The Church and its leaders and servants

                       In the Bible, what is prescriptive
              about the church people and their leaders

Obviously you can’t pull every command out of the New Testament and make it apply to situation today. You can about character and about following Christ and what we believe. But not about systems of organization in the church.

Otherwise all women would be wearing head coverings and also be quiet in the church services, and all leaders must be older or elder!

There are cultural things. There are different sizes of churches. There are things that the elders did in the early church which was probably similar to our home groups.  That are not the exact same today.

One great helpful verse for an overview—Philippians 1:1:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.

        There it is!   Every position in the local church! :-).   Direct application for today!

“Christ Jesus”—the Head of the church, the one whom we are all to serve, worship

Paul and Timothy” — apostles and founders, whom we have today as writers

To all the saints” — all believers, set aside to be the saints, the priest-believers

“The overseers” — used interchangeable with pastors (shepherds),  elders, bishops

And deacons” —just means servants…help with tables, widows, youth group, etc.


But each person truly in Christ is a saint, set apart,  and then among all the saints in the local church are some asked to be

overseers — including full-time pastor-overseers who teach and shepherd; but also volunteer overseer elders who form a team or board to help oversee the boundaries and principles and goals of the church;

and also the deacons, men and women asked to serve by waiting on widows or teaching seventh grade boys on counting the money or visiting the needy!

The closing of the sermon and the worship service…

…is one of the most important times for someone who has paid attention and might think about changing some habit or belief in response. But, alas, I have heard the following closings to sermons:

  • “That’s it.  See you next week!”
  •  A prayer that reviews the sermon…..Amen….Guitar player gives some thoughts about the sermon, sometimes showing her was not listening….then starts a song.
  • “Shake hands with three people on the way out!”
  • “Let’s sing something — what shall we sing, Freddie?”

Years ago, many churches had a response song — often “Just As I Am” (as in a Billy Graham service)…..and some invited people to come to the front of the church room to show they wanted to “Accept Christ as Savior” or respond to “how God had spoken to them.”

Maybe in response to that, some went to the “alas” ways noted.

______Clearly a sermon is given to urge obedience and application to life.
______Clearly a pastor should think carefully about a response avenue.
______Consider the following:

Sermon (with practical obedience and application calls throughout) Prayer by sermon person
Not a review of the sermon to God, who does not need a review….

A brief prayer++ of worship and appreciation to God for the main truth given…then giving people a private quiet moment to thank God for that gift, or to ask His help to obey and apply it…..(Many will actually pray that way…)

Then a moment of quiet prayer introduced by, “If you are not sure of this connection with Christ as Lord and Savior, ask God for help to go that way, and to be sure….(Quiet moment)…. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Then, to show the chosen response song is tied to the sermon,  not a separate issue or a production number but a response-from-the-heart song, the speaker intros the song in two or three sentences….and asks, “Please stand” as short intro to song immediately starts…. And the speaker sings it also.   Maybe even stays up front to sing along with the people, for he is responding also, and helping others to respond with thanks to God and obedient faith. This also positions the pastor-speaker to give a meaningful benediction or blessing from the Word of God to tie together the whole worship service, followed by a sentence of care or sendoff.

++(To remember: I have watched a lot of closing prayers on video and “playback” where the praying pastor is straightening his notes and closing his Bible or moving his lectern out of the way, causing me and other cynical viewers to wonder if he is really praying :-). Of course you can pray while you drive or do something,  but this is about leading the church and viewers in worship and response.)

Seems like the closing
of the service should be carefully
thought through and purposeful.

Written for a friend facing life-or-death surgery; any suggestions?



Over 75% of Americans say in polls they believe Jesus is the Son of God. Fully 100% of demons, those fallen and evil angels, believe that also. So what is it God wants us to believe?

There are two huge aspects:

1. Jesus is the eternal son of God who lived a perfect life on earth, then died as a substitute for us. He was paying the holy penalty for my sins and yours.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his death” —Romans 3:25.

