Monday, December 7, 2015

So, Who Is This Lottie Moon, and Why Do We Owe Her Money?

It is probably one of the more amusing questions I ever received as a pastor. I was leading a church plant that was reaching primarily unchurched people. You know, folks with no church background. And, in the part of the country I was in, especially no Southern Baptist church background. So, when we began to talk about the Lottie Moon Offering, it was not a surprise that few had ever heard of her. One day one of our newer members approached me and pulled me to the side. If someone were observing us, they might have concluded that we were conspiring to pull a really good Christmas prank.  "Pastor," he said as he looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was around, "Who is this Lottie Moon and why do we owe her money?"

For once I was speechless. It had never occurred to me that Lottie Moon was not known to everybody who loved Jesus. (Obviously, my upbringing in a Southern Baptist church was shining through.) I managed to crack a sly smile and then told him about Lottie.  I told him that she was born Charlotte Digges Moon on Dec. 12, 1840, in Albemarle County, Va. That she rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. But, then, in December 1858, she dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va. I told him how Lottie attended Albemarle Female Institute, which was the female counterpart to the University of Virginia. And, how, in 1861, she was one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree. I shared how she stayed close to home during the Civil War but eventually taught school in Kentucky, Georgia and Virginia.

He seemed interested, but didn't understand why I was telling him about this Civil War era woman from the south. And, he really couldn't figure out how we could owe her money!

"Hold on," I said, "I'm getting to that." And, so, I told him how Edmonia Moon, Lottie's sister, was appointed a missionary to Tengchow, China, in 1872. The following year, Lottie was appointed and joined her sister there. That was a moment that would come to forever change the way Southern Baptists viewed missions, mission work and missions support.

I told him how Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China's Shantung province. She taught in a girls' school and often made trips into China's interior to share the good news with women and girls. I shared how Lottie frequently sent letters back home detailing Chinese culture, missionary life and the physical and spiritual needs of the Chinese people. And, how she challenged Southern Baptists to go to China or give so that others could go. And, it worked. By 1888, Southern Baptist women had organized and helped collect $3,315 to send workers needed in China.

I shared with him how Lottie did not quit in the face of adversity.Though the people she was trying to reach often feared and rejected her, she refused to leave. In fact, the aroma of fresh-baked cookies drew people to her house. I shared with him how she adopted traditional Chinese dress, and she learned China's language and customs. I told him how Lottie didn't just serve the people of China; she identified with them. Many eventually accepted her. And some accepted her Savior.

I told him how this young southern girl from Virginia died aboard a ship in the Japanese harbor of Kobe on Dec. 24, 1912. She was 72 years old.

Six years later, in 1918, the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it.

"And, that, my friend, is why we collect money every year at Christmas time for international missions," I said with a smile. "And why it is called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering."

"I get it," he said. "We don't owe her money, we owe her a debt of gratitude for helping us raise our eyes to the nations and keeping the cause of missions in front of us."

And, that is exactly right. Lottie Moon followed the example of her dear Lord and Savior. She went to live among a people, to incarnate the gospel before them, as hundreds and thousands of others have done since then. We take an offering in her name to honor her legacy and to continue the work of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So, this year, when you see that Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelope, do not discard it so quickly. Instead, write a check and help support the thousands of Southern Baptist missionaries around the world.

BTW - At Raleigh Road Baptist Church, you will receive an LMCO envelope in your regular packet of offering envelopes. We will be receiving the LMCO until the end of December. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Top Ten Craziest Things Ever Said to Me at a Church Service

The internet is full of amusing lists of things heard by pastors and church leaders. For example, Thom Rainer’s lists are HERE and HERE.  Chuck Lawless has shared a list of things heard during church consultations HERE. Joe McKeever contributes 59…yes, 59…things not to say to a preacher HERE. Mark Altrogge encourages folks to avoid saying these things to your pastor after he preaches on Sunday HERE. And, Megan Bailey contributes 11 weird things said to pastors HERE. I decided that, after twenty years of ministry, it was time for me to share a "Top Ten" list of my own.    

I suspect that most of these comments are not intended to be hurtful or insensitive by the person speaking. But, you know how it goes. A person starts talking and ends up saying something they never intended. The pastor, of course, has to be “courteous” in how such ill-timed (or ill-conceived) comments are received. With that caveat made, allow me to share the ten craziest things I’ve ever had said to me at a church service. Some are amusing. Some are disturbing. Some are a blessing. Names of those involved have been “redacted” for the sake of all involved. And, if, by some chance, you happen to be the person who uttered one of these comments, know that I believe you had the very best of intentions with your comment. 

