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You can’t chew gum in the pulpit or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, some pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive, we must say.

Now, in one sense, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit. Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking godly pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

1. He cannot recommend a book which has questionable material in it nor condemn a book he has not read.

2. Ditto a movie. Some movies have much to be commended, but by their horrible language and their using Christ’s name blasphemously destroy all the good. The pastor will not want to endorse such a movie even though it has some positive aspects.

3. He cannot bring someone into the pulpit, even for an interview, whose life is a contradiction to the way of Jesus Christ. There may be a forum for the church to host the mayor who has atheistic beliefs or a prominent author of a questionable piece in a way that would not give the impression of endorsing the person’s lifestyle, if that is thought necessary. But a worship service is not the place.

4. He cannot preach that he disbelieves certain Scriptures. Imagine a NASA engineer addressing the astronauts just before their blastoff and informing them that he has no confidence in the integrity of the spaceship, that the onboard computers are untrustworthy or that there are flaws in the design. He ends with, “Nevertheless, you have a good flight.”

If the preacher disbelieves the Bible, let him resign and find an honest way to make a living.

(Note: In the past, when I have said something similar, people have written to argue that they appreciate the transparency of such a minister who would admit to having the same struggles as they. Far from agreeing with them, I find their point of view amazing. I wonder if they would be willing to undergo surgery when the physician doubts his abilities and questions the procedures.)

5. He cannot share with the congregation the personal doubts he struggles with concerning the Lord, or important doctrines such as salvation, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth and the Atonement. If he has such issues, let him read Psalm 73 a dozen times and take its message to heart, then work out his doubts in private.

6. He cannot tell the congregation that he struggles with porn or lust. Some things are better dealt with privately—or at least between himself, his spouse and a faithful counselor—but never in public.

The pastor who tells his people that he has a lust problem is creating more problems for himself than he can imagine. Every woman in the church will think he’s undressing her when he shakes her hand. When that happens, his ministry has come to an end.

7. A minister cannot rebuke anyone publicly from the pulpit. He cannot call names and slander someone, no matter how strongly he feels.*

Again, he may do it, but not and retain the respect of Christians who know the word and reverence His name. Mean-spirited preachers will always have their defenders, but this does not make it wise or right.

Let the preacher honor His Lord, reverence His calling and bless His people.

Let the preacher never forget he has not been called to “share his heart” with his people but to “preach the Word” (II Timothy 4:2).

Let the preacher not fall prey to the temptation to be transparent to the point that he lays stumblingblocks in the paths of his people.

Let the preacher say to himself a hundred times a day, “This is not about me; this is about Jesus Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 4:5).

Let the preacher with overwhelming doubts have enough integrity to a) get help, b) stay on his knees, c) not preach his doubts, and d) get out of the ministry if the doubts and questions remain unresolved.

We will all stand before the Lord and give account.

Let none of us have to account for having caused God’s people to stumble.

*Postscript: When ChurchLeaders.com published this article, several readers were quick to take issue with #7, not calling names from the pulpit. They said I am contradicting I Timothy 5:20 which reads “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all….”

My response: a) The previous verse says Paul is referring to elders in the body, not to the world at large, which was what I had in mind (although I wasn’t clear on that). b) My concern is irresponsible preachers who attack celebrities, politicians, etc., by name, committing slander (a word I did use). There is no place for that in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are sent as bearers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not as Old Testament prophets off to Samaria to confront wicked Jezebel and good-for-nothing Ahab. c) Might there not be exceptions to #7? Of course. We can probably think of a possible exception to every one of these. As the saying goes, “Every rule has its exceptions, including this one.”



Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at JoeMcKeever.com.

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Richard Scotland

commented on May 27, 2014

I enjoyed this article and I am glad you finished with that comment about every rule has its exceptions! I was in a congregation where a version of #6 was broken and it certainly did create an unhealthy atmosphere. For #1 I would comment that I would condemn a book/film etc without personally reading/seeing it if my condemnation was based on something I got from a person I trusted and respected (not just some newspaper article). So that would be my exception there :) I am very glad that preaching in PJs is not allowed, I lol'd at that one!

James Hamilton

commented on May 27, 2014

I'm sorry Joe, there is one point you made that I just can't agree with, "You can?t chew gum in the pulpit or bring your coffee in with you." While I agree with the gum part I can't say the same about the coffee. Without my coffee my mind goes dead and my mouth goes dry, I can't speak, I become as Moses. No, just kidding about part of that, but I do take my coffee to the pulpit, though I don't drink during my sermon, before and after is just a part of who I am and who the people in my congregation have come to know. Besides, they have theirs, why shouldn't I have mine?

John S. Marquis

commented on May 27, 2014

Whatever isn't appropriate in the business world isn't appropriate in church. Gum chewing is a nono.

Bob Ross

commented on May 27, 2014

I also enjoyed the article but I have to admit I have preached in PJ's. A couple of years ago a young man in our church was in the last days of a 7 year battle with brain cancer. When he was finally bound to a wheelchair and embarrassed to come to church in his PJ's (the only thing he could wear) our congregation hosted PJ Sunday and everyone wore similar attire. It was a beautiful tribute to Craig Johnson, a young minister and fellow servant who is now home with the Lord.

