A blessing that provokes a curse…

Open Bible 1“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” Proverbs 27:14

Blessing a friend is good. Blessing a friend first thing in the morning is good. Blessing a friend in a loud voice is often good. Put them together and you may become the subject of your friend’s disdain.

There is a right time and a right context for everything. Standing to shout out your school’s “fight song” is good in the stadium after winning the game. It is generally frowned upon in class during a midterm exam.

Many “good” messages have been lost because the messenger did not consider the context from the recipient’s perspective. As one who speaks to groups multiple times per week and without a manuscript, I can tell you that I miss the mark here far too often. Sometimes my “filter” doesn’t catch a thought before it crosses my lips. (That’s not an excuse…just a fact of my present reality).

I wonder how many times we have a “good word” for a person’s situation but it is missed because our timing was off. For instance, a friend’s child is overdue to get home from school and hasn’t answered the phone. Is this a time to comfort your friend or recite recent statistics on child abductions? The answer seems obvious.

Christians mess this up too. “Hey brother, I didn’t tell them anything that wasn’t true! I’m just speaking the truth!” Sure friend, but aren’t we called to speak the truth in love? How is it loving to say what you said, in the way you said it at the time you said it? Did the hearer see your anguish in delivering such a message due to the inherent implications?

Jesus instructed us to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Serpents are not powerful but they are hypersensitive to their surroundings. Rarely will a snake dart out from under a bush to attack a person walking by.(Back them into a corner and you may have a different story.) Doves are harmless and pleasant.

So how do I do this? Here are six considerations:

  • Be clean. Check your heart motive. Are you compelled to speak “the truth” because you are aggravated with a person or jealous for God’s glory?
  • Be aware. Play the conversation through as if you were hearing it as the person you are speaking to. How did you receive it?
  • Be humble. You’re not “all that.” But for the grace of God…there go I.
  • Be empathetic. Listen. hear. empathize.
  • Be gracious. If someone says they “get it” and apologize, taken them at their word.
  • Be encouraging. They should feel more emboldened in God’s love after you leave than when you got there.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

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A difference between “a pastor” and “your pastor”

2015-05-09 13.19.57The observation has taken a couple of different forms in recent days. One was an admonition from Dr. Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway to not compare “your pastor” to “a pastor/preacher” that you heard on a podcast. You can read the post HERE. The second appeared yesterday in a post noting the “7 personality traits that guests  like in a pastor.” In this latter post, Dr. Rainer provided observations about the qualities that guests find “attractive” in a communicator. From looking at some of the comments (a certain way to drive yourself ‘nuts’ on the internet), it seemed that there was an inadvertent leap by some to an expectation on “the pastor.”

For the record, I don’t think Dr. Rainer is even slightly confused, nor do I think he is trying to overtly correct pastors everywhere and tell them to use humor or more self-deprecating talk as they shepherd their own people. (Certainly though there is a need for some of us to take ourselves less seriously). His observations, which I affirm by the way, are related to the ability of the speaker to connect with an audience that has yet to learn to trust him. There is certainly something to be said for “the pastor” gaining influence with his people by adjusting his style of communication a bit, but that is not the focus of the post.

It is an incredible opportunity for a pastor to stand up in a worship service and present the truths of Scripture in a winsome manner and with such a sweet personality that others who are new to “the room” are drawn into engaging the proposed truths. In other words, a smart communicator uses techniques (or develops personality traits) that attract newcomers to the message.

This is FAR DIFFERENT than the “personality” of the preacher being responsible for the success of seeing souls converted to Christ or seeing attendance grow. Personality is primarily about how to keep people engaged long enough for the Holy Spirit to arrest their rebellious hearts! Personality is not a reason for a church member to love, listen to, or learn from “the pastor.” Could you imagine that argument with Jeremiah or Ezekiel? How about Moses? But you might say, “they weren’t pastors.” True…so what about Jesus? Read John 6. He said some stuff that was not considered winsome and most of the crowd left Him. In fact, the 12 said that the reason they stayed around was because Jesus alone had the words of eternal life! What kept these disciples engaged was the Gospel…not Jesus’ self-deprecating humor or relational skills. What about Peter? There’s a dude that had some personality challenges. Or…Paul maybe? Peter said that the way Paul taught was sometimes difficult to understand…and Peter walked with Jesus for 3 years! Many in the churches charged Paul with being unsophisticated in his communicating ability. Was Paul’s personality really the problem facing the Corinthian Church?

Am I arguing that a pastor should have no personality? Certainly not! Heaven forbid! I am making the case though that if you really understand the Word of God and the will of God for your life as a disciple, your “reason” for sitting under the teaching of “your pastor” MUST be more than his personality. It SHOULD be that you recognize that He labors in prayer for you. He is concerned with your soul. He is on guard against the enemies that come to destroy you. He is sympathetic to your pain and struggle. He tries constantly to grow you to maturity in Christ. He is intensely jealous for you with a godly jealousy! He desires to present you to Christ with no shortcomings.

If you are a pastor hoping to keep a church together with your winsome personality…you are in for a tough life. Grow in areas that make you attractive to your people, but don’t have the people fall in love with you; rather, help them fall in love with Jesus. Otherwise, when you’re gone, they will be too. If you are a church member intently focused on the mechanics of a message or the smoothness of your pastor’s speech…you’ll soon be gone. Another more winsome guy will preach down the road and you’ll go there claiming that “God moved you,” which is, in my pastoral opinion, probably not the case. You are probably giving God credit for what really amounts to a form of manifested spiritual immaturity.

Pastor, be kind, but don’t bear the weight that people grow or die spirituality because you can or cannot use humor in your teaching. In the words of one of my dear friends who used to preach to students in a suit, tie, and wingtip shoes, “Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try to become someone you’re not. They can smell it on you.”