Pastoral Pointer | Finding Great Illustrations

The more experienced a preacher you become, the less time it will take you to do exegesis, outlining, and preparation. You can become very proficient at that. Illustrating the sermon, however, will become harder because of the demand for fresh, culturally relevant illustrations that truly serve and illuminate the text. So, where do you find illustrations that are both memorable and relevant? Here are a few suggestions about where to look—and what to avoid.

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Pastoral Pointer | Personal Illustrations

Few illustrations grab attention and create interest like personal stories from a pastor’s life, but the path to clarity has some hidden and dangerous landmines. Is it too personal? Does it embarrass family members? Does it distract from the goal of the sermon and the meaning of the text? Dr. York helps preachers think through the purpose and process of using personal illustrations without hurting relationship or the exposition of the Scriptures.

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Pastoral Pointer | Saying "Goodbye" with Grace

Few things are as awkward or as hurtful to a pastor as the unexpected departure of church members for another local congregation. Their decision to leave may cause fear, defensiveness, and anger in the pastor’s heart while clouding his judgment and threatening his peace of mind. Left unchecked, his emotions might even compromise his ability to shepherd the ones who stay. How can a pastor not only manage his feelings, but also sow seeds of friendship and kindness that salvage the relationship and leave the door open that might one day welcome them back?

When You Cannot Find a Place of Ministry

Hardly a day goes by that I do not receive some communication from a young minister, often someone I taught in seminary, who cannot find a place of service. Forced to work a secular and usually unpleasant job while sending out countless resumes and networking as much as possible, the disappointment and frustration mount almost to the point of despair. These men contact me in hopes that I will be able to help them find that fit, the opportunity for ministry for which they beg God or at least give them a word of encouragement.

To put it mildly, I sympathize. I know exactly what that feels like. With years of ministry experience and a Masters degree in Classical Languages, I once served as the janitor at the Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. I argued with God and explained to Him why so many churches out there needed my particular brilliance and expertise, and the Holy Spirit kept humbling me until I was willing to honor Christ through cleaning toilets. Only when I found joy in that was I ready to serve the Lord through ministry elsewhere.

So with empathy and experience, here is the answer I give to my young pastor friends:

Dear Friend,
I am sorry that you are going through such a difficult struggle. By this I mean that I am sorry you have to endure the emotions of it. I always find it hard to see someone I care about hurting. 
On the other hand, I often have had to remind myself that my Father has denied me no good thing, that His promise is, in every circumstance, to work everything together for my good. He so carefully superintends the events of my life, including the denials, that every stream of experience results in a confluence of grace even when they seem more like floods that may drown me.
As always, I will do whatever I can to share your availability with churches and ministry opportunities, but I encourage you simply to be faithful. Faithfulness when no one is paying you and ministry when no one is asking you are marks of genuine love and devotion to Christ. Live out your calling to the best of your ability with whatever time you have after working in a job you do not like. 
I have been there, and I know it’s not fun, but in retrospect I think I learned more about honoring Christ with my life during that time than at any other. I have seen that same phenomenon in the lives of many others. Don’t fail to see what God is teaching you in this. Embrace the lesson. By all means, keep sending out the resumes and looking for the right fit, but try—as hard as it may be—to do even that as unto the Lord in the same way you would do some church ministry itself. If our dependence on Christ rather than self is the goal, then anything He does to make us lean on Him is ultimately a good thing, regardless of how it feels. 
We usually walk much better after God has touched us in the hollow of the thigh and given us a weakness that reminds of our striving with God than we ever could in the strength (or naiveté) of youth or natural abilities. Jacob had a limp, Joseph a prison cell, Paul a thorn, Ezekiel a spouse’s death, Peter a failure. 
Jesus had a cross.
 You and I are not going to escape that pattern of preparation in our lives.
I remember when I was in your situation years ago I called my dad one night and poured my heart out to him and told him that I was sick of being a janitor, that I thought my talents and training were being wasted, and I did not understand why I had invested so much only to see my family living on rice and beans. He offended me a bit when he replied that he wouldn’t change it if he could because he knew that God was doing a work in me that would make me much better prepared to shepherd His people in the future. 
I didn’t like it when he said it, but he was right. And my words to you may not make your frustration and weariness go away, but I hope they at least help you see that you are being trained by God every bit as much as when you were in seminary. Every situation has a way by which we can honor Christ. Ask Him for that more than for a job in ministry. The Holy Spirit has one ministry—to glorify Jesus. The Spirit is not interested in helping us get a church or find the right position or become a great preacher. The Spirit’s single focus is to glorify Jesus, and when we get so possessed of that goal, even when working as a janitor or bagging groceries or mowing lawns, that we can delight in it regardless of the venue, then He is willing to use us in ways we could never imagine.
So I pray for you to find the right fit and ministry through which you can bless many and use the great gifts God has graciously given you, but most of all I pray for you to find joy in exalting Christ in the frustrating, sorrowful, and mundane things of life. Do that, and you will have succeeded at the thing that matters most.

Pastoral Pointer: Take Some Time and Write a Note

Since caring about people is foundational to pastoring well, then any tangible way to show members or guests that they matter is invaluable. Few things have the impact of a personal note written on distinguished personalized stationery and finished with a wax seal.

Obviously, fountain pens are available at many price points and you can certainly find a hobby (or an obsession) collecting them, but if you are just entering the world of fountain pens or need one that will serve you well without a great expense, I recommend the excellent LAMY Safari with a broad nib, coupled with a robust and eye-catching ink. For the best writing experience and another way to demonstrate a careful attention to detail, invest in some high quality correspondence cards. I found my custom letterpress cards on Etsy. And to make your letter really stand out in the recipient's pile of daily mail, round out your effort with a wax seal, on the envelope.

No matter how well you write or what stationery you use, the most important element of a personal note is the sincere love and concern you communicate. People have an uncanny ability to see the truth of a caring heart and the pretense of an empty one that's just trying to gain an advantage. That's the difference between a true shepherd and a a hired hand. Jesus put it like this:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

(John 10:7-18 ESV)

Pastor Well: An Interview with Dr. David Hatcher

Listen in as Hershael York interviews Dr. David Hatcher, pastor of Nova Igreja Batista in Manaus, Brazil about his church's amazing growth to become the largest church in northern Brazil. Hear his pastoral insights on leading a staff, congregation and satellite congregations and implementing salvation decision follow-up on a large scale.