An old preacher over a hundred years ago, said this about a popular church hymn, “Men sing it, boys whistle it and woman rock their babies to sleep to it.” The hymn referenced was Count Your Blessings written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. in 1897. The story goes that Johnson father was a local merchant and was known as the best singer in Lumberton, N.J. Young Johnson wasn’t even close to singing as well as his father. During his growing up years, he had a deep desire to make a positive musical contribution of his own. After working in the family business he gave it up to go to Divinity School to study for the ministry. After finishing school and ministering in a church he continued to dream of making an even greater contribution during his life.
During his 36th year, Johnson realized that he had musical talent, not for singing but writing Christian songs for others to sing. It is estimated that every year after making his decision an average of 200 songs flowed from his pen. He eventually authored 5,000 and felt so blessed that his musical compositions he had discovered a way to “preach the Gospel.”
From the catalog of songs Oatman wrote, two were his favorite, “No, Not One” and “Higher Ground.” Yet in reality, people everywhere adopted a song he wrote in 1897 “Count Your Blessings,’ and remains among the most popular hymns today more than 120 years later. John Oatman died in Norman Oklahoma in 1922. Through his songs, he continues to bless and minister to millions. Here is a verse and the chorus:
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
When upon life billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
Count your blessings name them one by one.
Count your blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your many blessings see what God has done.
How many times have you heard the phrase “God bless you” or said it to someone? I venture to say, that on an average, from the clerk to the person passing us through a doorway, we hear is almost daily. Many waiters and waitresses write it on the bill they hand us. There words. God Bless You. Wait a minute! What do these three words mean? What is actually being said and understood by these three words?
If we dash to Webster for a definition we find three basic words, Bless, Blessed, and Blessing with a total of 18 categories of usage. The definitions include, “good wishes or approval; enjoying happiness; bringing comfort and joy; to favor or be endowed; praise or glorify; holy, sacred, dedicated, consecrated; to pronounce, well wishes, etc. Thus, the meanings all seem to be expressions of “good future, happiness, joy, and gifts, etc.” When the word is used by a Christian it is usually related to “gifts and favors from God Himself.” In John 1:16 we read, “Out of the fullness of His grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another” (GNT Version).
Here’s our bottom line question, “How can we give and receive blessings if we don’t understand what they are? More importantly, “How can we count them if we don’t know what they are?”
I once heard a story about an older preacher who had been roughed-up and robbed when walking to his car one night. The next Sunday he preached a sermon titled “The Blessings of Being Robbed.” As you can imagine the building was filled as attendees had come to hear what the old preacher had to say about being robbed. The gist of his sermon was, “I had never been robbed before. He robbed me, I didn’t rob him. He hurt me, I didn’t hurt him. He didn’t get much because I didn’t have much. He is the one who sinned, not me. He stole my Bible but not my message. I forgive him, what he does is between him and God. I learned from this experience what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn thy testimonies (Psalm 119:71), and what Paul meant when he wrote, “In everything give thanks” (1 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
ONE STEP BEYOND COUNTING YOUR BLESSINGS
There can be no doubt from a practical and biblical perspective that counting our blessings is sage advice. When we recognize the amazingly positive things—gifts—which come into our lives every day brings a measure of joy and happiness occurs in difficult situations, etc. However, knowing the basic truths about the benefits of blessings doesn’t mean that we deeply appreciate them at the core of our being. The key is related to HOW does the blessing make your life better? We need to remember the sequence used in making a change in life:
FIRST, there must be an AWARENESS. This is the first stage of recognizing the event, thing, person, etc. causing the blessing. “Name them one by one.” This is internalizing the blessing.
SECOND, there must be an UNDERSTANDING of what the blessing means to your body, soul, and spirit. The goodness and benefit you see in the blessings actually touch your being.
THIRD, there must be an intentional asking and answering this question: “What difference will this make in my life? How can I share it with others?
FOURTH, there will be an added blessing (or blessings) as you take time to really pay attention to your blessings (“It will surprise you what the Lord has done.”)
FIFTH, there must be a continual recognition and commitment to practicing acknowledging, counting, and being thankful for your blessings. This will be a physical and spiritual blessing to you and others. Remember, “Even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 11:28, NLT).
What is your total for today? How many blessings have you counted? Name the three that really blessed you:
If you are interested in becoming a more engaged blessing counter, I have just finished a new 24 chapter book, Surprised by So Many Blessings, amazon.com.
hen Jesus was 12-years-old He knew He must be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:48-52); When He was 30 He exemplified that one aspect of the His Father’s business was preaching; on one occasion He announced to His disciples, “… Let’s go into the next towns, that I may PREACH there also because for this purpose I have come forth” (Mark 1:38). In Luke 20:1 we read, “Now it happened on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him.”
