I love Freed-Hardeman University for so very many reasons. I love that I “found” Melanie there. I love that I got a degree from that good place that is like a “license” to preach most anywhere I’d want to preach. I love that they value substance over style. I love that they freely host a week long reunion for preachers open to anyone every year. I love that it is isolated enough to keep a degree of innocence about it. And I love that I get to spend time with my family and my Family of preachers each year there the first week in February. On Tuesday, my brother Jeff and I got to get to be a part of a first in FHU’s 79 years of Lectureships. They began what they called “Collaborative Conversations” – Jeff and I were honored to dialog before a great crowd in Loyd Auditorium on “Fostering Healthy Relations Among Ministers.” As we worked back and forth on the material in the weeks and months heading up to this lecture I wrote down a line that bounces around in what’s left of my soft tissue: “the weight of the pulpit.” After using that term I want to take a few lines and unpack it’s meaning.
Late ’13 my son Andrew asked if I had read the book “One Word That Will Change Your Life.” He said I should and I did and it is very neat. It’s a short and simple read with a powerful concept – most of you would probably benefit from reading it yourself.
Over the last four or five years as my speaking calendar has grown increasingly crazy (and yes, I know and understand, because I lived it, that many of you would love to have that issue and I realize I am blessed) I heard a couple of folks talk about some of the guys who I so greatly admire and long to be like that sometimes they were not at their best. Now, I remember that these guys “not at their best” are still ten times better at presenting than I am. But I also was being slapped in the face with the reality that preaching on Sunday a couple of times, and then five or six other times during the week, with other duties and opportunities and travel included I was finding myself living without any margin. Cramming for each upcoming lesson and feeling anxiety about the very thing that was my greatest desire to do and be – preaching – a preacher. I felt like I was constantly scurrying and I needed to have peace about that – WOW! Therefore, in selecting my one word for 2014 I landed on “Prepare.” I got a decal for the back of my phone, I made it my computer screen background, I prayed about it and was faced with it continually. And it worked. It forced me to budget my time better, to think further out in the future. And I will carry this word forward as these words compound.
“Evaluation.” I cringe when I hear the word. Even though I am a STRONG believer in evaluating. I do it every day, every week, every month, every year: I’m constantly evaluating something. Personally, relationally, professionally – constantly watching for hints of where I can be better. So why do I hate preacher evaluations.” It’s got to be past experience.
My experience tells me that most every action/requirement/weird thing a leadership does in it’s dealings with ministers is a reaction to something in the past. i.e. Office hours, had a guy who slept in all the time or didn’t prepare well. And as painful as they might be – I also believe we need honest encouragement to improve from those who love us.
A few things upfront: I have been blessed at every congregation I have worked with but there is no such thing as perfect on this earth. So don’t believe either that I am whining or bellyaching or throwing anyone under the bus OR that I have it perfect and you’ll never have the honor of working this a great church. Dad taught us years ago that to a large degree working with a local church is what we make of it – you can see and feel how you choose to about any specific situation. Now, let’s go.
If I’m not praying out loud (one of my favorite things when I drive alone), or on the phone (hands free of course), or listening to a sermon podcast or The Bridge on Sirius then I’m listening to sports talk radio. It’s the easiest thing of the five options above. Sort of mindless and rarely of much benefit but every now and then someone will drop an ounce of gold into my mental pocket.
Earlier this week Jesse Palmer was being interviewed. Palmer played quarterback in college for Florida and in the NFL for the Giants before turning to broadcasting. He is now one of the main on the air guys at ESPN. And this season they’ve struck gold with he and the iconic Brent Musburger.
In the interview Palmer was asked: “What has it been like working each week with Brent Musburger?” I loved his answer. “Every time we go live at the start of a game and Brent says ‘You are watching live as…’ I had to pinch myself to know if I wasn’t dreaming.”
I’ve seen the “big guys” up close and personal. They breath that rare air that makes them heroes and legends. They are humble and do not see themselves as more than they are. They blush at the very concept that they are any more than any other servant of God. But those of us who catch a glimpse of their effectiveness, who “covet” their ability, who “envy” the impact of their presented studies know differently. And we don’t covet or envy – we praise God for them. But at times we wish we could be as “much” as they.
I’ve fancied myself a writer and an orator – but have realized at my best, I’m average at both. But have realized further that if I am in fact giving my best – average is fine (i.e. I’m fine being a vessel of clay in God’s house 2 Timothy 2).
The busier we get the less connected we become. Our rush saps the joy from the things we do. It turns the things we do into chores on a massive check list and turns the people into faceless tasks to finish our “service” to and move on. We become more like mailmen delivering packages than ministers discharging grace. As the list grows so does the frustration.
My dear friend David Harmon, who died earlier this year, used to ask me if I was “putting to many rocks in my backpack.” He meant was I taking on too much. Yes, I was, and often still do. And what my own busyness does is sap the joy from the very things I most love to do. Articles have facts but aren’t written in an engaging way. Sermons are truth but with nothing that pricks the heart and soul. Visits are made but are shallow and, well, rushed. I go through the motions and “get it done” but don’t have any effect.
In our ongoing series by younger preachers here is the submission from Neal Mathis who works with the church in Tompkinsville, KY.
My dream for the church is simple. I want the church to be united. I want the church to be one functional group of people with one purpose, heart, and vision. I want the church to be what God always wanted it to be – united.
Now before I dig too deep, I understand your hesitation. Doctrine. Teaching. Values. Opinion. Those things are too important to simply look past or ignore in many cases.I agree with you when you say, “Neal, it’s just not that easy.”
The unity I want has nothing to do with “drawing lines in the sand.” The unity I want is something that seems impossible. It’s something we only hope for, without any real belief it will happen. It’s something you might only whisper about, because the minute you shout it everyone quickly offers you a dirty look or a roll of the eyes. It’s something you dream about but soon forget when reality sets in.
At TJI we asked two questions:
- What advice would you give to a new elder?
- What did you learn that most shocked you in your first year as an elder.
Here are the top 20 comments we got: We heard from older shepherds, newer ones, ministers and several ministers who also serve as elders. Thanks to all who responded. We cleaned it up a little but tried to just give as much as possible what was said to us. In the comment section please add your thoughts. We have the utmost respect for Shepherds and hope this will be of aid to your elders – feel free to forward this to them (If you are reading from TJI for the first time and want to get our updates email us at TheJenkinsInstitute@gmail.com and we will add you):
Don’t micro manage.
No shocks during the first year. Don’t be a “one hit wonder.” In other words don’t come into the eldership with a single agenda. i.e. “I’m going to change this…I’m going to fire him…etc.”
If you feel under-qualified and inadequate, good your you. That’s normal. I interpret that as a sign of humility and recognition of the great task you have undertaken. Don’t let those feelings be your only feelings.