So, here they are...counting down to #1....

10.  “Well, how long do you figure you’ll be here?”
I got this comment 3 weeks after arriving at a new church. I’m still not sure if the person was asking because they wanted me to stay or they were already tired of me.

9. “This will probably be our last Sunday here. Nothing personal, but your preaching is just not our style.”
Comments like this are always hard to hear and are heartbreaking to a pastor. It was, in fact, their last Sunday.

8. “I know what the Bible says; I just don’t think it is right.”
I heard this one after preaching a message on the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone. The person did not think it was fair that a person needed to trust in Jesus to go to heaven, although they understood that is exactly what the Bible teaches.

7. “Pastors come and go, but the church stays the same.”
I heard this comment from a key leader after I suggested that there were a few things we could do to bring in some new families. It was rather….disheartening.

6. “Is there a reason you don’t preach from a real Bible?”
You can probably guess, but I heard this from someone who really liked the King James Version of the Bible. After the sermon they approached me with this question.

5. “Is the sermon today going to be good?”
The person making this comment was concerned that their family members hear a “really good” sermon because “they needed it.” So, they asked this question of me just before the service. I did not hear back as to whether the sermon was good.

4. “I really wish we would never sing that song again. It’s not biblical.”
The strange thing about this comment…it was made about a song that is taken directly…directly….from a passage of Scripture. Yeah, we were singing Scripture that, apparently, was not biblical.

3. “At my last church some folks tried to kill the pastor, but I don’t think this church is like that.”
This comment came to me early on in my tenure at a new church. I was really glad to know the one sharing this tidbit of information thought better of the church I was serving.

And, now….tied for the craziest thing I’ve ever heard….BOTH of these were shared with me during the song service just prior to my ascending to the pulpit to preach. Oddly enough, they were shared with me within three weeks of each other.

1. “I just wanted you to know that the guy on the back row is contemplating suicide. So, be sure to make it a good one.”
No pressure there.

1. “The toilet in the women’s bathroom is running. I thought you should know.”
I have no idea why I needed to know or what I was supposed to do about it.

I hope you “enjoyed” reading these as much I have “enjoyed” sharing them. It actually feels kinda good to have gotten it off my chest. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Fellowship of the Unknown

According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches ( there are over 600,000 clergy serving in the United States. The median size of all congregations in the United States is 75 ( That means, of the approximately 300,000 congregations in the United States, half of them are smaller than 75 and half are larger. The Barna group says that the average Protestant church size in America is 89 adults. The same study shows sixty percent of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2 percent have over 1,000 adults attending. Outreach magazine recently reported that 90% of U.S. pastors will never lead a congregation over 200 people and 99.99% will pastor a small church at some point in their ministry (

What do all those numbers mean? It means that the vast majority of those ministering in the United States do so in obscurity. I suspect most of us would be hard pressed to identify fifty pastors by name. The number who we have received personal ministry is far lower. Even with the advent of our social media networks, ministry, to a large degree is done in obscurity. And, pastors are, for the most part, the fellowship of the unknown.

 I mention all of this because October has historically been Pastor Appreciation Month. The fact is that most church members reading this have been significantly impacted by a pastor who will spend most of his ministry in obscurity. Yet, God uses these people to make an eternal difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls. While our culture prizes fame and notoriety, neither is essential to effectively serving others. What is essential is a willingness to be used by God on His terms. The Bible is filled with just such people. They have names that appear for a brief time, in a short narrative, never to be heard from again. People like Kenaniah (1 Chron 15:21-22), Zechariah (Lk 1:8-25), Simeon (Lk 2:25), Anna (Lk 36), Phillip (Acts 8:5-8), Ananias (Acts 9:10-17), and Shamgar (Jdgs 3:31). People who lived in obscurity, emerged for a brief moment to serve the Lord, and then returned to the shadows.
 The vast majority of those faithfully serving the church as pastors will never write a best selling book. They will never be the featured speaker at a conference. They will never have anyone stand in line to take a photo with them. No one will ever want them to sign their Bible (a practice I still find quite awkward). They will never preach a sermon on television. They will never be invited to preach on a seminary campus. They will never be known by anyone outside of the circle of people they have been given spiritual responsibility to care for and nurture. And, that is perfectly fine. They are part of the fellowship of the unknown.