I wonder how many 12-year-old boys want to be preachers today? We are going through the season of graduations, both high school, and college. I have not heard or read about a boy who desired to be a preacher. What I’ve continually heard are desires to pursue careers and studies which will guarantee financial rewards and security. I’m not passing judgment on any young man’s motives for a secular career. What I’m noting is why aren’t there a few boys, at least, who desire to become preachers?
Since the publishing of the bestseller back in 1986, “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” there have been numerous spinoffs using the title Why Johnny Can’t... Write, Add, Come Home, Think, Come Home, and even one “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.” My concern is Why Johnny Doesn’t Want To Preach.
One of my missions over the 50-plus years of preaching and training preachers is a commitment to encourage both boys and men to think and pray about preparing to preach. I have a practice of referring to all boys as “My little preachers.” I am blessed and thankful that many of these boys have become preachers. From time to time I meet a young preacher, and an older preacher, who reminds me that he is preaching because I encouraged him. Sadly, however, even though I have not reduced this practice I have noticed it is rare now that a boy or adult male desires to preach or become a preacher. Obviously, my question is always WHY?
Another alarming reality, at least for me, is the young men who go to colleges, schools of preaching, and other schools with an emphasis on Bible study and preaching, but graduate without pursuing the original desire to be a preacher. Why? What happened to that desire?
SOME REASONS WHY JOHNNY DOESN’T WANT TO PREACH
I can’t give the reason why every Johnny doesn’t want to become a preacher; this can only be answered by specifically asking him why. However, through the years and more specifically in recent years, I have documented some of the whys given by Johnny for not wanting to preach or become a preacher. What follows are some of those reasons which aren’t given in any priority:
There are rays of hope relative to encouraging Johnny to preach. Programs such as Lads to Leaders, Future Preachers and Leaders camps, Timothy Classes, mission trips, etc. We have an increasing preacher shortage. What if each of the several thousand preachers would encourage, train, and support Johnny to become a preacher? There would be no empty pulpits. The goal is “to train faithful men to train other faithful men” (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
The author’s book 505 Observations About Preaching would be a great gift for any male, especially preachers, available on amazon.com
Among all the things Churches of Christ are noted for is singing which is usually at the top of the list. We are known for our acapella singing or singing without instrumental accompaniment. Next to baptism for the remission of sin singing is the second most discussed and debated issue.
Singing has a prominent place in Scripture. In one form or another, it is mentioned approximately 400 times and 50 times as a direct imperative. An Old Testament example is Psalm 96:1-3: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”
The Bible affirms that God sings. In Zephaniah 3:17 we read, “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with SINGING.” Jesus sang with His disciples after inaugurating the Lord’s Supper: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out on the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). The apostle Paul affirmed to the church in Corinth that understanding must be at the heart of our worship, including singing: “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will SING with the spirit, and I will also SING with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). In Acts 16: 25 we read where Paul and Silas were singing in prison: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and SINGING hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening.”
THE POWER, BLESSINGS, AND BENEFITS OF SINGING
Singing as presented in Scriptures is not just a form of fleshly entertainment or used to fill in a time slot on a schedule. For the Christian and person who desires to please God and reap the benefits of singing, here are several positive observations about the power, blessings, and benefits of singing. Therefore, singing is more than an exercise in four-point harmony or a response to “Shall we sing?”
Here are several dynamics involved in the power, blessings, and benefits of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs:
BEWARE OF HYPOCRITICAL SINGING
Since Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing with meaning and understanding, we must guard against falling into the trap of simply mouthing the words of songs without any real heart, meaning, and application to ourselves. Since we are teaching each other we must know and apply what we are teaching unless we fall into the trap of “saying and not doing”—being a hypocrite.
Here are a few songs we need to examine carefully how well we mean and apply them after the song is finished:
This sampling should help us to be continually aware of what we are singing. Words have meanings and especially when we are offering them to our heavenly Father as the fruit from our hearts expressed through our voices.
May we never forget that singing which is to self, others, and to God must meet His approval. It is more than four-point harmony—it may include “Making a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
Through the years in discussions with elders, I have asked them, what is one of the most difficult jobs or tasks they have to perform as an elder? The consensus always contains three answers: (1) Encouraging the members to be faithful, (2) Selecting a preacher, and (3) Stewardship issues related to giving. (There are others but these are the top three).
