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Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies

Karns Church of Christ

May 22nd, 2021

Commencement

What would I tell the graduates of the Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies as they have been prepared for a new journey in their lives?

BACKGROUND: I have served as a preacher in the Lord church since 1989; early on, as one who was self-taught. I served in the USAF, living in NM, Guam, Idaho, and various TDY’s, including Saudi Arabia (Desert Shield). I was an NCO in the Air Force and attended leadership training at the NCOLS (Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership School). After my honorable discharge (1 month shy of 11 years), I enrolled in the East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions (1993-1995). I was a student at ETSOP just before I turned 33 years old. Life moves rapidly for each of us, now here I am ¾ of the way through my 60th year, 61 around the corner. Decisions of the past are forgotten, and new problems and challenges arrive; experience and wisdom lend a significant hand in helping address them. Hopefully, what I offer will help you minimize problems in your ministry.

From the perspective of a preacher and one who serves as an elder, let me appeal to you to consider the following:

  1. Never allow yourself to be perceived as a threat. Some people, unintentionally perhaps, begin a relationship with another (one or more than one) as a threat. Because of previous experiences, the attitude is adopted, “I am not going to be pushed around by you.” While there may be reasons for this sentiment, when others pick up on it, it immediately puts a gap of uncertainty between two parties. You will be wise to be mindful of this with both the males and females in all contexts. You are not there to change the congregation; you are there to serve them.
  2. Always defer when possible and always be gracious in the deference. When you can defer to the judgment of another, do it. Judgments are opinions; perhaps the judgment of another will work out perfectly, or maybe it won’t. If not, take the high road in your response to another’s judgment that did not work out. Your judgment, also an opinion, may not either.
  3. Earn your pay. Don’t allow the common mockery to be true (“Preachers only work three or four hours a week”). The brethren expect your time in the office to be reflected in your teaching and preaching. They will be able to tell whether you’re using your time wisely. Also, they are expecting you to reflect the life of Christ. If you fail Christ first, it is not long before this failure will be seen by the brethren. RECOMMENDATION: Bible reading 10 Old Testament chapters daily; 15 New Testament chapters daily. Not always easy, but worth the effort.  
  4. You’re not that smart! If you think you are, then a gap is put between you and others. Never compare your knowledge with another. It is expected you’ll be more knowledgeable than most, perhaps all, but if this “I know more than you” attitude presents itself, your time or connection with the brethren is soon over. Moreover, if you present this unseemly attitude, others will seek your fall.
  5. Bible knowledge does not always result in wisdom applied. There is no virtue, in and of itself, in knowing and quoting the Bible. There is much wisdom, however, in living a life of godliness (1 Peter 1:15-16; cf. Ephesians 5:17).
  6. The Lord, His church, your family, then you. The Lord is King of kings, and His church is the holy institution of the saved (Eph. 5:23); your family needs to be among the saved; if not, your effectiveness is minimized. Noah saved his family, but how many did Samuel or David save? After the Lord, your family is your priority. Allow no one to speak ill of your family, but as you defend them (if required), never forget the Lord’s church is His family, do not speak ill of any (Colossians 4:5-6). In your family and in the Lord’s family, be sure you take the crumbs, not the main course.
  7. You’re on a team, not the QB. If the brethren trust you, then you have earned the right to be regarded as a leader. Never forget you are on the Lord’s team, not your own. The Lord is the Head Coach, Quarter Back, and Upper Management. You are an equal in leadership with the elders of the congregation. They oversee the work of the congregation and the spiritual health of the members; your role in leadership is not minimized, only slightly different.
  8. I only lock my office when the saints meet to prevent wanderers from wandering about when not necessary, otherwise, I never lock my office but am an open book with the elders. While its possible there are private matters in your office that no others are to see, I trust those who have a key to the building. I want the elders to have a key to my office. I invite them to come in and look around when I am not in the office, look at my desk calendar, check up on my work. They may or may not do that, but knowing you are open to it allows them to take an extra step in the direction complete trust. If you are struggling with private failings, address them quickly. As required, allow your wife to help; if necessary, involve the elders. Embarrassing? Probably, but better than the alternative.
  9. Reputation and character. Reputation is what people think of you, character is what you are. People may oppose you and, in their opposition, some may lie about you. This was done to Jesus, expect no less. Be sure, however, their accusations are not true in the eyes of the Lord.
  10. People follow you; you had better be right! Because of your position, your knowledge, and your reputation; people tend to follow others they trust. Knowing this will help you. Because this is so, be sure you are right (1 Corinthians 11:1). If not, get things right with the Lord or Matthew 15:14 applies. Even if you are right, deflect all attention to the Lord, for you are following Him.
  11. Respond, don’t react. When you are startled, your response/reaction to what surprised may not be the same as when you “saw it coming.” In my mind there is a difference. To react is to respond without thinking, perhaps flying off the handle (so to speak). For some this is a standard operating procedure. People don’t want to be around those who react without thinking. When you respond, your response is more thoughtful; it can still be wrong, but it’s not a reaction. If you have a temper problem your struggles will be greater than one who does not have one.
  12. You don’t have career; you have a way of life. You are not preaching so you can reach retirement age, you are preaching so you can serve the Lord. If you lose sight of this, then who are you serving? This is not a criticism of retirement, but a criticism of focus.

Below are additional thoughts of respected men.  

  1. Don’t underestimate how people will view you. It is so very unfair, but preachers (and their families) are held to a different standard than any other member of the congregation including the Elders. Sometimes those opinions [from members of the church] will be shared with you, many times they will not, but they do have an impact on your effectiveness in your work. Be conscious of your social media postings and evaluate how they may be viewed by those in and out of the church. Your clothing, hobbies, expenses, social interaction, overall lifestyle will all be under the microscope. Just realize that and understand that ignoring that reality will do your work more harm than fighting the unfairness of it will help you (Charles Hill, elder, Lubeck Church of Christ, Parkersburg, WV).
  2. Show love in everything you do. You can do a lot of things wrong and if people know you are doing it out of love, they will forgive you; you can do things right but if they feel you are motivated by anything other than love, they will find ways to believe what you are doing is wrong. Love is NOT a feeling but an action and putting everyone else ahead of oneself requires a whole lot of discipline. Every successful evangelist I have ever known came off as loving and caring long before they were recognized as a speaker or preacher. I know of two who are excellent as teachers in one-on-one situations even though their speaking ability would have to be rated as sub-standard (speech impediment, organization of thoughts prior to talking (Don Chandler, former elder Lenoir City).
  3. One thing I have seen wrong with some preachers is their complaint, “That’s not what I am paid for.”  Menial tasks are sometimes meaningful tasks.  Also, while preachers are not “pastors,” their work will often be pastoring, in caring for the flock. You are right to warn about social media. It’s a trap that should be avoided (David Pharr, preacher/elder, Rock Hill, SC).  

Closing thoughts: There are many things to add to this list, but these are things I think might be helpful in starting out. I included the thoughts of men who serve or have served as elders. The elders where I live concur with these remarks. Ask another preacher, perhaps his list will be different. It might be different for you when you reach my age and experience in local work. In the end, be sure to live by 2 Peter 3:18 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.