What Ministers Can Learn from the Ministry of Joe Baisden

JoeBaisden1Joe Baisden of Belton, Texas passed away after battling cancer.  He was 79 years old.  For 33 years, he served the Belton Church of Christ as their preacher.  His funeral was in Belton on Saturday (August 20, 2016).

I am thankful to have known Joe and Janelle.  For 20 years, I served the Crestview Church, maybe 45 minutes from the Belton Church.  During those years, I had the privilege of being with Joe on numerous occasions.  I  listened and watched this fine man as he served the Belton Church.

There is much that ministers who serve churches can learn from Joe Baisden’s life and ministry.

  1.  Joe loved the the congregation he served.  Did he ever!  He spoke about the people in the church with such love and affection. The Belton congregation was precious to him. He would speak of a sick child, someone who had just lost a spouse, or someone who experienced job loss with care and affection.  It was obvious to those who knew him that he loved the church he served.
  2. Joe loved the community where he served.  He deeply cared about the city of Belton.  He spoke of the city with great pride and affection.  He invested himself in the community and sought to make a positive difference.  He didn’t just publicly speak of the city with affection but privately, when he was simply talking one on one.
  3. Joe had an infectious enthusiasm for life.  He was a person of tremendous energy and stamina.  He brought energy to most any room.  Yet, his focus was not on himself but other people.  He loved people.  He communicated this love when he preached but he also communicated this love in his relationships.
  4. Joe felt deeply.  When he spoke about a family who was grieving over the death of a family member, he felt that grief deeply.  You could see the pain on his face as he described what a particular family was going through with a family member who had experienced a tragedy. When someone was hurt, he hurt deeply.  Likewise, when someone was joyful in the Belton church, Joe felt a sense of deep joy for that person.
  5. Joe enjoyed the ordinary moments of life.  Joe might speak of a favorite breakfast place with the same enthusiasm that he would talk about their annual family beach vacation. Some years ago, we were both in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar (Austin Graduate School of Theology).  Joe asked me if I had ever been to a particular place for breakfast.  I told him I had not.  “What!  We have to go there! Tomorrow!” Early the next morning, we met at a little place for breakfast, not far from the University of Texas campus.  After we ordered, Joe talked about the qualities of this restaurant that made it one of his favorites in Austin.  This occasion was his treat and he wanted me to experience the best this restaurant had to offer.
  6. Joe was gracious.  For years, I watched him interact with young ministers at this annual Sermon Seminar.  He would look a young person in the eye, introduce himself, and then listen to the name of the young preacher.  So often, during the conversation, he would make a connection.  “I knew your preacher!” or “Did your dad go to ACU?” or “I once preached at the church where you grew.”  He had a way of putting others at ease and listened with genuine interest.
  7. Joe looked for the best in people.  One one occasion, I met him for lunch.  As he talked, he referred to several people in the Belton church.  With a genuine affection, he spoke about another minister on staff as well as well as other members of the Belton congregation.  He spoke of their extraordinary gifts and personal qualities.  I remember thinking at one point, “Wow, that Belton church really has such amazing people!”  Yet, this was the way Joe saw these people.  He saw the very best in others and highlighted this to others.

Many of us who serve as ministers can learn from Joe.  He poured himself into the lives of the people in his congregation and city.  He understood that ministry was a calling, not a career.  I am glad to have known him.

What Happens the Night Before

(Maybe there are others like you)

 

troubleshooting-and-repairing-windows-10-problems

 

I had only been with this congregation for a short time.  A woman came to my office and wanted to visit.  She sat down, looked at me and said, “I hope you don’t think we (at this church) have a lot of problems.”

“Well actually, I think people at this church do have a lot of problems,” I responded.  “Every church I know anything about has people with many problems and issues because that is just people.  People are broken.”

I then said to her, “I am a lot more concerned about a church that pretends they really don’t have problems.”

On Sunday mornings, preachers need to occasionally think about what might have happened the night before (Saturday night in the lives of the people to whom they are speaking.)

  • The night before, one woman wondered how she would get up the nerve to go to church by herself. She feared walking into that church building and not having anyone to talk with or sit with.  What if I go to church and just feel more alone?
  • The night before, a mom and a dad were screaming at one another in their house, while the younger children went to their big sister’s bedroom until the yelling stopped.
  • The night before, a widow thought about how lonely she was ever since her husband passed away.
  • The night before, parents went to the county jail where their son was released to them after being arrested for public drunkenness.
  • The night before, the young couple talked about visiting the congregation again.  They did not grow up in Christian homes but they really appreciate the values of the people in this church.
  • The night before, a mother hung up the telephone, hurt by the complete disrespect from her adult son.  She is tired of being insulted on the telephone.
  • The night before, a middle-aged man tosses and turns in bed as he worries about the cancer that has invaded his body.
  • The night before, a college student had been drinking at a club and then had sex with another student.  She wonders what will become of her life.

