Author Archives: laluchetti

You can Learn a lot from a Preacher (Lenny Luchetti)

Pulpit

Every preacher has at least one primary strength from which all preachers can glean. I have been preaching for more than 20 years and teaching preaching for more than 10 of those years. I love listening to preachers who hit the proverbial ball out of the park in key areas, especially in areas where I strike out or get singles. Here are 7 skills we can learn from 7 different preachers. All of the following preachers have sermons that can be easily accessed on the internet.

Andy Stanley and Conversational Delivery: Stanley breaks many of the old rhetorical rules. At times, he talks too fast, uses too many hand gestures, and doesn’t enunciate well. Yet, tens of thousands of people listen to him live and online each week. Why? Because he replicates in the preaching event what happens naturally in conversation. He seems natural, conversational and, as a result, authentic. In conversation we don’t always enunciate, we talk too fast when excited, and we get overly animated with our hands. So does Stanley and that’s one reason why people listen to him. Preach like you converse and listeners will feel like they are in dialogue with a real person not a plastic pulpiteer.

Christine Caine and Passionate Testimony: Caine has grown in popularity as a preacher over the past decade, even in surprising circles where female preachers are not endorsed. Even naysayers sense the passionate conviction with which she preaches. She does not simply tell us about God, she tells us about her experiences with God. She sprinkles her powerful testimony into her sermons. But, she is careful to share her testimony in ways that help the listener know God, not her, better. Caine shares her story in a manner that helps listeners access their stories in light of the story of God as revealed in Scripture. Caine’s credibility and authority are anchored in her experience with God. The listener senses, “she walks with God.” Caine shows preachers how to be testimonial without being self-centered.

Fred Craddock and Inductive Progression: Craddock was a pastor and teacher of preaching for more than half a century. He recently passed away but not before passing on a legacy for those who dare to preach. One of the main hallmarks of his preaching was his ability to replicate for listeners the journey of joyful discovery he experienced while preparing the sermon in his study. Craddock contended that too often preachers reverse what happened in the study by starting the sermon deductively. They begin with the bottom line discovery it took them a week to discern in the study. This makes the sermon dull and boring. The listeners are handed the main thrust of the sermon at the outset and they have no reason to listen beyond the sermon introduction. Craddock, as well as Jesus in his parables, taught us the art of the inductive sermon by taking listeners on a journey of joyful discovery. Sometimes Craddock would hold back the sermon focus and resolution until the last minute of the sermon. Craddock’s sermons moved toward the focus inductively instead of starting with the focus deductively and proving it.

T.D. Jakes and Contextual Colloquialisms:  Jakes puts biblical concepts and narratives in the language of his people with power. He playfully connects the characters in the biblical text with contemporary images and situations. He is careful, when he does this, not to neglect the historical and literary context of the text. Instead, he contextualizes the exegetical realities of the text so that the world of the bible and the world of the listener are merged. So, Jakes might describe Moses as shedding his high-top Air Jordan sneakers because he is on holy ground. He might paint a picture of Pilate as a divorced politician coasting toward retirement. Jakes finds ways to contextualize biblical realities by using the colloquialisms of his people. He does this in ways that are faithful to the intent of the text and to the realities of his context.

Steve Deneff and Itch-Eliciting: Steve is my pastor so I have the privilege of hearing him on a weekly basis. His sermon introductions are lengthy. He will use the first 10-15 minutes trying to expose and elicit an itch in listeners that we didn’t even know we had. He exposes our assumptions and debunks them. Steve recognizes that the sermon introduction must elicit an itch the listener will want to have scratched. If not, the listener might not listen. Steve knows his context. Most of the congregation consists of long time churchgoers, people who might assume we already know what we need to know and live how we need to live. Steve has to work extra hard in this context to help us feel an itch we didn’t even know needed to be scratched. He does this masterfully.

Barbara Brown Taylor and Poetic Word-Smithing: There is no one alive who is better at stringing words together than Taylor. She weaves biblical exegesis into the sermon seamlessly without saying “look at my word study” or “check out the historical background of the text.” She is more subtle, more artful in her weaving of the “then and there” of the text with the “here and now” of her context. Taylor poetically words her sermons in a way that blurs the lines between the biblical world and our world, so that our story is caught up in the story of God. She is a manuscript preacher, so her delivery may not be charismatic enough for some. Her content, not her delivery, is her lead card. One gets the sense from listening to Taylor that she labors over every word to find just the right one to fit with all of the others. Listen carefully to the way she uses words to concretize concepts, to paint profound pictures.

Eugene Lowry and Tension to Twist: Lowry is a genius at developing narrative tension in the sermon. And just as listeners are feeling the tension of the biblical text, Lowry will pull a fast one and offer a new twist on a familiar passage. Here’s an example. I heard him preach on the familiar Mary and Martha passage in Luke 10. What is typically preached from this text is the tension between serving and Sabbath, between doing and being, between busyness and stillness. Lowry starts there but then digs deeper to create a new tension and twist. He pulls a fast one by revealing that Mary is not to be commended merely because she sat still at the feet of Jesus but because she was counter-cultural. Mary took on the posture of a disciple, a role reserved for men alone in her culture. Martha stayed in the kitchen doing what women did in that day. Jesus commended Mary not Martha. Lowry used tension and twist to help us see this familiar biblical narrative in a new light.

What skills from the preachers above do you most need to adopt in your preaching today? These skills are not the ones we traditionally learn from a basic preaching course. They are advanced skills that come with experience and intentionality. Go online and check out the preachers who possess the skills you need to enhance your preaching.

Serving Christ with you,

Lenny Luchetti

Tactical Tips for the Guest Speaker

If you’re a pastor, chances are someone at some point will invite you to be a guest speaker at their church or special event.  Guest speaking occasions can provide some of the most significant opportunities for ministry impact. The guest speaking adventure is also laden with some dangerous dynamics. These guest speaker survival tips can help you navigate the challenges.

