” versus “them” mentality creates perpetual distrust within the flock. People are constantly looking over their shoulder.

#2 Don’t gossip

Sharing counseling information or any other private information with a “favorite” will eventually be a disaster. Telling a favorite about who tithes and who does not is not acceptable. Sharing the amount of money given creates a platform for jealousy or covetousness.

Keep confidences! Always!

I’ll take to my grave many unfortunate failings of precious people.

#3 Keep Your Own Confidence about Time Spent with various people

The Bible teaches, “Forsake the appearance of evil.” Wisdom decrees, “Forsake the appearance of spending a lot of time with a few select people.” Be careful to not flaunt or bring into conversation the time you spend with people you enjoy.A good approach is to spend time with favorites like I spent time with Curtis. Not many were jealous of Curtis being with me as we set up a fireworks stand on a hot June afternoon.

#4 Carry Burdens to the Lord and Not to an Inner Circle

Your favorites don’t need to hear about negative things that happen in the church. Even things directed toward you. At times people will dislike decisions you make. They may react. Those sparks of minor frustration can turn into a forest fire. To pour gas on a spark just tell someone in the “inner circle” about the difficulty. The “favorite” may well rise to your defense in ways that make matters worse.

Your goal is to be reconciled and at peace with any person who you currently have a problem with. Reconciliation becomes more difficult when other people get involved. If the “fire” spreads other people may decide to choose a side in what has now become a “church fight.”

If you deal with the difficulty alone, you may well accomplish complete reconciliation. However, if you share the problem with someone in your inner circle that person will tend to always harbor a grudge. The grudge remains, even though you and that person have long since reconciled. Your behavior will have added restlessness to the flock.

Pastor/Shepherds Who Show No Favoritism Lead Healthier Churches

Some of the concepts I’m addressing here are in my book Healthy Church – Start Here!  Those who have read it give a good review to Healthy Church – Start Here!  Each of 18 reasons church plants do not survive or churches do not grow are addressed in the book.  You can lead a healthy growing church.

I also recommend the late Ralph Reynolds book If the Sheep Could Speak! It is available at the Pentecostal Publishing House website.