What a Minister Can Learn from a Congregation

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Many ministers learn a great deal from the people they serve.  Others seem to learn very little. Much of the time, this says more about the minister than the congregation.

Ministers typically have a front row seat to the congregation.  This is a wonderful opportunity for a minister to grow, mature, and learn. Unfortunately, some miss opportunities for growth and development.

The following are a few realities I have learned from congregations where I have served.

I learned from some of our business people the importance of process.  Far too often, ministers and elders completely ignore any sense of processing an issue with a congregation.   For example, perhaps the congregational leadership has spent 4 – 6 months talking and praying about a major mission project.  This would be a major undertaking for the congregation requiring a significant financial commitment.  Finally, they decide to bring this project before the congregation.  The preacher preaches a few sermons and then an elder makes an announcement about starting this new project. Then the leadership seems stunned when the congregation has reservations or resists this particular initiative. While the leadership has had plenty of time to process this mission possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of a process for the congregation.  Yet, this will be a major undertaking for these people requiring a significant commitment.

I learned from several business leaders in congregations the importance of process as it relates to leadership.  At least some of the conflict that congregations experience could be managed better if leaders would simply pay more attention to process.

I learned from some in these congregations about the depth and complexity of the pain they deal with.  Oh my goodness! Did I ever underestimate this as a young minister!  Yet, walking with so many through various situations has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.

Some in the congregation will talk about what is taking place in their families. Some will confide in a few close friends or perhaps one of the church leaders.  Far too many simply sit in silence.

I learned from these congregations what makes preaching helpful and effective.   I have read many preaching books and other works which discuss particular aspects of preaching.  Many of these have been helpful.  Yet, there is much to be learned from the people themselves about what kind of preaching is helpful and what is not.  I am not suggesting that one allow a group of people to necessarily determine one’s entire approach to preaching.  Rather, I am suggesting that we strongly factor into the mix what we might be learning from these people.   As a preacher, I have to ask, “Is my preaching connecting with this particular group of people?”

I learned from so many people that God could use me even as an ordinary human being.  I have known a few ministers who seemed intent on proving to the church that they could be just as coarse and crude as anyone else.  Perhaps they thought they would be perceived by others in the congregation as more human.  Perhaps this was a reaction to the way ministers are sometimes perceived by others. The perception by some is that they are almost superhuman -above and immune to temptation.  As a result, some ministers become far too self-conscious as they try to create a particular image or persona before the congregation.

I think it is far more important that a minister simply live as a human being among a congregation. No need to prove that you are human with flaws, shortcomings, and sins.  Many people will become aware of this all too soon.

 

Living as the Community of God

CampI read the first few chapters of the book, Living as the Community of God.  I was hooked.

The book is basically a commentary on Deuteronomy.  Yet, it is so much more.  I opened the book and read “Introduction: Why Bother with Deuteronomy.” The author Phillip Camp, Associate Professor of Bible in the Hazelip School of Theology at Lipscomb University, gives the reader ten reasons why the book matters for a Christian. For example:

(1)  It shows what it means to be in a faithful relationship with God and invites us into such a relationship.

(2)  It highlights the grace of God for his people and for all people.

(3)  It teaches a great deal about the nature of God: his love, mercy, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, etc.

The list continues.  I was impressed each one of these reasons.  The reasons alone made me want to read the book.

What I especially appreciated about the book is that each chapter was well organized and well written.  Each chapter had two sections that were particularly interesting.  One section was called “The God of the Community.”  This section discussed God, and the theology of Deuteronomy and the Bible.

Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth

RossStormentI just read Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment.  This sentence caught my attention, “What is a Christian’s responsibility to bring to bear God’s will in this corner of the world, so that people throughout Memphis might come to experience a hint of what life is like in heaven?”

Maybe this sentence caught my attention because I live in Memphis.  Or maybe it caught my attention because I have seen the power of a believer’s behavior, witness, and ministry in places that would otherwise be dark.  Unfortunately, I have also seen the power of a believer’s behavior when one has been inattentive and even apathetic toward the world.  Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment have written a book in which they explore the possibilities of the renewing and restoring work of God.  This is so important in a world that is broken and dark.  The book is a challenge for Christians to be serious about allowing themselves to be used by God.

Unfortunately, the answer to a dark world for some is to attempt to insulate oneself and one’s family.  I once had a conversation with a person who said she was trying to figure out a way to surround her family with Christians and only Christians.  The family moved to a street where several young couples from church already lived.  They had a Christian doctor, lawyer, and dentist, all from their congregation.  Their children went to a Christian school.  Her husband worked in a firm which consisted, primarily, of Christian people.

