These rules are not primarily based on worldly academic disciplines of public speaking and Master of Ceremony in the titled subject, although it may include them. Rather, they are logically gleaned from the foundational values of the Scriptures. Because of the very purpose for which it is done, that is, the salvation of souls and strengthening of believers, the true atmosphere inside the walls of the church is not supposed to be the same sphere of operation as that outside them. We greatly err when we confuse one for the other, which today is all too common. While these rules cover only a few of the many which a minister of the Gospel must observe, these are essential. Failure to observe them will certainly and eventually result in a degree of trouble, some more than others, but trouble sure enough.
The nature of the subject makes this article a bit lengthy, but, it is especially vital for the times in which we live.
1. The very first rule for a pastor is no different in service for God than it is for any other leader. Command is an appointment, a charge to keep, an assignment for the express purpose of being accountable to a higher authority for accomplishing a goal. Well, God also makes appointments, issues charges, gives assignments, and holds accountable.
Troops need a commander, a corporation needs a president, sheep need a shepherd, and churches need pastors. In every case without exception, the troops, the employees, the sheep, and the church members have a God-given need for their leader to command them in no uncertain capacity. It is indeed a lonely job. It’s like an old seasoned pastor once remarked, “You’d better have a backbone like a saw log instead of a twine string!”
And so, rule #1 is indelible: A troop commander is rendered impotent if his behavior leads his troops to think he’s just one of them, instead of their commander. He dares not shed his rank insignias and mix with the troops hatless in a T-shirt. A corporate president cannot lead if he disappears into the work force to be a drill press operator; a shepherd certainly must not crawl around among the sheep on his all-fours, and a pastor cannot be just one of the guys. Such behavior confuses troops, employees, sheep, and church members. No, God’s faithful pastor must command, in word, deed, dress, direction, and example. His people expect it, and God will hold him accountable if he doesn’t.
2. Being a true minister of the Gospel is flatly the highest calling on the face of this planet! No apologies for it should ever be forthcoming from himself in word, deed, command, dress, or direction. Jesus once said of His hearers, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14), but when applied to His ministers, a truth looms which says, “Few are chosen, because few are called.” That’s because few are even capable of it. Many can attract a crowd through a dynamic personality, personal talents, a gift of oratory, humor, or organizational skills, but God’s man or woman whom He calls, and not they themselves, dares tell the people the raw, unvarnished, unfettered truth, no matter what it costs him personally. We need look no further for an example than the prophet Jeremiah.
3. God’s minister must be instantly ready to lay everything on the line for the integrity of the truth with which God charged him. A shining example of this was a Godly pastor I once knew. He built a large brick church in Arizona from very meager beginnings. When they finally had the walls up and the roof on, the weight of the roof began pushing the walls outward because the pastor insisted on a design without support posts in the sanctuary. So the board met to decide on a solution. In order to protect the financial investment already made, they decided to install the supports in the sanctuary. The pastor informed them, yes, that was a solution. But, he quickly added that if they did, they would do it without him as their pastor. He was ready to resign on the spot. Why? He said, “Because I’ll not build a church where some of the parishioners cannot have a clear view of the pulpit!” The truth he spoke was riveting. The church he envisioned for God was where God’s people would be fed from the most sacred and vital spot in the church—that elevated pulpit on the platform! That was his charge.
So they scraped up the money and started all over again. That was more than half a century ago, and that beautiful, red brick, solid structure still stands there on the corner. It mothered other churches all over Arizona and many foreign mission fields. That pastor often commented on the beauty of the church his people had built, but with that he also added that he would always preach the truth no matter where he was, even if he had to preach it from an apple crate in the park. That, my dear pastors and ministers, is leadership and command!
We might stress here that church pulpits themselves did not result from corrupted doctrine, formalism, legalism, nor a wayward priesthood. No, they came from millenniums of God’s established altars, behind which stood His spirit-infused man or woman who called humanity to it. That sacred arrangement has not changed, and will not so long as the Gospel and lost souls coexist on this planet. Scriptural truth and the sacredness of God’s Divine Word demands that, if at all possible, every sanctuary claiming Christianity should have an elevated pulpit, a lifted place of reverence and respect, with God’s anointed minister of His word behind it, properly attired with dignity, as well as respectful behavior. That is no less than what God’s serious people expect of him.
4. For decades now it has become common for pastors to either wait in a back room or on the front seat of the congregation while the service progresses, until it is time for him to minister God’s Word. This runs completely counter to the Scriptural calling God gave him! It is actually awkward to who he is in God’s Kingdom. You see, the services in our titled subject are when his people come together to worship God and hear His Word. The Sunday morning service is especially critical, for out of the whole week this pastor has only an hour to face them and feed them God’s Word of life. One hour out of all the many hours they will spend on their jobs interacting with the ungodly, viewing their worldliness on television, interacting with the family, and wrestling with life’s vicissitudes. One hour to infuse them once again with encouragement and fortitude. One hour to look them all in the eye with love, chastisement, guidance, and challenge. Not one word nor moment should be wasted. Trivialities should be shuttled aside. There should be no long silences or dead time. No stories or tales outside the message God has for them.