The two men who made the most dramatic impact on my life in their pastoral ministry fit this description perfectly. Steve Tanner and Dale C. Prince were my pastors during my most formative years. “Brother Steve” was instrumental in leading my parents to Christ, which transformed the trajectory of our entire family. Similarly, “Brother Dale” was our pastor when I came to faith in Christ and when I surrendered to full-time Christian service. I still find myself using sayings from his ministry in my own preaching and teaching.

Both of these men were serving a “small church” when our lives intersected. They were serving, largely, in obscurity; their membership in the fellowship of the unknown well established. To my knowledge, neither wrote a best selling book nor spoke at a state or national pastor’s conference. Yet, there are countless lives who have been impacted by their respective ministries. Indeed, the fact you are reading this is another life that has been impacted by those two men. And, I hope one more will be: your pastor.

Whether you are in a smaller church or a large church, would you make it a point to let your pastor know how much you appreciate them? You may not understand all of their struggles or challenges. You may not even agree with all of their decisions. But, for the sake of the gospel, would you simply let them know you love them, appreciate them, and will pray for them? I cannot tell you how much those simple things mean to those of us who are part of the fellowship of the unknown.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Facebook, Email and What We are Having for Wednesday Night Supper

As I prepare for my good friend Pastor Greg Carr's departure to serve in Missouri, I thought it might be a good idea to re-post a few of my own personal Email, Facebook, and TEXT guidelines, I say it is connected to Pastor Greg's departure because, with one of our pastors moving, it is clear there will be a greater demand on myself, Pastor Joe and Bill. While I do not speak for them, the following "guidelines" are ones that I will follow and find it important to make sure I share them to avoid any hard feelings. Speaking of hard feelings....These guidelines are not intended for or directed to anyone in particular, just a quick public posting for clarity about my social media engagement:

1. I SELDOM forward anything...EVER...even if it is a really touching story, changed your life, could change my life...etc, etc, etc...This applies to emails and to Facebook stories, even the ones that tell me that I really should forward the story "if you really love God" or some other such thing. I generally do not participate in the ongoing Facebook ritual of "use one word to describe me" or "I want to see who is paying attention to my status update" posts. And I NEVER respond to mafia requests, farmville help. glitz, bling, or quizzes...And, I NEVER,NEVER, NEVER "send gifts", "hugs", etc on Facebook. ;-)

2. I ALWAYS verify stories emailed to me or posted on Facebook at ...if you send me one that proves to be false (i.e. threat to religious broadcasting, Pres Obama's muslim allegiances, stories about the troops, etc), I MAY send you (and everyone else who received the original email) a note that says something like: "God is a God of Truth...and he calls us to be people of truth. Spreading falsehoods does not advance God's kingdom. Please verify stories like this before forwarding."

On Facebook, if you post a story because you saw it on someone elses wall and thought you just "had" to share SURE it is TRUE...current stories circulating on Facebook that are false include: Diamond Rio's song not being permitted on radio stations (FALSE), Facebook is going to charge to use their site (FALSE), _____ Restaraunt is giving away $500 in gift cards for just signing up as a "fan" of their FB page (FALSE)...and the hits just keep coming!

3. On Facebook, I update my status regularly (often via Twitter)...but, I will not be able to respond to every comment or message. The truth is, I am not "on Facebook" as much as it appears. I have learned a few tricks to allow me to post quickly and get offline. Also, be aware that I do NOT use Facebook Messenger, so a message send to me via Facebook may or may not be seen quickly.

4. Finally, when it comes to CHURCH MATTERS it is almost ALWAYS best to contact the CHURCH OFFICE for information. Raleigh Road is a fairly large church with a number of ministries happening. And, to be honest, I do not have the details on all of the events / ministries going on. For questions about volunteering to serve, what we are having for Wed Night Supper, is someone at the building to let you in, when a class begins, etc, it is best to contact the church office by phone or email. Our phone is 252-243-0383. Someone is in the office from 8 AM - 5 PM Monday - Thursday every week (barring another Snowpacolypse!).

To help direct your call, remember that Jason handles bulletin, announcement and general information, Tommy handles building and building rental requests, Jean handles financial matters, and Lynette schedules Pastor Joe and my appointments. I have time each week set aside for personal appointments, so don't hesitate to contact Lynette to set up a time to meet. I do not schedule my own appointments because I have "double-booked" myself on more than one occasion!

So, if I respond to your Facebook message, email or text by pointing you to the appropriate person to contact, please do not be offended. It is more vital than ever that Pastor Joe, Bill and myself focus on the ministry God has called us to and avoid getting mired in details that are ably handled by others in our office.

I trust that all makes sense and will help give you an explanation for why I handle social media, email and text messages the way I do.