In the Old Testament it was, “Put your hand on the head of the lamb, son.” (A parent said that— a symbol of faith, of placing your sins on the lamb who would die.). Jesus is called “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”! (John 1:29).

When we place our faith in Jesus the Christ, we are believing this – admitting our sins and trusting who he is and what he did for us when he died. And then arose from the dead to show it worked! 🙂

That is a deliberate decision of the will, to trust Jesus Christ and not ourselves.

That gets us from minus millions – I speak of my own sins – to zero! But no one goes to heaven with a zero. You have to be perfect to go to heaven. But wait! Perfect is a gift from God.

2, When we honestly place our faith in Christ, trusting for sure number 1 above, the Bible pronounces that our faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5).

In other words, our faith brings a cover of the perfect and holy righteousness of Christ to be put on us in God’s sight. God sees us as perfect before him because we are believing in Christ, covered by the Savior, whose “bank account” of perfect righteousness is credited to us!

The Savior — this is gorgeous but hard to believe — counts us as one with him, and counts us in on his righteousness.

This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” — Romans 3:22.

It is almost unbelievable; for sure it is wonderful. It is called grace, a free gift. It is the direct opposite of our hoping we are good enough on our own, in front of a holy God.

So when we for sure trust Jesus Christ this way,
1. God counts his Son’s death as payment for our penalty. Paid in full!
2. More, he counts the 100% perfect righteousness of his Son as covering us in his holy sight.

No wonder this is all called the gospel, the good news.

You asked about my personal study-sermon habits when pastoring:

Every August — select books to study and a few topical for the next church year, Sept —August.    (Changed for emergencies or tragedies.)

Trying to cover at least one Old Testament book a year and one New Testament book for sure.   Always a Christmas series of four or five and an Easter series of two or three.  Always one for Thanksgiving.

Also August — select tentative way to divide up each book of the Bible chosen. (Topical:  probably 5-9 sermons a year.). Text for each sermon.

August after vacation and before each series  — start a file for each sermon in  the next series to put in illustrations or thoughts as we go.


Every Monday evening at home (took Mondays off when kids were at home) or at the office (when offspring were away) after staff meetings and administration -– simply read the English text over and over and over so that I know what it says for the study of this week.

All week when driving — dictate paragraphs or illustrations that I think of that should go in the sermon.

Every Tuesday after staff meetings and after 6:30 group restaurant  breakfast (“Tuesday morning quarterback club”) open to any man to discuss last Sunday’s sermon. It always gave me ideas that we need to clarify for the next Sunday also.      Then Tuesday staff meetings (group and also ones who reported to me)  and have at least 2 to 3 hours for study of the text and assign some word studies to interns :-).  Work on the logical outline in one sentence in three parts for the outline for the sermon.

Wednesday —  three hours in the morning (after two breakfast appointments) for study of the text. Outline was due by noon for the bulletin.  Made sketches for PowerPoint that was due Friday.    A wonderful volunteer always did my PowerPoint and still does.

And after other appointments and deadlines at least an hour of more study in the afternoon.

Thursday —  Jog and breakfast with my wife.  Go to office at 11:00.  That day: four or five hours at least for sermon study at the office  and development of the text and  the main emphases.  Some between appointments and other deadlines.    Since the survey I took of  the whole church in 1992, I’ve always inserted either a 60 second or two-minute explanation of the cross and decided where it would be on Thursday.  I tried to have it a totally salvific sermon at least two or three times a year, wherever it fit in the series.

Friday — after prayer partners (this 6:30 am 45-minute time with men was “the best thing I ever did at The Chapel, according to my wife)  and 8:30 staff prayer and any emergencies —  finish writing out my notes and try to have them finished by 4 o’clock when staff played basketball together (those who liked it).  Everyone involved in the service met  in the morning after the staff prayer to go over exactly how many minutes  each person had and how the movement was to go and how the worship was to move.  (Start when the big hand hits….and end at the same time every week 🙂

Saturday  — some morning obligations at times but tried to be at home…. but afternoon from 3 to 9 at home kept studying notes to make sure I had enough illustrations (short one every 4-5 minutes, sometimes just a sentence)  and could “master” my notes so that I could preach without looking down too much.  Eat pasta with family.:-).   Go to bed at 9 o’clock.