For these reasons and for those few moments, as soon as the service begins, God’s minister should sit prominently on the platform in a place where he can see the whole congregation. Throughout the worship service he should take full advantage to study his people and what they are doing. Are they singing? Are they napping? Looking around? Talking among themselves? Does anyone look ill in body? Are families sitting together? Is the whole family there? Who is missing? Do they bow their heads during prayer? You see, dear pastor, all these things tell more about them than they tell you, even when you pay them a personal visit. All of this is criteria to go into your messages, made more meaningful to their particular needs. It is very important that you make eye contact with them, for them to see you seeing them as their compassionate shepherd, their chosen leader. A bond of trust can then develop, making it easier for them to become more transparent with you during counsel.
5. Contrary to many these days, God’s pastor must make it crystal clear that he is in charge of the church services, start to finish. This must also be understood by any assistants he may have under him. He dares not assign phases of it to certain ones and then forget it, taking for granted that they will always do the right thing. He must ever be watchful, for some mistakes uncorrected can be extremely costly to the calling with which God has charged him. A veritable multitude of Godly pastors have been badly burned, some fatally, for this oversight. Any experienced pastor will confirm this truth.
Since he is in charge and is mindful of the specific spiritual direction of the church, he should be instantly prepared to inject or interrupt in order to direct toward the intended goal. But he must be careful with this privilege lest he step ahead of God’s Spirit. Unfortunately, keen wisdom is not at home in all too many pastors.
Rule 5 also applies to all the Sunday School activities. Occasionally, the pastor should attempt to sit in on selected classes to see for himself what is being taught. In all too many cases that is where trouble starts, usually by a teacher who, left unchecked, takes advantage and attracts his or her own faithful following, right under the pastor’s unsuspecting nose.
6. Since the minister is in the position of command and respect, he must guard his eyes, speech, ears, and hands. He must be color blind to race, be extremely discerning with what his ears hear, give forethought to every word if possible, and be especially careful about personal contact. He must not gush over the rich, nor give a bum the cold shoulder. He must empathize with the hurting, be compassionate with those who suffer loss, pray on the spot, rebuke on the spot, and instruct on the spot, no matter if it is a street bum or the President of the United States. As I said earlier, being a minister of the Gospel is the highest calling on planet Earth, and not all those claiming the title were even called to it to start with.
A pastor must show himself stone blind to beautiful women other than his wife, keep his eyes off their bodies, and never counsel them privately one on one. That is the hot seat where scandal is launched into orbit. It is also very inadvisable to make any more bodily contact with females, other than children, than a simple handshake. My young teenage daughter once had our pastor’s old, retire father, also a trusted minister, not only hug her closely, but kissed her on the lips! And this in the vestibule in front of everyone! Another licensed minister I knew who was in charge of our downtown street meetings, allowed his eyes to undress every shapely female that passed—even as his wife stood beside him!
My dear pastors of Christianity, let us be very clear about this: You must carefully guard yourselves against anything that is inconvenient to the cause of the Gospel. If the perfectly obvious and simple logic of human relations escaped your abilities, then you should seriously question whether or not God actually called you into this in the first place. Perhaps you misread God’s intentions and chose to be a pastor, when in truth you were called into the ministry of only helping (I Corinth. 12:28). Perhaps a few examples of things inconvenient to the Gospel will help to clarify:
MIXED HUGGING. This practice was foreign to Christianity in general before the dawn of the hippy generation. Some of the winds of its influence wafted into the churches. How? Common to the hippy culture was the practice of communal free love, mate swapping, behavior kin to a commune of apes. The hippy motto was, “If it feels good, do it!” Well, many of these lost souls got saved, but they never gave up mixed bear-hugging. Over time, their mixture into the churches grew until the church at large adopted it. But the problem God has with it is the convenience it offers to fleshly lust, which is inconvenient to the Gospel. You say it doesn’t bother you? I doubt it. But you overlook the thoughts that might be running through the other person’s mind. Some things never change, you know, regarding human nature. And perhaps the largest is lustful attraction. Just think about it a moment: Say a married couple is having marital problems where the young wife is being ignored by her husband (very common!). A big hug by a handsome guy, maybe even the pastor, might feel very good to her. It works both ways. Or maybe a homosexual or a lesbian is in the audience. How would a same-sex hug feel to them, even if it was the pastor? No, indiscriminate hugging is NOT convenient to the Gospel. Never was, never will be. Simple logic and everyday human relations should tell us so. The church can love one another and have God-honoring fellowship without it.
