A Tribute to Ed

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I first met Ed Ligon in the summer of 2000. Fresh out of seminary, my wife and I were in Little Rock participating in a residency program with Fellowship Bible Church. This residency was the brainchild of Robert Lewis, who longed to see capable graduates flourish in the ministry. Too many faltered when faced with the leadership demands of the pastorate and he wanted to help some excel. Patterned after a medical residency the program was a year of being imbedded in the life of the church. Access to every aspect of church life was granted and I learned a decade of lessons in twelve months. It was a priceless experience that has paid huge dividends in my ministry career. I am a better pastor for what I received.

Back to Ed. This priceless experience did have some calculable costs. My lodging, food, medical care, etc. all had to be covered. Then there was office space, resources, travel expenses, etc. The residency would have remained a novel idea if there were not a sponsor to fund it. Ed and Judy Ligon gave the money. I think Ed’s wealth came from the sale of valves for oil pipelines, but I’m not sure, Ed spoke little of it. What Ed did speak about was the impact of the gospel through the local church. Ed’s passion is to see lost people come to know Jesus and be welcomed into the brotherhood of believers.

Ed’s zeal for the gospel is seen in his eyes. I guess his smile just requires more real estate than his mouth can provide. When Ed speaks of Jesus and the potential of gospel-centered churches he absolutely dazzles. To me, this is his defining feature. Some may think of Ed as a man of means, but I think of him as an energetic advocate for Christ.

Ed is unwell. In fact, it is unlikely that he will be with us much longer. Sooner than later he will go to see his savior. I am confident in Christ’s welcoming of this saint. I am equally sure that those remaining will say kind things, but I want to use this opportunity to speak to Ed before he enters eternity.

Thank you brother. Your generosity towards an unproven, young foreigner has forever marked my life. Not only has your investment been a grace to me, but you now share in the benefits of my ministry. There are many who have a more adequate pastor because of your sacrifice. We are all in your debt.

Rest easy my friend. You have given much and you are now about to receive the crown of righteousness.

Plain Speaking

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“It’s not necessary for a pastor to divulge everything he believes to his church.”

I recently started tracking an online discussion that was started by a pastor I know by reputation only. Everything I know about him I like, but his recent action has left others and myself somewhat perplexed. He posted a provocative article online and then stepped back as a battle erupted in the comments section. Opposing positions were taken and the verbiage became terse (i.e. people got mad). The pastor finally reengaged only to ask that the dialogue cease. It did not. What did happen was that people started asking that the pastor clarify his position on the matter. His response seemed evasive and this led to people asking for clarity. In response to this appeal another respondent made the claim above. Apparently, from their perspective, a pastor is not required to explain all of his convictions to his the church.

Poppycock!

‘Twaddle’ works too, and was a favorite of my deceased father, but it lacks the required stridency, so I’m going with ‘poppycock’.

Every congregation has the right to know what their pastor believes. He is, after all, instructing them on what they should believe. Don’t those under his direction have the right to know what he holds to be true? I say, yes. A clergyman who is purposefully ambiguous is not to be trusted. It’s true that some matters are incredibly complex and require complex explanations. A simple, concise answer is not always available.

Also, a pastor cannot be expected to have a defined position on every conceivable topic. It’s okay for him to say “I don’t know yet, but once I have an answer I will share it with you.” What is not good is when the man is intentionally vague so as to keep his beliefs hidden. When a straightforward explanation is avoided there is something worrisome lurking behind the curtain. Pastors need to be able and willing to give defined answers about what they believe.

This is not the same thing as a pastor being defined by a single issue. I’m not advocating for the sort who is preoccupied with his pet peeves and uses every opportunity to grind his axe in public. The words ‘bully’ and ‘pulpit’ ought never to be used together. Rather, I’m calling for the kind of honesty that is needed for trust to flourish. A healthy relationship between a pastor and his people is one where mutual affection grows out of honest transparency.

Nobody gets a perfect pastor (I know my congregation hasn’t), but nobody should remain under the guidance of an ambiguous one.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Talking with Preachers

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I like to think that most people love and respect their pastor, and yet it seems that in spite of this admiration many find speaking to the preacher a daunting prospect. Members of the clergy can seem wholly ‘other’ and engaging them in conversation sometimes feels like an expedition into strange lands. Let me assist you in this endeavor by offering ten boundary markers to help you speak to your preacher without perspiration or regret.

1.  Do talk to him.
Pastors, even introverted ones like myself, enjoy good conversation. Cross the room, say “Hi”, and ask him about the merits of juicing. Okay, there’s probably a better opening line, but my point is that he is most likely as interested in you, as you are of him. He’s probably more accessible than you think.

2.  Don’t try to talk to him through his wife.
Venture here at your peril! Those who seek to relay their messages via the pastor’s wife will find their message lost and their relationships strained. A happy pastor is an effective pastor. A happy pastor with an unhappy wife does not exist. Cherish his family and he will devote himself to loving you.

3.  Do remind him of your name.
There are a few preachers who have an uncanny ability to remember names. The rest of us despise them! Personally, I suffer from selective amnesia and I have a doctor’s note to prove it. That’s a lie. Like many others, I’m just horrible at remembering names. Take pity on us; remind us of your name. We’ll learn it…eventually.

4.  Don’t assume that your failures will unnerve him.
Here’s a trade secret—pastors presume that you have some ugly baggage. If he’s at all seasoned he’s likely to have heard your story numerous times before. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be callous, but he’s not going to recoil in shock either. Tell him your failures and you will likely find him compassionate.

5.  Do burden him with your problems.
Look, all human interactions are an imposition on somebody. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. So when life is unmanageable and you approach your pastor for help, don’t apologize for being a burden. He’s happy to help. Of course, if you’re looking for help to move a piano, he may not be so happy. Just saying.

6.  Don’t critique his message minutes after its delivery.
Criticizing a sermon right after it’s been delivered is like telling a new mother in the recovery room that her child is ugly. It’s not kind, don’t do it. Give the man some time before you correct his misstep. Chances are he’s already identified the mistake and five others you missed.

7.  Do speak well of other pastors.
Telling your pastor about the merits of another preacher is not a breach of loyalty. There is unholy competition in the ministry but it’s less prevalent than most people think. Now, if you tell your preacher that you would like him better if he were more like another, be prepared, he may return the favor.

8.  Don’t bring him a concern just as he’s readying to preach.
Yikes! The man is about to step into the pulpit (or behind the iPad stand) and he’s informed of some grave concern. Now he’s trying to explain propitiation while his mind is convulsing. By the time he is done, the message is murky, the body is bewildered, and the preacher is discombobulated. Get hold of him first thing on Monday and everyone wins.

9.  Do tell him you’re praying for him.
You have had a great encounter with the preacher and now it needs to end but you don’t really know how to exit. The conversation feels like landed fish—someone needs to end it. Conclude your words with the assurance that you are praying for him. That pledge is like jet fuel for preachers.

10. Don’t limit conversation to weighty matters.
I love to talk theology. I also like to talk about the perfect cup of coffee, the glories of charcuterie (look it up), and the many ways cricket is superior to baseball. Looking at my list, I wonder why anyone talks to me at all! Let your conversation with the preacher veer into the inconsequential, he’ll enjoy it and you might too.

I hope that helps. Love you.