Explore the Context: There have been a few times when I was invited to preach in a context that I knew absolutely nothing about. Maybe that has happened to you. The person who invited you was in her 20s, so you planned a message for 20 somethings. When you arrived to speak at the event, you discovered that the large majority of people in the preaching context are in their 60s and 70s. None of your pop culture illustrations and quotes are going to connect with this crowd. You might as well chuck the Lady Gaga quote and Avengers movie illustration. If we take the time to explore the context, total disconnects like this one wouldn’t happen.

Nowadays, when I am invited to speak in a new context, I ask the person inviting me to complete a Ministry Request Form. On the form I request the following information: Describe the culture of the group with five adjectives. What is the demographic make-up of the group in terms of ethnicity, generation, socio-economics, education, and spiritual maturity? What is the purpose of the event? How many people will attend the event? What is the appropriate attire for the event? The response to these inquiries provides a sketch of the group and shapes the content and delivery of my message.

When I receive the completed Ministry Request Form I pass it on to members of my prayer team. They not only pray for my speaking events, but help me to discern which invitations to accept.

Respect the Context: If someone invites you to speak at their event, then they want you to be you. You should show up at the event as your authentic self. After all, they want you to speak. But, without losing the essence of who you are as a person and a preacher, you should respect the context enough to adapt to it. I’ve seen too many speakers shoot themselves in the foot by disrespecting the context. They dress incongruently with the group. They use language that offends the group. Their message goes 20 minutes past the group’s listening capacity. It’s one thing to explore the context, it’s another to respectfully adjust to it. The needs of the listener must trump our personal preferences. We call this empathy and it is effective when genuine.

When the speaker disrespects the group she has been invited to address, the listeners can’t help but ear-muff the message. They’ll stop listening to what you have to say when they feel disregarded. If the group is going to be impacted by what God gave you to share, they will need to sense that you “get” and respect who they are.

Thank Your Host:  I’m often so eager to jump into my message that I forget to thank my host for cutting me loose in his people. About 5 minutes into my message I realize, as I make eye contact with the host, that I forgot to express thanks for the invitation and hospitality he extended to me. At this point, it’s too late. It wouldn’t be wise for me to say, “I interrupt this message with the following public service announcement- I want to thank your so and so for inviting me here today.”

Remember that while it’s important to thank the host, don’t overdo it, especially if you’re on a tight time budget. Make your comments brief and to the point. But please try to offer something a bit more creative and personal than the typical “thanks so much for having me.” Come on. You can do better than that.

Exalt Jesus: Although we must respect the context, we are called to proclaim Christ not entertain people. Our speaking should exalt Christ in a winsome manner. But, at the end of the sermon’s day, listeners should come away more impressed with Christ than with the speaker. If the host asks you not to mention the name of Jesus in your message, say at an inter-faith event, and you just can’t comply, be up front with your host. But, if your host doesn’t make such a request, proclaim Christ with love, respect and absolute gusto!

I was invited to the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives Session at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to offer an opening prayer. I’m a Christian minister, so the content of my prayer was Christ-focused. No one asked me not to pray in the name of Jesus and I didn’t ask permission. I assumed that’s what they expected since I’m a Christian minister. I didn’t use my prayer to beat up on other religions. I didn’t pray, “and, God, we know that all Muslims and Hindus are going to hell” or anything like that. That would betray my rule about respecting the context. But, make no mistake, Jesus was the central point of my prayer. I thanked the Father for sending Christ the Son to be the ultimate public servant. One of the people who worked at the State Capitol Building said to me, “it was so good to hear a prayer from a Christian minister that mentioned Jesus.” I know, novel, right?

Discussion

Now it’s your turn to share some wisdom with our readers. What tips for the guest speaker would you add to my list? Which of my tips do you want to challenge or confirm?

Concluding with a Cherry on Top (Dr. Luchetti)

I recently enjoyed the four-course Festa Italiana at the Olive Garden with my wife and some friends. The meal included an appetizer, unlimited soup and breadsticks, an entrée (Smoked Mozzarella Chicken for me), and a dessert. All of this was only $14.99! A steal of a deal if you ask me. I tried to convince Amy, my wife, to get the same deal but she resisted. Oh well, her loss.

The Crispy Risotto Bites started the meal off with a bang. After an appetizer like that, my expectations for the entrée were high. I was not disappointed. The dining experience, up to this point, was delightful. Although my belly button was now flopping over the waste line of my jeans, I couldn’t wait to conclude with a delectable dessert. There’s always room for dessert, even when there’s not. The Festa Italiana included dessert and I didn’t want to be a bad steward of God’s money. I ordered the chocolate mousse which, in my estimation, is the ideal way to conclude an excellent dining experience.

Then it happened. The waiter brought to the table our desserts of choice. I thought it was a joke. My chocolate mousse came in this tiny, I don’t know, glass thing. That’s the best I can come up with since the “tiny glass thing” was too small to be called a bowl, dish, or cup. I finished the chocolate letdown in two bites. My wife, who resisted the Festa Italiana four-course “deal,” sat there gloating with her super-sized piece of Amaretto Tiramisu. My tip for the waiter was going to be “make the dessert better and bigger,” but I resisted and gave him money instead.

The joy of the first three courses was diminished by the disappointment of the final course, the dessert. I left the restaurant fairly full but with a taste of disappointment in my mouth. The conclusion soured me a bit toward the entire experience.

Preachers are sometimes guilty of doing to listeners what Olive Garden did to me. We leave a bad taste in the mouths of listeners during the conclusion of the sermonic meal. The introduction might be appetizing and the body a theologically substantive and contextually relevant entrée. But if we fail to finish of the meal with a delicious dessert, the entire meal will be diminished.

Let’s learn from Olive Garden’s mistake. Here are some things to keep in mind as you seek to finish the sermonic meal with a cherry on top:

-Avoid Summarizing: The goal of preaching is not merely to provide people with memorable information but transformational inspiration. If we preachers have done our job during the sermon, people will know more information about the Bible, to be sure. But when it comes to the dessert, the sermon’s conclusion, end with the sweetness of inspiration not merely the spinach of information. The American Church, as far as I can tell, seems well-informed but uninspired to apply what they already know. Try to overcome the advice given to the past few generations of preachers to, in the conclusion, “tell em what you told em.” No, tell em something that will inspire them to embody the Gospel. Summaries never inspire.