MIXED HAND-HOLDING. This is a mild form of inconvenience to the Gospel for the same reasons as mixed hugging. The logic is ridiculously simple. In every case where the church is requested to hold hands, it is to pray for a special need of some sort. Excuse me for a moment, dear pastor, while I ask your parishioners a question: Now tell me, fellow Christian, when you are holding hands with those left and right of you—now be honest—what thoughts are going through your mind? Are you honestly concentrating on the Lord who can answer the prayer, or are you mentally occupied with the person attached to that warm hand you’re holding? Is it a beautiful female? A handsome guy? A troubled marriage? A homosexual? Is it a cold hand? A fidgeting hand? A reluctant hand? See the point, pastor? Where does it end? For many, and in all too many cases, the request to hold hands is the same thing as requesting prayer for the need, but then to order an action by the people which cancels the request! No, hand-holding is inconvenient, always was, and never was Scriptural in the first place.
LACK OF PROPER ORDER OF THE SERVICE. All of us live in an orderly world, most especially today when society demands it. Church folks are used to it and discomforted without it. When they come to church, especially on Sunday morning, they want to know exactly when the separate phases of the services begin and end. They are very accustomed to meeting deadlines. This point makes other points important as well. For example, the whole body of believers must not be left idle while one person, especially the pastor, is dealing with only one or two individuals. For the others it is wasted time as they merely look on, take a nap, limber neck, visit in the pew, twiddle their thumbs, and other time killers. At the least they should be led in singing and worshiping the Lord, or even led in personal testimonials. It isn’t that they are against a genuine and general stirring of souls, but short of that the service should go forward in an orderly manner.
Furthermore, it is a serious oversight to call the people to their feet only to leave them standing. It feeds minds tired of standing with distracting thoughts. Audiences expect to be told, not suggested, as to when to stand as well as when to be seated. The words should not be, “You can stand if you like,” or, “You can be seated if you like,” but “Everyone who is able, please stand,” then, “Please be seated.” Be mindful that many elderly will respectfully stand, but the longer they stand the more it hurts. Nevertheless, elders try to accommodate, and so keep standing until they practically have to fall down! It is cruel the way some churches neglect them. Besides, if one or two are allowed to stand constantly while all the rest are seated, they become distractions to the service, a disruption to the order. They should be instructed, preferably in private, to join in the order of the service. Of course there are exceptions, but during the service the pastor must put the whole first, individuals second.
7. One final rule, perhaps the most crucial of all: The shepherding pastor must guard his flock. This also is not an easy and popular task. Truth stings flesh. It requires constant, unrelenting vigilance, not at all unlike a real shepherd who must identify and stop wolves dead in their tracks. The word DOCTRINE looms largest. The pastor must first know beyond uncertainty what he himself believes, forward and backward, almost without stuttering, with Scriptural substance to prove it. Having done this, he must occasionally do a “search and destroy” mission in his own church. Anyone occupying seats of authority and influence must be informed in advance that nothing but the accepted doctrinal position of the church will be acceptable, and if they are not they will be quickly corrected on the spot. It is absolutely crucial to this that he be very outspoken from the pulpit about any books, videos, and radio or TV programs which his members might watch, read, or hear that pulls at them in a doctrinal view contrary to the accepted doctrine coming from his pulpit. Sheep are extremely vulnerable toward appealing temptations to pastures appearing greener, but which are laced with bitter herbs. Many a sheep has lost the way because a shepherd was not vigilant.
Today’s integrated fellowship of Christians of every stripe makes one particularly sensitive spot in the church very vulnerable: The pulpit. A pastor must guard that elevated spot most of all. Why? Because that position before the people is the prime source of what that church believes is the absolute truth of God’s Word. As a result, if the pastor lends his pulpit to another minister coming from a different doctrinal persuasion than his own, the innocent “sheep” of his pasture instantly assumes the conclusion that doctrinal differences in the eyes of their pastor is of minor importance, and that their own church’s doctrine is optional. That’s just how trusting sheep think. If a shepherd invites a wolf into the pasture and pets him, it relaxes the sheep into believing wolves are not a threat to their safety. They certainly are! Such a practice blunts the very purpose of the pastor. It makes the idea of churches of different doctrinal stripes moot and senseless. Which is pure nonsense! That would mean truth itself is optional. Baptist ministers should not minister behind Pentecostal pulpits, and visa-versa. Violation of this indelible principle is the pastor sending a message of confusion to his people. A wise pastor exhibits a gripping sense that doctrinal soundness is the strength and backbone of his church. On that was built the New Testament church. Nothing has changed that proven principle. A church built on anything else is a house of cards.
And so I repeat: Being a true minister of God is the highest calling on the planet. We might also add that it is the most difficult. These Basic Rules For Christian Ministers by no means are complete. There are many others. Furthermore, these are only a few basic ones. What we have touched on is like the tip of an iceberg: Seven-eights of it are under water, hidden from the naked eye. Godly pastors will heartily confirm it. I therefore say to those who aspire to being a Christian minister, new or old; you should carefully examine yourself as to two qualifying principles which you must address at one time or another:
A. Whether or not you are, or ever were, truly called by God to it in the first place.
B. If so, whether or not you have teeth strong enough and sharp enough to chew what you bit off. –DA