An interchange I had with William Thornton a few weeks ago caused me to think about advice given to me by old preachers. I was ordained to the gospel ministry at the FBC of Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1971. Several older pastors gave me advice and counsel, both that day and in the following weeks. I wish I could remember all they told me, but I do remember these gems.
Preach the Word and love your people. Probably, all our Voices readers have heard this one. It’s really common, but it is common for a reason. It is good advice. A pastor should focus on preaching the Bible, and he should love his people. Now, not all members are easy to love, but we should pray for grace to love them all.
The more the people know, the more the people will give. The pastor who told me this tried to help me understand that knowing the need will motivate people to give money or time or whatever. I’ve found this to be true. When I’ve presented a need clearly, God’s people have responded generously.
If you don’t know what to preach, then just brag on Jesus. I grew up in the Ozarks, and this sounds like a mountain preacher. I’ve shared this with my students over the years. A preacher can’t go wrong magnifying the Lord Jesus. Probably, we don’t do it enough. I have preached in many countries around the world, and there is a spiritual magnetism in Jesus Christ that attracts people of all cultures.
If you’re in a building program, show them the bricks. The pastor who shared this emphasized the importance of making a financial appeal practical and concrete. Organizations like Compassion International (which I commend to you) do this by saying “Giving $19 a month will feed this child.” If you are trying to raise money for a building, tell your folks that a gift of $100 will purchase 30 bricks.
Tell the truth and trust the people. This means that openness and transparency are the best policy. If you try to cover up something, the problem will be compounded. Of course, sometimes there are legalities involved, but usually we can be open with our members.
Study and pray in the morning and visit in the afternoon. This is advice Dr. W. A. Criswell gave to his “preacher boys.” It is good advice. A pastor does need to spend time in prayer and sermon preparation, but he also needs to get out among the flock. There is a trend now for pastors to spend all their time in the office. If you do that, you won’t understand your people. Beyond that, you need to visit members in the hospital and evangelize the lost. This advice leads to a healthy balance.
God won’t put baby Christians in a refrigerator. This means that God won’t bless a spiritually cold church with new converts.
Announce your Bible text twice. Then, when the pages stop rustling, begin reading your text. Of course, when I was a young preacher, no one imagined electronic devices with the Bible on them. Still, lots of folks (like me) bring a Bible with paper pages to church. So, you can listen for those pages. Also, it is always good to announce your Bible text twice.
Don’t mess with the cemetery and don’t mess with the WMU. You can’t win if you get involved with a fuss about the church cemetery, and you can’t win by interjecting yourself into a WMU spat. One pastor told me emphatically, “I will never ever accept another church that owns a cemetery.”
The success of your pastorate will be measured by how the church does after you leave. The pastor of our church during my high school years, Rhine McMurray, taught me this. He meant that a good pastor trains lay leaders who will lead the church well after he leaves. If the church falls apart after the pastor leaves, then he did not develop strong church leaders.
I’ve benefited a lot from the advice of older pastors. Now, that I’m an old preacher, I need to advise and mentor young preachers, who are just beginning. I’m thinking that I need to be more proactive in that regard. If you are just beginning in ministry, seek a wise, older pastor who can advise you and warn you. We’re all in this together!