-Don’t Manipulate: Most of us have experienced the painfully extended altar call, the one that forces people out of their seats in hopes that the preacher will shut up and conclude the sermon. The long drawn out altar call is one form of manipulation that occurs during the conclusion. Here’ another. I call it the bait and switch. The preacher will say, “With heads bowed and eyes closed, just between you and God, raise your hand if this sermon applies to you.” The listener raises her hand thinking she made a private acknowledgement. The preacher led her to believe that. Here comes the switch. The preacher says, “Now, if you raised your hand, please come forward to the altar.” Listeners want to be challenged, not manipulated. Sometimes the line between the two is rather thin. If the preacher crosses it, the meal will be spoiled.

-Land the Plane: The conclusion will determine, to an extent, how the listener perceives the entire sermon. Think through the finish. Make it concise and compelling. Don’t wing it or you’ll end up hovering over the landing strip. I remember a bad experience flying into Chicago. I’m not sure why, but for some reason the plane hovered over the landing strip for about 20 minutes. Perhaps there were some issues on the ground. I was frustrated, angry even. When the preacher hovers, refusing to land the plane, listeners become frustrating and angry. The listener will be finished with the sermon, even as the preacher keeps flying. This puts a bad taste in the mouths of listeners. Unless your conclusion is crucial to driving home your focus and extremely engaging, land the plane quickly when the strip is in sight.

I will keep going to Olive Garden and hungry listeners will keep showing up on Sunday mornings to feast on a word from the Lord. When they do, we must carefully and creatively develop a powerful conclusion. A disappointing dessert can diminish a good meal. But a delicious dessert can improve a mediocre sermon.

Monasticism for Ministers: You Can Learn a lot from a Monk

30 Wesley Seminary students joined me recently for a course I designed called Spiritual Retreat for the Leader. The location for the course was a monastery in Kentucky. Shortly after my return I tweeted, “If I didn’t love my family, job, and ESPN so much, I would join a monastery and become a monk.” I think I actually meant it.

The monastic life is appealing to me. I have taken several 3-4 day retreats at the monastery over the past 8 years. I miss my family so much it hurts every time I retreat. There is, though, a small part of me that wants to stay behind at the monastery forever. But God has not called me to be a monk. I am compelled, instead, to incorporate into my everyday “normal” life those monastic practices that most cultivate the soil of my soul for God, the gardener, to grow me.

Here are some ways for ministers to infuse our lives with monastic practices without leaving our lives to do so.

-Monastic Practice #1- Silence: We preach sermons, teach lessons, lead meetings, counsel couples, make small talk and return phone calls. At some point, most of us run out of words. Those who don’t, should. The practice of silence allows us to peek more intently into the holy of holies. When we shut up, we can hear God speak up. Then, and only then, will we have something life-giving to say. Perhaps you can designate one day weekly or monthly to shut off the noise that goes into your ears or comes out of your mouth. No music. No words. No noise. Only silence. When we shut up, we can hear God when he speaks up. That’s when we are most ready to receive a “word from the Lord.”

-Monastic Practice #2- Solitude: The 21st Century pastor is hardly ever alone. Solitude is hard for us. It brings us face to face with our true self, since there is no one around to distract us. There is no hiding from God or ourselves when we are alone. We remember our failures and frailty, as well as our potential, when we are alone. Being silent and still in solitude strips us down to our core where we find our true naked self. This is often a painful but peace-filled balm for the minister’s soul. In solitude there is no one to please or impress. It’s just you and God. Solitude is not a license for isolation. No, learning to be alone actually prepares one to maximize life together in community.

-Monastic Practice #3- Supplication: Monks gather together to pray nine times daily, including 3:15 am and 5:45 am. They gather to sing the Psalms as prayers to God. In the span of just two weeks, they will prayerfully sing all 150 Psalms! Most of us can’t imagine praying the Psalms nine times each day, but how about three times? I read a Psalm when I awake, at noon, and just before I sleep. I prayerfully intercede for myself and others based upon the content of each Psalm. The Psalms have a way of voicing for me what I feel deep in my soul but can’t find words to articulate. The prayers we find in the Psalms encompass a full range of emotions. There are angry prayers, sorry prayers, “help me” prayers, grateful prayers and more. It’s harder to find time to sin when you’re praying the Psalms frequently.

-Monastic Practice #4- Submission: We’ve all heard the phrase, and most of us have said, “It’s not about me.” Monks actually live it. They have to. Although monks have space for silence and solitude, they are forced to live in a 24/7 community with people they would not choose if they had the choice. The monks work, worship, and eat together every single day. There is no escape from people who frustrate them. Intense interconnectedness is much harder, but more sanctifying, than isolation. When a person joins the monastic community, he must submit to the monastic community. He must also submit his life to the Abbot, the head of the community. We have lost a healthy view of submission and authority in the 21st century American Church. Our country was built on rugged individualism and anti-authoritarianism. That was necessary in tyrannical times. But there is something soul-sanctifying about submitting ourselves to a community we have chosen and to the leaders within that community.

-Monastic Practice #5- Simplicity: Monks don’t worry about “keeping up with the Joneses.” The one with the most toys might be the winner in pop culture but is the loser in the monastery. The monk leaves every possession behind when he joins the monastic community. While there, nothing he possesses is his own. He owns nothing, so that God can own him. The monk doesn’t have to worry about stuff, preserving and protecting it. The good life is the simple one, and the monk knows it. Possessing and being possessed by God’s love liberates us from wanting anything else. Imagine what would happen if the Church and her ministers were free from bondage to opulence and content with the basic necessities of life! We could focus less time, money and energy on things that don’t last and more on things that do.

Projection or Presence: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Video Venue Preaching

Video venues are flying off the ecclesial griddle like hot cakes. Everyone seems to be doing it. Some with great success, if success is primarily determined by increased attendance at the multi-site video venue church. Many growing churches are getting behind this trend. Who knows if the trend is here to stay or merely a flash in the pan? Regardless, I am convinced that churches must carefully and prayerfully consider not only the short-term but long-term practical and theological implications of launching a site where the preacher is not present but projected. Here are some of the major pros and cons of video venue preaching. The question that must be asked and answered is, do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa?