Sunday — at the office by 6:15 or 6:30 to go over my notes, to pray at the pulpit and in my office, to stand at the pulpit and go over the whole service so I know exactly what I  was doing that way.

Sunday night — cry or rejoice for how it went 🙂

Hope you are glad you asked ! 🙂

Helping Staff Teams to Know and Understand Each Other Better Without Paying for Personality Tests!

The best exercise our staffs ever did to know and appreciate each other, and see God’s grace in action

The Ten Most Important Decisions or Events in My Life”

Each staff member prepares the list, to be given and described in just seven minutes in front of all staff, just one at a time, early in a staff meeting. (Does not include physical birth, which is assumed ☺)

Okay, everyone will say he or she cannot do it in seven minutes, but stick to that, and allow three minutes for brief questions after.

➢Very healthy exercise for people to go back through their lives and narrow down the most signiKicant decisions or events, positive or negative, that affected them. And still do.

➢Very healthy for their teammates to hear where they, the presenters, have been and see why they are the way they are.

➢ God always ends up getting a lot of credit.

“The little pixels make the big picture” in a worship service

None of these made it to Scripture, so they are not huge. But they say that little things mean a lot. And I agree.

Starting the service on time
“When the big hand hits 12 or 6… “

Granted, two out of three do not care, but we’re talking about the other one, and the guest.

Ending the service on time.
At least 25 pastors I have coached have said to me, “Our people do not mind if I go overtime,” and I always ask, “But do they invite their friends?” And if I had more nerve I might add, “And do you know what they say on the way home? Or on the way to be late for the restaurant reservation?”

Securing your microphone pack out of sight.

It really is the purpose of the small of your back. And the cord was meant to go under your shirt. Why give one second of distraction?

Sliding your notes rather than flipping them.
You don’t want even one person thinking, Oh he finished a page..… Let’s see how long the next page takes.
I know one pastor who throws them to the floor when he is done with a page. Now that gives an exclamation point! And a distraction.

Helping greeters and ushers talk to the people and not to each other.
Some of us teach that as possibly the “sin under death.” But even then the plea does not always work.

Getting a veteran or a speech teacher or a friend/pastor to critique a sermon you do.
One pastor told me no one ever gave him any feedback other than the occasional, “Good sermon.”! Another told me that no one had ever told him he never smiled, not even his wife. (It was not Joel Osteen.)

Not singing so many songs in a row that even the young want to sit down!
Even the angels who sing a lot need a break once in a while, I think.

Starting the service with the song they already know, and like to sing.
No sense starting the service with a hiccup or an awkward moment.

Making sure you do not serve lousy coffee. It’s just wrong. 🙂

Changing the order of service so the request for their money does not start the service.
Even when an offering plate is not passed, it seems significant to have an offering prayer of thanks be an item in the worship set. None of us ever greets guests at home by asking for their money!

Never being sarcastic or mean or even a little bit vulgar from the pulpit.
What’s the sense? I know some rather popular former pastors who used to do that.

Getting their attention at the start of the sermon.
The start of the sermon is no time for announcements or news notes. Rather it is about why should they, especially the inattentive, listen to you for the next 20 (Presbyterian) or 45 (Baptist) minutes?

Keeping announcements and greetings warm and succinct.
Do announcements and updates take more than three minutes? They should be done with joy and no details. (Once the pastor upfront gave out three phone numbers during the announcements. I doubt that anyone wrote them down.)

Ending the sermon with a prayer of response by the people as you lead them in prayer.
Some closing prayers are a review of the points of the sermon, almost as if maybe God did not hear it.