While attending a brotherhood lectureship at a college I ran upon an eldership I hadn’t seen in several years. When I asked them what they were up to? One brother answered, “We’re here to preacher shop." A second brother said with a smile, “We’re here to steal some congregation’s preacher.” A third asked, “Do you know any good men who are looking to make a change?”
A casual reading of ads for preachers in brotherhood papers reveal a myriad of requirements, desires, and works expected of preachers. There is even a business known as “Preacher or Pastor” placement services. Yes, there are, as there are physician headhunters, preacher headhunters. One thing which seems to be obvious is that in exercising local autonomy each congregation has the freedom to approach the selection of a preacher any way they desire. However, I would hope that the core of the selection would be based on correctly interpreted and applied Scriptures.
While we can turn to book, chapter and verse to find the authority, qualifications, selection, appointment, and work of an elder; we aren’t able to find such a blueprint for the SELECTION of a preacher for a local congregation. While there is no Bible example of a congregation working out a preaching contract for the services of a preacher; we do know a preacher is “worthy of being supported.” (This is not a desire to resurrect the old church-splitting argument about “located preachers.”)
Since words matter, I think it would be wise to spend a few minutes studying what the Scriptures say about a preacher. Here are those words:
Therefore, do these words describe the primary function of the desired preacher? Or is he
wanting to be hired to do “101” ministries as developed, desired, and outlined by the congregation? Is his primary mission to be “out there” or “in house”? Yes, I know that each hiring church will determine either or are both. Where do Scriptures tell us how?
A DIFFICULT TRUTH TO ACKNOWLEDGE
Yes, it’s a difficult truth to think about or acknowledge that some congregations run through preachers like a minor league ball team runs through pitchers. I have known numerous congregations that have had a new preacher ever 2 or 3 years. Likewise, I have known some preachers who have chosen to move on after a couple of years with a congregation. I know a preacher years ago who went into the moving van business just to service the moving of preachers. Thankfully some preacher stay 10, 15, 20, 30, etc. years with one congregation.
There is a phenomenon which usually occurs with the selection of a new preacher. It is called the “honeymoon period.” Usually this last for the first six months, sometimes a year or two, he is with the new congregation, the church leadership, as well as some members, start to see his flaws, weaknesses, and face the unforgiving reality that he is just a man. He is still “not one of us” but an outsider. The words etched in stone “We need to make a change” are circulated.
Some members start to notice that his sermons aren’t on the same level his “tryout” sermons were, which formed the basis for being hired. They have picked up hints that he doesn’t hold the same “jot and tittle” position on some traditions and aren’t totally against all the things they are against (Rarely it may involve some questionable doctrine related to correct interpretation of Scripture, but not a condition of eternal salvation). As the preacher starts to express his passion and strong beliefs relative to certain ministries, programs, and activities, not doctrinal issues, he starts to accumulate negative check marks related to his tenure. He is labeled “a change agent.”
The other side of the coin is the congregation which isn’t happy or pleased with the preacher’s speaking abilities and people skills, but as one elder said, “We don’t have to worry about brother Doe he is sound and we can even fall asleep during his sermons and know he will always be sound.” Oh yes, his wife and family soon become spotlighted.
Can you imagine the owners of an electronic business are so in need of a plant manager that they cruise the highways and find a man on the corner with an “I’ll work for food” sign and after a few hours of showing him around the shop and asking a few questions, they hire him? Guess what happens to the company. My point is it’s somewhat ironic that the task of selecting a preacher is placed in the hands of men who don’t know, from a biblical standpoint, what the real work and ministry of the preacher are all about. They have their “our qualifications” list which must be met by the “right man.” And yes, the other side of the coin is that a few preachers have their “list of qualification” the hiring congregation must have before he calls the moving van.
LET THE BIBLE SPEAK
It’s true that each congregation is autonomous under the oversight of elders who are qualified and should be able to lead in the selection of a preacher based on what the Scriptures reveal. They know there’s isn’t a specific example of a congregation going through the process of hiring
A preacher or any other person for the congregation. Therefore, there is obviously some room for expediencies is pursuing the process. But the question is—How far should or can we stray from Scriptures by creating our own “wish list” for the ideal preacher. In recent readings of ads by congregations in search for preachers, the list of requirements averaged 3 to 5 based on Scripture and the rest referenced management skills, counseling skills, organizational skills, community organizer, aged related sills, etc.