Pros of Projection

-The most effective preacher gets projected. Let’s face it, there are relatively few preachers who hit the sermonic ball out of the park on a regular basis. And, there are many who are mediocre at best. Why shouldn’t the church put her best foot forward in order to impact more lives through preaching? So much is at stake. Seekers who visit churches do not typically return a second time to hear irrelevant sermons that seem disconnected from real life. An effective projected preacher seems better than an ineffective present preacher.

-Video venue preaching is efficient. It doesn’t take too much time or money to launch a video venue. The main expense is renting a facility with seating capacity and projection capability. While most video venues have a campus pastor/host who is present, you don’t need a high quality and expensive communicator. That person is projected. So, if you can rent a facility with projection and recruit a campus host, you can launch a video venue site rather quickly. If you’re looking for efficiency, “getting the most bang for your buck,” the video venue is for you.

-Current culture is enamored with the screen. Many North Americans spend countless hours each week looking at a computer screen, TV screen, and big screen at the local movie theatre. People are used to the screen. A case could be made, however, that people are sick of looking at screens and find a live performance refreshing. But, apparently, many nominally churched and unchurched people feel as though a projected preacher is safer than a present preacher.

Cons of Projection

-A projected preacher proclaiming a God who became physically present feels like a contradiction. The incarnation of God in Christ is the central event of Christianity. God came onto our turf as one of us to save us because he loves us. He came to 1st century Jews as a 1st century Jew. He was physically neck deep in the culture he was trying to reach. He preached profoundly to people because he put himself in their sandals and walked where they walked. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). God didn’t show up as a projection but as real presence. How can a Christian preacher do anything less?

-A projected preacher cannot preach a truly contextual sermon. Every congregational context is different. The sermon developed for the mother church is not designed specifically for the multi-site video venue, especially if those contexts are radically different. The live “in the flesh” sermon I preach at a Caucasian church in an affluent suburb of Dallas will not contextually connect via video with an African American congregation in an impoverished urban area. Plus, the projected preacher on video cannot adjust “on the fly” to congregational cues during the preaching event. Can pastoral preaching really be done from a distance?

-Projecting one preacher prevents others preachers from being developed. If we are concerned about utilizing our best preacher, then video venue is the way to go. But, if we are focused on developing the next generation of preachers, the video venue should be avoided. The way to develop more and better preachers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to preach. If the resident preaching pro is the only one preaching, the growth of potential preachers on the team will be stifled. In the short run, projecting the best communicator seems wise, but it is disastrous in the long run. When the elite projected preachers are gone who will replace them? Under-developed preachers?

More pros and cons of video venue preaching could be listed, so I welcome your response. Do you think the pros outweigh the cons or that the cons outweigh the pros? Is video venue preaching driven by pragmatism or theology? As I wrestle with these questions, I am genuinely interested in your perspective. In fact, I need it.

Lenny Luchetti

Pastoral Resignation: What to do on Your Way Out

Background

In April of 2010, I announced my resignation as Lead Pastor of a thriving congregation that I loved. We were experiencing significant God-momentum, with more people coming to faith in Christ and coming to our weekend services than ever before in our 95 year history. We were serving our community in substantial ways. Yet, I sensed God was calling me to another place of ministry. Pastors don’t usually leave when momentum and congregational love is at a heightened level, but I did.

That church went without a Lead Pastor for nearly a year. The four other pastors on staff guided the church with skill and integrity, as they rotated the preaching and shared the leadership load. Some might think that a local church would tank without a senior leader, but the church continued to emanate vibrancy in worship and vitality in mission. I am convinced that the church’s present health is due, in part, to how we weathered the transition from the announcement of my resignation until my last day as pastor 10 weeks later. If you are planning on resigning from the church you serve, here are some things to keep in mind on your way out.

-Ride Out the Wave of Emotions

The weekend I announced my resignation was one of the most difficult moments of my pastoral ministry. I was sure that once I announced my resignation, my sense of relief would increase and my grief would decrease. Such was not the case. I did have moments of extreme excitement about the new ministry before me. At other times, however, I was deeply saddened by the thought of leaving a group of people I had come to love. There was no easy way to navigate the variety of emotions I was expriencing, but I did try to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I tried not to get so excited about where I was heading that I didn’t finish well where I was serving. Additionally, I tried to avoid becoming so sad about leaving that I didn’t prepare internally for the coming transition. By God’s grace, on most days I was able to avoid both extreme excitement and extreme sadness. While I allowed myself to feel the various emotions, I tried not to allow my emotions to detract from the congregation’s healthy processing of my resignation. Of course, on my last weekend as pastor I cried like a baby; I couldn’t help it even if I tried. My tears were, however, ones of healthy celebration, love, and release, not guilt, manipulation, and regret.

My congregation was dealing with their own emotional roller-coaster as well. I was not prepared for the wide array of emotional responses within the church. I expected the sadness, shock, and disappointment that the congregation felt, but I wasn’t ready for the anger that a handful of good, loving people released. One of these people was a guy my age whose first Sunday at the church happened to be my first Sunday as pastor. I met with this friend weekly during his early days in Christ, walked with him through the pain of his divorce, officiated at his wedding, and dedicated his first born son. After my resignation, I heard second-hand that this friend was angry. He would not return my calls, text messages, or emails. He accused me of abandoning the church for greener pastures and threatened to look for a new church, even though he had been a very active member. I was not only surprised by his angry response to my resignation, I was crushed that he would question my motives for leaving. This person knew me better than most people in the church. I was hurt until I came to realize that some people treat a pastoral resignation like a death; some get angry, some get sad, and some get both. It is important to allow everyone to ride out the wave of emotions they may feel, even if those emotions seem unreasonable. Many of those who seem angry will, after some processing, move from anger and sadness to celebration and support of you and your new ministry opportunity.

What can you do to ride out the emotional wave you and your church are experiencing on your way out?