Having a worshipful pastoral prayer in the worship set.
That is unless you think the guitarist making up a casual prayer of his feelings while he strums the strings is a good model.

Using the pronoun “we” in the pastoral prayer or response prayer after the sermon, rather than saying, “I pray.”
That’s what we do when we’re all alone, not leading others.

Closing the sermon with a response song that you select to go with the persuasion of the sermon.
I heard one sermon end abruptly with a two-sentence prayer and, “See you next week”! Maybe his was a reaction to the 1960’s and eight verses of “Just as I Am.” But it seems rather abrupt.

Introducing the response song to the sermon with the appropriate tie to your sermon emphasis. An alternative some choose is to have a worship leader do his or her own synopsis of the sermon or a brief homily to intro the song. Why not lead into it yourself with a connection with the sermon and our response?

Okay, I have no chapter and verse for each of these, unless maybe the truths about wisdom apply, or “decently and in order”! 🙂

Can you believe it — over 80% of guests at church!

In almost every survey, new people at church come because they were invited by a friend — to the tune of about 80%! So how do we get our people to invite friends?

Some of them do not even have any friends who are unchurched!

But a short relaxed video might help. A number of churches are doing it. The one I am enclosing is too long, because I think they could be 20 to 25 seconds easily. Relaxed. Fun. Not preachy. But announcing the subject for Sunday and why it is important.

These are best done at various sites — by a stream, on a baseball field, not at the pulpit with a blue suit on!

Then you encourage your own people to forward it to friends as they invite them. A few will!

It is a video age!


Leading from the pulpit and the table

Most of us know the pulpit is the main place for leading in a local church. You have a captive audience. You are committed to expository preaching but you can also make applications related to the vision you have for the church and can lead the church with challenges and visionary hopes and biblical applications to programs ahead.

It is probably not done enough. Pastors can easily think vision explanations and hopes are reserved for staff and board meetings. But the pulpit (or stage table) cries out to be a source for challenge about the future of the church.

But our greatest influence for leading is while preaching, at the pulpit (okay, or round stage table :-).

But a close second is the regular table, a place for coffee or a meal together. I am saying we may not use it enough to lead the church and cast strong vision and promote love.

And while love relationships can be strengthened at the pulpit, they also can at the table.

As in these times:

…to go over the next board agenda with the chairman, and a breakfast is better than a quick phone call. Relationship, relationship, relationship.

…with visitors who tried your church. Wait, not all of them, and not man with woman. But it is healthy to meet one or four of them each month, for a feel of their search and their needs.

…with members of your oversight board, one at a time, so you can get to know them more personally. It’s also the best way to welcome a new board member.

… with staff one at a time or two if a different gender, to talk about their family or worldview or church view. Not a staff agenda, a trust builder. This too can be on your coffee or meal agenda once or twice a month at least.

… of course with families who have just experienced tragedy, and sometimes on an anniversary of that severe loss. They need company that knows God and His promises.

…with new neighbors to your home.

… with your family! Wait, not just once in a while. A pastor’s master schedule includes many almost-sacred times for family, not just these ministry times we are talking about here.

But back to the leadership-relationship appointments: with many pastors, the early 6:30 – am spots are good to use to do these often neglected shepherding privileges of the pastor — at a restaurant or at the coffee table at church. They are important connections often skipped in newer pastors’ strategy blogs and videos.

Quite a few examples are found in the Gospels.

Retirement from pastoring a church: thoughts for consideration

Presuppositions… … Everyone should someday. … There probably is no such thing as a perfect time. … You should save the date and stay with it, not keep extending it. … No doubt you owe it to your wife.

Timing — You want to make this transition before they wish you would have. — It can be announced too early, making you a lame duck in the eyes of many. It seems like one year or a little more is good for a board discussion. But 3 to 6 months for the members. Any longer and the lame duck affect sets in. That gives them enough time to say goodbye and also think about the future and pray. Again, the date should be set and there is no perfect time.