Here are a few suggestions which I believe are biblical and will help a congregation looking for a preacher to do so on solid Scriptural ground:
THE NUMBER ONE TRAIT TO LOOK FOR IN SELECTING A PREACHER
I have volumes of books on preachers and preaching, drawers filled with articles about this subject, written and researched extensively on this subject, and have been involved in preacher selection in one way or another for years. During these experiences, I have concluded that while all the desired, required, and essential qualities of a preacher may be numerous, there is one that will always be at the top of my list. That trait is CHARACTER!
I take this liberty with Paul’s magnificent description of love:
“Though I preach with the tongues
Of men and angels, but have not character,
I become a sounding brass
Or a clanging cymbal. And though
I have the gift of prophecy,
And understand all mysteries
And all knowledge, and though
I have all faith, so that I could
Remove mountains, but have
Not character, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods
To feed the poor, and though
I give my body to be burned,
But have not character, I am nothing”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For an accurate description of how agape (love) is expressed in character read the rest of the chapter: e.g. “character suffers long, character is kind, character does not envy, etc. etc.).
Sadly, and I’m ashamed to admit, that I have known a lot of preachers who are “characters” but with little real character such as is outlined in First Corinthians 13. From the nightly news to the behaviors in our schools, communities, and even congregations we see a lack of genuine character.
What is character? It is that inner quality which is developed during a lifetime of struggle, mistakes, choices, victories, successes, and moral integrity. It is more than the perfect pictures painted on a resume bragging about accomplishments. It is those qualities which compose our eulogy virtues. Character is a focus on the virtues that form our identity in our minds and the minds of others who know or heard about us. It’s the biblical principles of “By their fruit you will know them.” When was the last time you studied character?
Character is expressed in observable marks of spiritual maturity such as, “…temperate, prudent, respectable … not pugnacious” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB). “…not self-willed, not quick-tempered…” (Titus 1:7). Paul helps us identify immaturity in character with these words: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Sometimes in the training or selection of preachers, we confuse the acquiring of correct Bible knowledge and mastery of speaking skills with the inner maturity of character. Satan would like for us to equate head-knowledge and mouth-skills with being signs of character. Yes, character development requires knowledge and is displayed with behavior skills, but it requires time (Cf. Hebrews 4:12-6:3); experienced in the quest “To grow up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-17). It’s having the “attitude of Christ” in every situation (Philippians 2:4-9).
Therefore, my thought in this article on selecting a preacher is let’s start with CHARACTER.
J.J. Turner. Ph.D. ©
Back on the 22nd of March, 2015. USA TODAY ran an article titled, “Has The Sun Set On Sunday School? Basically, the answer was yes but there were also some bright spots in some churches. I typed in this search question on Google: “Why Sunday School Is Failing?” and 148,000,000 responses came up. Evidently, there is a lot of interested in the state of Sunday School. How is your interest?
Some call it Sunday School, some refer to it as Bible classes or Bible study. Regardless of what name, if any at all, the reference is usually to the one-hour in which members assemble in a classroom setting to study the Bible before the worship hour. It is a period where an organized effort is made to instruct, learn, fellowship, and apply the Bible. Some congregations use it to evangelize.
Years ago the number in Bible class attendance varied little from the number in the worship assembly. That has changed in most congregations, regardless of size or location. For years the attendance spiral was been on a declining trend. Recent research has revealed that the difference between Bible class attendance and worship is from 35 to 45 percent; and in some even 50%. Some congregations with once thriving attendance in youth Bible classes are now without or with only a few in attendance. Vacation Bible School used to be a major event in summer months is now only a memory in the minds of those of us who attended. What is causing this downward spiral?
How about the congregation where you worship and serve the Lord? What, if any, is the difference in Bible class attendance and Sunday morning worship?______% If there is a percentage difference? Do you know why? Most congregations keep and post worship attendance numbers but not Bible classes. Why?
How about you? What is your attendance record for Bible class in comparison to Sunday morning worship? Are they the same? [ ] Yes [ ] No (Something to think about).
35 Reasons Why Some Christians Don’t Attend Bible Classes
I am presently researching and writing another book for my Wake Up series titled, “Teachers, Wake Up! I have collected an almost unbelievable list of reasons and excuses some Christians give for not attending Sunday morning Bible classes. (I won’t even dare to discuss Wednesday night classes) Here are some of those reasons and excuses. They aren’t given in a priority because each one may constitute the priority in a Christian’s personal list of reasons; for others way down the list or not on their list.
Again, how about YOU? What is the ratio between your attendance in Bible class and worship services?
The Sunday morning Bible class can still be a vital tool for educating the body of Christ in the 5-E mission of the church. The challenge is to review it, revive it, and rededicate it to God’s glory.
Leaders need to step forward and