-Stay Out of the Pastoral Search

One of the hardest but most necessary commitments of the resigning lead pastor is to stay out of the pastoral search as much as possible. This is easier said than done. This congregation and I had experienced a significant turnaround over the years that we were together. The church had nearly tripled in size and, more importantly, developed a missional posture toward the community. In short, God had taken this group of people a long way and I didn’t want any incoming pastor messing things up. Sure I cared and wanted to know who the search committee was considering. I never solicited information, but it did come to me several times. When it did, it was an overwhelming temptation to say about prospects, “that person would be a perfect fit” or “that pastor will take us backwards for sure.” Although these thoughts went through my mind, I never verbalized them to members of the search committee, even when they wanted my opinion.

I stayed out of the details of the search, but I did offer some general tips to the search committee and board. I made sure to include important items on our monthly board meeting agenda. I helped the leaders identify the congregation’s missional DNA and what kind of pastor will match and enhance the congregational DNA. I also initiated discussions focused on how to welcome and encourage the new pastor and his/her family.

What can you do to stay out of the pastoral search process on your way out?

-Hang Out with People

After I announced my resignation, a part of me wanted to stay in my cave (the office) and hide out for two months until my last day of work. Afterall, I had lots of administrative loose ends to tie, not to mention an overly cluttered office to pack up. I knew in my gut, however, that the best use of my time between the announcement of my resignation and my last day of work was to spend time with people.

A resigning pastor, especially in a large church, cannot hang out with everyone. So, who do you spend time with when your time at the church is running out? I focused my time on three groups of people: people who invested as much in me as I did in them (friends), people who represented the backbone of the church’s future (leaders), and people who needed some of the dignity that life circumstances had stolen from them (marginalized). Some individuals fit into all three groups.

There were several individuals and couples in our church who had impacted me and my family in profound ways. Some were like grandparents to our three small children. Others were more than just church congregants; they were friends. While it was impossible to “hang out” with all of these friends, I made every effort to grab a few minutes with many of them.

The second group of people I sought out when my time was running out was leaders. This group included present leaders such as pastoral staff, board members, and key ministry leaders. Additionally, I was intentional about not only meeting with present leaders but potential leaders too. When I announced my resignation I was most concerned about how potential leaders might respond. Some of them had only been attending the church for less than a year and were not real connected. They were excited about the vision of the church and had the kind of character and competence to help us fulfill that vision. I didn’t want my announcement to shake them up and cause them to leave the church. So, I hung out with as many potential leaders as possible and told them how much their involvement, especially during a pastoral transition, really mattered.

Over the course of my time at the church, we had attracted lots of marginalized people. They were coming to us in droves. This group included those battling addiction, poverty, and mental illness. It was impossible for me to spend time with all of the precious people in this group, but it was important for me to grab quality time with as many as I could. In the mad-dash to pack my office and lead the leaders it would be easy to overlook marginalized people who were seeking refuge and healing in Christ. I tried hard not to let that happen.

Who are the friends, leaders, and marginalized people you will want to hang out with on your way out?

-Finish Out Those Procrastinated Projects

Most outgoing pastors want to have a heroic ending. We want to ride out of town on our white horse with the song Desperado playing in the background. There is a cowgirl or cowboy in most pastoral leaders. God, let’s face it, is not nearly as concerned with us finishing heroically as he is with us finishing well. This means completing those less-than-glamorous tasks on the to-do list so that our successor does not have to come and finish out what we left undone.

There were several things I did so that my successor wouldn’t have to. Once I announced my resignation, financial giving began to take a dip. I did two things to address this on my way out. I challenged people, I hope with gracious love, to “raise the bar” of their financial support for the church. This was hard for me because I don’t particularly enjoy preaching about giving, especially when we were reaching un-churched seekers just about every weekend. Pastors who want to go out like the heroic cowboy on the white horse don’t talk about money. But I invited our people to take on the challenge of giving. I even appointed a Stewardship Task Force to begin considering ways to enhance financial generosity in our church.

I also addressed a few personnel and policy issues before I finished out my time. One of the biggest favors you can do for the incoming pastor is remove personnel and policy obstacles that are getting in the way of the church’s health and mission. Again, this won’t make you a hero, but your successor and the church will be blessed by your forthright intentionality.

What procrastinated tasks do you need to finish out on your way out?

Conclusion

In my final message as pastor of the church, I shared the following words:

“Most of us know that too many churches are destroyed by the heat of a pastoral transition. The change melts some churches like wax. This reality causes many of us some concern. But there are other churches that become stronger, more rock-like, through the heat of a pastoral change. Time will reveal the true fiber of this church, but I will tell you what I think. You will come through this pastoral transition stronger and more vibrant than ever, because I believe the best churches are at their best when they are under heat! The impact of my ministry will be most evident in between me and the next lead pastor. If I’ve done my work in connecting you to God, you will become an even more beautiful bride of Christ during the transition than you already are! If my ministry has really connected you with God, then you will hold onto him for dear life as you go through this change.”

The church exceeded my hopes and dreams for them.

Lenny Luchetti

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To Be or Not To Be…A Pastor (Dr. Luchetti)

The call from God to pastoral ministry came on the cusp of my conversion. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from partnering with Christ in doing for others what he had done for me. I said “yes” to the call and (almost) never regretted that decision. Admittedly, some of my ministry motives and expectations were warped and led to disillusionment. The most valuable lessons I’ve learned in ministry have come the hard way. Those lessons come in handy when I’m coaching aspiring pastors who are wrestling with the call. Before exploring reasons to become a pastor, we discuss reasons not to become a pastor. Don’t become a pastor if…

-You want your ego stroked. Ministry is perfectly designed for the crucifixion of the ego and if your ego doesn’t get crucified, your ministry will. No matter how eloquently you preach, there will always be sermon snoozers (people who nap during your sermon). No matter how much of a people person you are, there will always be some who flat out don’t like you. No matter how effectively you lead, there will always be some who don’t follow. If human affirmation is the fuel that keeps you going in ministry, you will eventually run out of gas. If you want your ego stroked, run from pastoral ministry.