There is no problem, of course, with any one of these.  It is fine to go to a Christian school.  No problem with having a doctor, lawyer, or dentist who is a believer. The problem is that they were trying to insulate themselves from the world instead of penetrating the darkness.

Perhaps much of this is due to fear.  I found Chapter 13 to be particularly helpful as the authors address the problem of fear as we live as believers in the world.

The book reminds us that the world is broken and dark and that the work of God’s Kingdom involves restoring and renewing.

What Validates a Minister’s Value?

value-propositionHow do you know when a minister has great value?  Or, if you serve as a minister of a congregation you may wonder how much value you really have.  Perhaps there are times when you when you feel as if you have great value.  What factors have led you to come to that conclusion?  Perhaps there are other times when you feel alone, inadequate, and have little value as a minister.

Some believe that ministers have great value if one or more of the following factors are true:

1.  People are asking this person to speak at their congregations or at particular lectureships, seminars, etc.

2.  Congregations that are visible within our fellowship are asking this person to consider joining their ministry staff.

3.  A particular minister has a much larger salary compared to other ministers who serve in the same role.

4.  Many in social media quote this person and seem to rally around whatever this minister might say or do.

5.  A minister may be well known throughout a region or even the nation and perhaps have a “following.”  This may be evident either through conversations at particular gatherings or conversation through social media.

6.  A minister who has served a smaller congregation begins preaching for a congregation that is highly visible.  Suddenly that minister may be perceived to be “important.”

What Did You Expect When You Became a Part of a Church?

expectationsWhat did you expect when you became a part of a church?

Some believe that Christian people really have their lives together.  Some Facebook posts seem to almost suggest that marriage, family, and life in general are always wonderful.  The husband/wife is always thoughtful, amazing, awesome, etc.  The kids are always cute, adorable, angelic, etc.  Some even suggest that if one has really turned his/her life over to the Lord, everything in life will basically be smooth.

The truth is that sometimes life is very hard.  

Marriage to the best person in the world can still be difficult.  Parenting children (yes, I know you adore them) can still be very hard.

Even committed followers of Jesus still deal with temptation.  I was once in a conversation with a person who was telling me about a temptation she was facing.  In the course of the conversation she said, “I hope you don’t think I’m a bad person because I’m tempted by these things.”

Bad person?  Hardly!

She was a normal person.  Human beings – all of us – are going to be tempted by something.  It is not a sin to be tempted.  Sin occurs when we move from temptation into another realm.

There are often two negative consequences when churches believe that Christians have their lives together:

1.  Some Christians believe that they really don’t have a sin struggle anymore and consequently look down on anyone who struggles or fails in life.  Some people may even look down on some who experience certain temptations.  In their minds, real Christians would not even have the temptation.  Such people may come together on a Sunday morning and communicate in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the people in their church just don’t have problems like other people.

2.  Some Christians in such environments realize they must hide.  When they are with people from their church, they think “I can’t let people know what I really struggle with.  They would look down on me if they knew some of the thoughts that went through my mind this week.”  Consequently, they work hard to project an image that they believe will be acceptable to their peers in the congregation.  Such a person may often feel isolated and alone in a congregation because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone who she really is.   After awhile, that person may wonder, “What’s the use?”

A church was never meant to be a spotless group of people on display.  Rather, we have been called to display the One who has redeemed us in our brokenness and sin.  Not only do we discover Jesus in such a church but we discover what it means to really be human.

My Secrets May Hurt More People Than Me

SecretThe person with secrets often feels like she has gotten away with something.  That person may know that she has given in to a temptation and now remains undetected. When no one seems to know, you are basically carrying a secret.

“As long as no one knows, no one gets hurt.”  At least this is thinking of some people.  They get involved in a particular behavior they know is wrong but they believe they will remain undetected.

  • This may be the person who has a separate bank account from his spouse.  He uses it to buy what he wants to buy with their money and yet remain unaccountable.
  • This may be the person who lies on his tax return but is convinced his misdeed will never be detected.
  • This may be the person who has her eye on a co-worker and really believes that any illicit behavior will never be discovered.

Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

Five Suggestions for Cultivating Freshness

5Some of you may find this post particularly helpful.

I am going to share five practices that have been helpful to me in cultivating freshness. Hopefully, at least one of these might be helpful to you as you prepare your mind and heart for a new school year.

Each July, for the past nineteen years, I have stepped away from my daily ministry/work duties for the month.  Two weeks are vacation and two weeks are devoted to study.  I do no public preaching or teaching during this month.  The congregation that I serve has graciously supported this rhythm.

This month not only allows me the opportunity to rest and enjoy vacation, but has enabled me to spend focused time reading, praying, and thinking.

I want to share with you several practices that you might find valuable as well.