  • See options. Many believe there is no perfect way.
  • The plan must be acceptable to the board and pastor of course.
  • If someone is brought in a year or two before the retirement, everyone will know he is the potential successor. Why not state it?
  • The “shelf life” for a pastor-in waiting is less than two years.
  • Anyone who might possibly be interested on staff should be looked at first and told of the possibility. It is unfair to outside candidate to have someone on staff who might be considered.

Residence: Most would say the retiring pastor should not remain in the area or at least not attend that church for at least a year. Some exceptions to this have worked if there was a clear understanding beforehand.

Severance: This is very subjective. It should be understood and on paper so no misunderstandings. Many suggest there should be one week of salary for every year of service. Then there’s the question of health insurance. Hopefully the retirement package has been very clear.

Prayer: Crucial from the beginning

Lessons Learned While Coviding in the Church

God is good, even in pain and frustration.
All of us preached that, and probably rather often.  We had to, given the pains and fears of our people, and us of course.  And we were reminded that many biblical texts say that so loud and clear.  Kind of limited the space for health-and-wealth promises.

To shepherd a church is hard work.
Yes, yes, you say, we did know that.  No, no, I say, it is much harder,  I am finishing year 55 as a full-time pastor or coach of pastors,  and I say it is harder, a good bit harder, than ever before for four reasons:

COVID : and all the complications and hard decisions and divisions it has brought.

Politics:   and the way ‘they” argue and avoid compromise or unity.

Social networks of communication:  even people of the church talk on that like God cannot read.

Christian shallowness — is that an oxymoron?  I pastored in four decades when if you trusted Christ you probably went to church, and none of this two out of five Sundays! 

Virtual meetings are far better than no meetings.

We can at least see each other’s faces in groups and teams, and perhaps some team decisions or necessary gatherings  can sometimes be on the screen good to save time. And no question some of our connections with church attenders or members — will we call them that? — will be virtual from now on.

Staying in touch, or trying to, with people kind of dropping  out of church should be easier after this.

Many churches learned whom to call and who prefers texts or nothing at all.

There exist pastors and staff people who can allow themselves to get by without working hard or very long some weeks.  If Covid can be an excuse, surely there are others.

Some staff leaders did not ask for reports or check-ins during this time, and production in some cases argues that they should have.   And still should.

We learned to get better digital equipment even with small budgets,  and to look carefully at those cameras and not pretend there are 200 people in an empty worship center!

You can really talk warmly  and personally to a camera because you care about the persons receiving your picture.

You can do a good job of communicating in a video of 30 or 60 seconds or just a little longer.

A very natural greeting or talking point about the Sunday ahead or church news became a habit for many during the shut-down,  and I urge pastors to keep producing them, especially with a mood that would make it easy for church people to forward it to a friend with no church.

This goes back pre-Covid, but most of us have decided on-line giving is more important than we once planned.

Physical exercise is very important.

OK, I threw that one in because some people ate too much during lockdown. But we all know the drill. And we all know how good health keeps us going better and longer and helps others listen to us better.

This is not I told you so, but rather I told me but I wouldn’t listen. You know, analog church, passing the offering plates as an act of worship, and all that. But digital also helps, and can be used as  spiritual priests do good and give offerings on line, which are both acts of worship, as said in Hebrews 13:15, 16.

We sort of learned that we should receive guests better and smarter.

The lesson came from how hard it is to connect with the new viewers, but it reminds us to develop better ways to get conversations going with the digital and the analog guests, through the screen but also through the front door of the church.

Surveys are not the way to make decisions.

Ask me what I think we should do and I probably will be disappointed if you decide some other way.   And I may even wonder why our leaders cannot make that decision on their own.

Maybe as much as anything we learned to teach hope in the presence of our Lord in the middle of something that is painful.

And every regular week there are people who are in deep pain hearing us and watching us, and most of them will not be helped with the health and wealth promise.

We must keep getting better at teaching the Bible for a painful setting, something like the time in which it was written.

That we must always show up with truth in love.

Which we always knew;   this makes us re-up.