-You desire comfort and convenience. There is no job more demanding than leading a community of broken people into alignment with the purposes of a holy God. Every church is full of people who have been inoculated to the Gospel by the gospels of consumerism, narcissism, racism, sexism, egotism, and a host of other “isms.” God calls pastors to partner with Him in prying people free from those lesser gospels and gods. Does this sound comfortable or convenient? You can’t punch out at 5:00 and forget that the Smiths marriage is hanging by a thin thread, that a kid in the youth group just committed suicide, that your demoralized church can’t seem to overcome the demons of her past, etc. If you want comfort and convenience, pastoral ministry is not for you.

-You hope to get wealthy. Wealth, of course, is relative. According to the American standard, pastors are not a wealthy bunch. A pastor with a Master of Divinity degree is educated at the level of a lawyer, but paid at the level of a blue collar worker. If you don’t have the stomach for financial sacrifice or the skills for stretching a dollar, you may want to consider another career path.

-You crave prestige and power. Representing and serving someone who was crucified like a criminal is more likely to lead toward obscurity and weakness than prestige and power. There was a time when pastors were held in high esteem. They were innocent until proven guilty. Today, due primarily to media portrayals of pastors, clergy are guilty until proven innocent. Do a Google search on “pastor” and see the scandalous headlines surface. Tell a stranger or old friend that you are a pastor and watch the conversation go downhill quicker than an Olympic skier. Cultural hostility toward clergy is a reality in a 21st century America context, unless you live in Mayberry. According to Philippians 2, Jesus relinquished what most humans are tempted to seek. Anyone who serves in His name will do the same. If you crave prestige and power, don’t become a pastor.

-You hope for a more predictable schedule. Saying “yes” to pastoral ministry means waiving “goodbye” to weekends. Even if you don’t have a Saturday service (and the church I most recently served did!!!), you are likely to experience the Saturday jitters that occupy the mind before the Sunday service. Midnight emergency calls will invade your beauty sleep. Conflict that can’t wait will interrupt your day off. Weekday funerals and weekend weddings will exhaust you. Preaching and teaching 3-4 times or more per week will necessitate burning the candle on both ends of the day. If you must have a predictable schedule, pastoring will seem like a plague to you.

What reasons not to become a pastor would you add to this list?

(Note: In my next post, we will explore some reasons to become a pastor.)

Confessions and Lessons from a Pastor’s Spouse

The only person in the church who might be lonelier than the pastor is the pastor’s spouse. I asked the best pastor’s spouse I know to share some wisdom regarding this high calling. For three years now I have been asking my wife, Amy, to offer some encouragement for the spouses of pastors. In her humility, she felt she had little to offer. But I persisted and she relented. So, here are some confessions and lessons offered by Amy concerning our 15 years in the pastorate. Lenny  

1.Tame the Tongue: This one seems almost too obvious to mention, but it is a challenge for so many of us.  I have found myself going back and apologizing on more than one occasion when I felt I have said too much.  Gossip is a slippery slope that can start out innocently enough and then before you know it you’ve slid all the way down. Damage done.  How can I expect the congregation to trust and respect me if I can’t tame the tongue?    A friend of mine who needed fellowship and growth once went to an informal ladies gathering at the home of a pastor’s wife.  My friend confided to me later that she left the get together early because it was one huge gossip fest led by the pastor’s spouse about key leaders in the church.  Sadly, that pastor’s wife lost the respect and trust of one of her congregants that night.  When the pastor’s spouse gossips, it also hurts the pastor. Not a good idea. Be trustworthy.

2.  Have Thick (Not Calloused) Skin: I am a sensitive person.  If someone even so much as looks at me funny I wonder what I’ve done wrong.  Before becoming a pastor’s spouse I was told I needed to develop thick skin.  It wasn’t long before I found out what that meant for me exactly.  Thick skin is learning how to love and not hold grudges toward people in the congregation who don’t like you, may even hate you, gossip about you, and disagree with you or your spouse. I had a friend on the board one year who did not see eye to eye with my husband on just about every issue. She would tell me this the day after the board meeting. Eventually my slow, not-so-brilliant brain decided to politely suggest that she should talk to Lenny directly and not to me about board room decisions. Thick skin means not allowing the pain of disappointment with people to fester in your heart. Thick skin is accepting that the church will hurt you.  It will hurt because it is made up of people and people do stupid things.  And you will hurt others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, because you do stupid things too.  To this day, Lenny and I still don’t know what we did to this one particular woman who left our church, though we asked.  I bumped into her at Walmart about a year later and attempted to start a conversation, as she back-pedaled away from me so fast that I thought I had leprosy or something. That one hurt. I was also 9 months pregnant and extra emotional J.

Calloused skin, on the other hand, is dangerous. You stop caring about, loving, and praying for those who hurt you.  You stop getting involved, going the extra mile, and feeling for the people of your church.  I saw this in a pastor’s spouse and it scared me.  I prayed against it during a period when I was becoming calloused. A callous, as you know, is painfully hard to remove.

3.  Protect Your Personal Time: Our busiest season surfaced when Lenny was a lead pastor in a growing church. He was a young, ambitious, and very busy pastor, logging lots of hours. I was a busy young mom caring for three children ages 3 and under.  I missed my husband.  Even when he was home, it was sometimes hard for him to emotionally disengage from things going on at church and we all felt it.  I don’t know how long it took for me to get to this point, but for a few weeks I entertained thoughts of packing up the kids and heading to my mom’s house two hours away.  I was not really wanting separation; it was more a cry of desperation. I began to doubt myself.  Was I being selfish in feeling neglected and being all, “Woe is me” and “Here is your wake-up call, buddy”!?  Or was there seriously something wrong?  I didn’t know what to do but I knew I couldn’t go on doing what we were doing.  I curled up in bed and bawled.  That’s where I was when Lenny came home from leading an evening board meeting. Something had to change.

And it did. These are the steps we took to protect and fight for our family (after all, who else is going to fight for it?). Lenny would take his day off. Living behind the church made it too easy to run in for something on a day off and come back four hours later.  Friday, Len’s day off, became an invaluable Sabbath for us, especially when the church started a Saturday night service and weekends became even busier.  Also, all vacation days would be used and there would be no more than three evening church meetings per week (unless there was an emergency). Finally, we committed to go on a date every two weeks.