Richard Scotland

commented on May 27, 2014

Beautiful!

John S. Marquis

commented on May 27, 2014

Although there are several useful tips in the article that come from either common sense or a Christ-like perspective, I am sure I am not the only pastor who understands some of what is appropriate depends on the church, it?s ministry philosophy and the cultural around them. We run the risk of becoming culturally insensitive as well as anachronistic when we lay out a blank set of rules on does or don?ts that extend beyond common sense and good manners.

Joe Mckeever

commented on May 27, 2014

You are exactly right, John, that I write from a certain cultural viewpoint. I'm Southern Baptist and a product of the Deep South, and am well aware that there are exceptions to every rule (including "this one," as the saying goes).

John S. Marquis

commented on May 27, 2014

Then perhaps the article should have been titled "You Can't Do That in the pulpit, 7 Nevers while preaching down south"?

Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on May 27, 2014

I was very happy to see that NOT endorsing various movies made the list. Not so long ago, there was an article in this space which advocated "springing" a movie on the congregation and showing the movie in place of the regularly scheduled worship service. While I could see that there might be some pastors who believe that some movies make a profound point - it seemed to me at that time that it would be preferable to schedule a time for such a movie to be aired, and allow the congregation an opportunity to decide, independently, for themselves, whether or not they believed that viewing that particular movie would be beneficial to them. While many have praised the recent TV series entitled The Bible, I found many points made by that particular movie to off-base as far as the actual Biblical record goes - and would not feel that it would be appropriate for a church to decide to air this particular series - or any other movie or mini-series - in place of the regularly scheduled worship service. No matter how proofed - or inappropriate - a pastor may believe that a particular book or movie might be - most people are NOT arriving at a worship service to hear critiques about various media projects but - rather - most people arrive at worship services, hoping to learn more about the Gospel message.

Joel Rutherford

commented on May 27, 2014

Joe, I want to thank you for your practical insight in so many areas. When I don't agree with you, I remind myself how consistently 'on target' your thoughts have been and I reconsider mine.

Chris Hearn

commented on May 27, 2014

Why can't you bring coffee into the pulpit? I mean, if you have a generic cup or glass (non-transparent) and it has either water or coffee in it, what does it matter? Certainly water would be okay, for the occasional dry mouth, so why not coffee? I also wonder about point #5. It depends on the issue. Shouldn't we admit that we too struggle with certain issues? Or do we want to project the image of "Super Pastor" with everything together?

Minister Sanders

commented on May 27, 2014

These are 7 good points a Man Of God can always apply when they are using the pulpit God Bless You!!!!!

Randall Daw

commented on May 28, 2014

(Disclaimer: I'm also from the South) I agree with all of it. Everyone knows that we have this treasure in earthen vessels." But we preach the treasure, not the vessel. The OT priests wore vestments to signify the distinction between the office and the man. When we stand before the people of God, or the world, with the Bible in our hands, we are no longer Randy Daw or Joe McKeever, but ministers of the gospel of Christ. As long as we do not let arrogance cloud our calling, the people of God will understand the difference.

Steve Duplessie

commented on May 28, 2014

I have to respectfully disagree with #6 Joe. Our churches are full of people who dress up nice and neat on Sunday morning, but are a very different person at home or at work or on the athletc field. I think one of the reasons young adults leave the church in droves is the contradiction the observed between how certain people act in church, how they present themselves in church, and the way they are known to be outside the church. We need to be people of integrity meaning consistency. Honesty. Authenticity. So yes, I have confessed my decades-long struggle with porn as part of a series on the seven deadly sins. I understand some people think less of me for that honesty. But if we want to create a culture of authenticity, and accountability, if we want to create a church-wide culture of authenticity and grace, then that culture starts with the preacher. If he is not honest and authentic, how can we expect anyone else in the congregation to be? False fronts posing as spiritual maturity are disgusting to God. Brokenness and humility are not. Read Isaiah 58 again.

Randall Daw

commented on May 28, 2014

Steve, I am glad that you are part of a community that can hear you and administer grace without diminishing your vital task. But I would ask, would you counsel every man to confess these sins as publicly as you did? If they chose to handle it within a small group of mutually accountable men, would they be putting on a false front? Authentic and honest does not mean having a proctoscopic exam in public.

Steve Duplessie

commented on May 28, 2014

You're right Randall that not everyone has to publicly confess from the pulpit. A small group of men is a great place to "confess your sins one to another," and find support there as well as accountability. And pastors certainly need to show discernment. The goal is not to bleed in public for the sake of drama or pulling on emotional strings, but to "lead by example" with humility. I fear that we pastors are too afraid to demonstrate authenticity, so we breed a congregation of fakers. We do not provide an environment for grace to be more than the name on the sign out front. Yes, that is risky indeed. The Apostle Paul set the example for us, bearing all; willing to call himself the chief of sinners. I think the next generation in the pews knows the truth about their parents, about the deacons and elders, and maybe even the pastor. And they're waiting to see the truth show up in church, not the "made for TV" version.

Randall Daw

commented on May 28, 2014

Agreed Steve that hypocrisy is the poison most to be avoided here.

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