4.  Have Friends with Some Boundaries: Ah, the friend debate.  Being a pastoral couple can be very lonely sometimes. We came to the conclusion that we, like Christ himself, needed friends. But friends in church must be chosen carefully.  Some friends do like to broadcast the friendship.  One female friend boasted to a group at church to be Lenny’s best friend. I remember squirming in my seat wondering, “And when did I step out of that role?”  I had another friend who kept our relationship so quiet that no one in the church even knew about it. Those friends are gems.  They don’t expect you to talk to them after church or at church functions.  They know and understand it is better for you to talk to those you don’t know or those who look like they could use someone to talk to.  They are the type of friend who will be good prayer partners.  When a prayer partner friend of mine joined our church we continued praying together, but I no longer shared requests about marital or church issues. Boundaries.

5.  Vent Up or Out: This is a mantra I learned from Lenny.  If there is something painful or disappointing going on at church, vent up (to your District Superintendant or another leader in the denomination) or vent out to ministry colleagues and friends outside of your church. Avoid venting to staff or others in the church.

6.  Don’t Critique the Church in the Presence of your Kids: I don’t remember where I read or heard this, but it was something Lenny and I practiced from the beginning.  A good friend of mine who is a PK had a dad who was overly committed to the church. She knew way too much about the church’s problems. She had determined she would never, ever marry a pastor. And she didn’t. Lenny and I don’t have any family members who are pastors, so we had no idea of what a ministry family is supposed to look like. We did know that we wanted our kids to love not resent the Church. So, we tried our best to commend and not critique the Church in the presence of our kids. We saved our critique for the bedroom. Romantic!

7.  Support your Board and Staff: Maybe you are in a church where there aren’t any staff or board issues, but we had some—with both groups.  The staff and board are the people we became most intimately connected to over time because we worked most closely with them. These are some ways we invested in our leadership team:

-We had the staff and board over together in our home for a Christmas party. We didn’t allow them to bring anything but an appetite as a way of expressing our thanks.

-At one point Lenny felt the need to relax and have fun with the staff, so we organized game nights and special outings like an afternoon of snow-tubing.

-I started sending baked goods with Lenny to board meetings.  I couldn’t do a whole lot outside of my home with three little ones, so that was a doable way to show my support. During one particularly challenging season of ministry, Lenny would come home from board meetings very discouraged.  As I continued preparing snacks for the board meeting, it occurred to me to pray for the board members, Lenny, and the meeting.  To this day, I believe that simple act of prayer kept me from holding grudges or lashing out.

8.  Support your Spouse: I had to learn how to share Lenny. Often. I had to learn how to graciously accept interruptions.  Sometimes there were emergency phone calls that came at dinner or odd hours.  Sometimes we were headed out of town on Lenny’s day off and he would get a phone call that would cause us to turn around and head back. I had to learn not to grumble and complain when these things happened and support him by being gracious (an art not perfected). I also supported him by being there when he needed a shoulder to cry on, a brain to pick, or a hand to hold. He was so strong for so many and he needed a safe place to crumble and cry, hope and hurt.

9.  Seek Spiritual Nourishment: As I sought to find my niche in the church, I experimented with different ministries.  I found I had a tendency to start ministries, get them afloat and then move on.  Sometimes they stayed afloat and sometimes they didn’t. I started a ladies Bible study that met in my home for a couple years, a young adult ministry (when I was still a young adultJ), and a couple’s ministry with Lenny. When I was pregnant with our third, I felt like I needed something to nourish my soul as a young mom. Our church did not have a MOPs ministry and someone suggested that I start one. Starting ministries required a lot of energy and I felt like I just didn’t have it at that time. I was in need of some refreshment and nourishment. So I started attending a MOPs at another church. It was a spiritually refreshing season for me.  Following that year, I was inspired to start a ministry for mothers at our church.

The church we most recently served allowed Lenny to take a yearlong sabbatical to work on his doctoral degree. There was a spouse ministries component to the program that took spouses on two spiritual retreats.  Both of them impacted me greatly and brought significant emotional healing that enabled me to more effectively minister to others. The spiritual nourishment I experienced during that sabbatical taught me how important it is to carve out a chunk of time a couple times a year for renewal. Sabbath is not only necessary for the pastor, but the pastor’s spouse. A weekend retreat may not be possible, but a full or half-day retreat is (I am actually writing this article while on a church retreat at a beautiful convent while Lenny is home with the kidsJ). Reading and discussing soul-nourishing books with a trusted friend was also a huge spiritual lift.

10.  Enjoy your Ministry: There were days when I didn’t want to be a pastor’s spouse.  I just wanted to be a “normal” person in the church. Now, I am one.  I’ll never forget our first Sunday after Lenny transitioned from being a pastor to a seminary professor and we moved far away. We looked at each other and asked, “Where should we go to church?” At first, the freedom was fun. But in time I realized in retrospect that being a pastor’s spouse forced me into places that grew me. As a pastor’s spouse I had experiences I would not have had if I were just a “normal” person in the church. I would have never spoke with Len at a couples retreat or help him preach a series on marriage at church. Being a pastor’s spouse forced me to minister in crisis situations I would have run from if I could. I was stretched far out of my comfort zone, mostly by my “gently” pushing hubby and the Spirit’s soft nudge.  Being a “normal” church go-er is different. I find it too easy to become stagnant or stay on the fringe, in safe places.

If you are in a pastor’s spouse, you will be challenged more than “normal” churchgoers. But, you are also in a unique position to make a significant positive difference in peoples’ lives. That, my friend, is your joy.
 

 

Help! I’m a Pastor in Seminary! (Lenny Luchetti)

One of the most challenging dynamics of a Wesley Seminary education is also one of its most significant strengths. Unlike most traditional seminaries that invite students to take a respite from ministry in order to study, Wesley Seminary has intentionally positioned itself to equip students while they minister instead of before they minister.

Although I attended a traditional seminary, and a very good one at that, I had the privilege of serving as a pastor while studying. I remember the rigorous balancing act. Juggling ministry, marriage, and the Master’s degree brought out the best and, I confess, the worst in me. I experienced seasons of fatigue, frustration and fear. There were days when I wanted to quit ministry to focus more time on the MDiv and marriage, or quit the MDiv to focus more on ministry and marriage. Quitting the marriage was not an attractive option, since I certainly got the better end of that arrangement

I decided to stick it out and learned to navigate the Masters, marriage, and ministry or, as I like to call them, the “3M challenge.” I’m glad I did. The 3M challenge is an ideal way to “do” seminary, which is one of the many reasons why I love serving at Wesley Seminary. Here are some of the benefits of the 3M challenge I see among Wesley Seminary students:

-Learning and doing reinforce each other. The learning we experience sticks most when it is immediately applied. In my preaching course, for example, students will read Augustine and Wesley’s guidance on sermon delivery. We will discuss what we learned from these saints of the past, as we also explore current best practices for sermon delivery. Then, students will devise criteria to guide their delivery of sermons. Finally, they will deliver a sermon in their ministry context governed by their thoughtful criteria. Wesley Seminary students immediately and consistently integrate learning and doing in a manner that maximizes both. Our students are thoughtful practitioners.

-A community of real life ministers grapples with real life questions. Our students don’t learn in the vacuum of some ivory tower. They are immersed in the trenches of ministry. So they come to class with real questions that reflect the complexities of contemporary ministry. In the classroom, actual or virtual, students wrestle with these practical questions and are guiding by the Bible, theology, church history, each other, and experts in the field. Essentially, our students experience their entire seminary journey as a robust supervised ministry education. This particular seminary model diminishes one of the most severe ministry hazards- loneliness. Our students are not swimming alone but have a cadre of classmates and professors to help them navigate the real challenges of real ministry today.

-Scrupulous time-management is a necessary pastoral skill. Our students don’t have the luxury of studying 15 hours per day. Most of them have families to love and all of them have churches to serve. And this is a good thing. The unfounded assumption among many traditional seminary students is that life will become less complex once they achieve their degree and enter full-time pastoral ministry. This is a myth. In order to endure and thrive in ministry, the pastor must develop the skill of time-management, and quickly! Wesley Seminary students are immediately thrust out of the nest and into the rigors of strategic time-management, or “priority discernment.” Our students must decide at any given crunch-time, which priority most warrants their attention. Sometimes a student will need to give their undivided attention to family and postpone study and ministry. But, there are also times when study requires a devotion of time that necessitates the deferring of ministry. And, of course, there are times when the student must choose ministry over time with family or in study. These are the current realities of life and ministry. Wesley Seminary students traverse these tensions and, we hope, learn the scrupulous time-management skills that will serve their families and churches for the long-haul.

I could cite more benefits of serving and studying simultaneously. Room remains for you to jump into the conversation and list some strengths of Wesley Seminary’s unique approach to ministerial formation.

Looking forward to your thoughts,

Lenny

Examining the Backsplash

Amy, my wife, and I are hoping to install a brick backsplash in our kitchen. I am not the handiest person in the world. In fact, I am the least handy person I know, with the exception of my seven year old son. But I am going for it. Even before I started researching the job (thanks YouTube) I knew a few things. For starters, I realize that I have to place the bricks on the wall first before I add the mortar that goes between the bricks. Genius, right? The bricks are the priority. The mortar is peripheral. If we are going to have an attractive backsplash, that catches the splash of colors flying off the sauce pan, we need to get the bricks in place first.

Called and competent pastors are dropping like flies out of ministry, either by choice or by force. Some are seasoned, others are rookies. Some serve large churches, others pastor small churches. Some pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, while others exit because of frustration and fatigue. Some are from urban churches, others from rural contexts, and still others from suburbia. Some are seminary graduates, some are not. Pastors who are leaving the ministry come in all shapes, sizes, stripes and styles. The problem is widespread. If healthy pastors build healthy churches, as a general rule, then the opposite is true too. Unhealthy pastors tend to build unhealthy churches.

Before a pastor can build a healthy church, the pastor must build a healthy life. It’s all about brick placement. Pastors become unhealthy when the mortar is given priority placement on their life’s backsplash. When the mortar of “the urgent but unimportant” or “the fun but not fruitful and fulfilling” is put on the wall first, the bricks of spiritual, relational, and physical health are crowded out. The mortar is certainly necessary. But a backsplash that is more mortar than brick is lackluster, and that’s putting it mildly. A person who does not prioritize the bricks of health ends up living a lackluster life. Lackluster pastors, living lives dominated by mortar not brick, end up depressed, burned-out, exhausted, and lonely. If the pastor stays this way for a significant length of time, the pastor’s church can become a bit lackluster too, more focused on petty mortar than substantive bricks.

The good news is that the pastor’s backsplash can be remodeled anytime, starting now. It will necessitate getting the bricks in place first, before the ministry mortar fills the wall of the pastor’s schedule. The prioritization and placement of bricks is crucial! The key to the remodel is carving out the time needed to discern which bricks of life need more prominence on the wall. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish-born knight turned priest of the 15th-16th century, can help with the backsplash remodeling project.

Ignatius’ prayer of examen is designed to lead worshipers deeper into Christ through a process of intensely intentional life-reflection. This is more difficult than it seems. Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.” Pascal asserted this centuries before social media’s “age of distraction.” Examen requires a hard and honest look, under the watchful love of God, at the backsplash of our life in order to confirm or critique our brick placement.

If you are ready for some remodeling of your backsplash, here is some bricklaying guidance utilizing an adaptive form of Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen.
• Adoration: Reflect on who God is and what his priorities are as evidenced in creation and scripture.
• Thanksgiving: Identify the blessings for which you are most thankful today.
• Examination: Analyze your life. Did you prioritize the spiritual, relational, and physical bricks of health in your schedule, actions, conversations and thoughts? Did the mortar of the mundane and meaningless monopolize your backsplash?
• Confession: Ask God to expose and forgive you for any misplaced or excluded priority bricks.
• Resolution: Recommit to prioritizing the bricks tomorrow. Explore with God what changes you will make to your backsplash in the days ahead.

Pastors who practice this prayer daily are more likely to maintain health for the marathon of ministry than those who do not. And, as we know, healthy pastors build healthy churches.