Looking forward to a bright future together!

Dr. Rob Pochek
Senior Pastor
Raleigh Road Baptist Church

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why I Do Not Celebrate Lent

It has become somewhat fashionable for evangelical Christians to observe Lent. Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter in which some Christians have voluntarily given up some things in their life in preparation for Easter. The act of “giving up” some things is intended to make us mindful of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, which will ultimately culminate in his victory (and our return to enjoying that which we have given up).

As described, it does not seem that observing Lent is a bad idea. After all, there are plenty of American(ized) believers who could do with a little sacrifice in the name of Christ. What is the harm in making some commitments, rejecting some pleasures, or fasting from those things that we enjoy in order to help us focus on the season? Maybe none. Maybe plenty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I come from a staunchly Catholic background. My mother’s side of the family is Catholic, indeed, many are practicing Catholics. I have three great aunts who are nuns and a great uncle who is a priest. My mother went to Catholic school. You get the picture. So, while I cast no aspersions on my brothers and sisters who choose to celebrate the Lenten season, there are a few reasons I do not.

1. Our hearts crave glory. 
Human beings have an innate desire to want credit. Indeed, we crave glory. The gospel is explicitly anti-human glory. The gospel is a perpetual reminder that we can’t, but Jesus can. Because my own heart wants to take some credit, wants to share some of God’s glory in my salvation, I want to avoid those things that seem to scream out “look at what I am sacrificing!” If you think they don’t, ask a traditional practicing Catholic to join you for a burger next Friday. You will hear, “I gave that up for Lent.” Whatever I give up for Lent will undoubtedly require some kind of explanation. Our human hearts love that explanation because it places us in prime position for a little glory. Overstated? Perhaps. But, Jeremiah reminded us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9).”

2. Jesus’ death was a great sacrifice. 
In one sense, the death of Christ was the most horrific thing in all of human history. The perfect, sinless Son of God was brutally executed by Roman soldiers who collaborated with Jewish religious leaders. At the same time, it was the most glorious of all deaths. In the death of Jesus, God reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19). As the old saying goes, his love made the payment for sin that his holiness demanded.
It might do us well to remember that Jesus’ death cost him something; that it really was a great sacrifice.  How exactly can I try to memorialize that? By giving up hamburgers? By turning off the TV? By choosing to not eat dessert? It seems to me that any attempt I may make does not memorialize the death of Christ as much as it trivializes it. When I visited the Grand Canyon, I stood on the south rim in awe of God’s creation. Now how could I try to approximate that for someone who has not seen it? In a sense I see our attempts at Lent the way Clark Griswold treated the Grand Canyon; a hurried, quick glance that reflected more on his shallowness than the grandeur of the Canyon.

3. Jesus’ sacrifice brought us freedom!  
The final reason I do not observe Lent is because the death of Christ won me freedom. Freedom from the Law. Freedom from attempting to please God with my good behavior, or sacrifices, or any other meritorious act. The kind of freedom that is found in the Sabbath rest of God provided by Christ alone. I am certainly not suggesting that all those who engage in Lenten observances are trying to earn favor with God or engage in meritorious acts. Yet, because of the deceitfulness of the heart, we must tread very carefully in seeking to engage in sacrifices that God has not specifically called us to make.

It seems to me that the best way we can prepare for the Easter season is to live in the full light of God’s grace. In a sense, Fat Tuesday (minus the sinful behavior!) is a better picture of the Christian who is saved by (and lives by) grace alone than Ash Wednesday is. The reasons I do not observe Lent are just that: my reasons. Fortunately, we have some freedom in this matter. Paul reminded the church at Rome that the freedom Christ won extends to whether we observe certain days or whether we choose to abstain from certain foods (Rom 14:1-8). So, whether you choose to observe Lent or not, do so with a clear conscience because of Christ’s great sacrifice.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Preaching Lessons from the Brian Williams Story

On February 4, 2015 Managing Editor and NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams admitted to embellishing an incident that occurred while covering the Iraq War in 2003. Within days of his apology, he announced he was taking a temporary leave of absence. NBC News announced on February 10, 2015 that Williams was being suspended for six months without pay. The fallout from Williams’ exaggerations provides several lessons for pastors that are worth considering, particularly as it relates to sermon content and delivery.

The Story is bigger than you. In reflecting on Williams exaggerations, it seems that he forgot the most fundamental principle of journalism: seek truth and report it. This principle is a reminder that the story is bigger than the one reporting it. For pastors this is critical to remember, as we are entrusted with sharing THE Story: the gospel. The story of the gospel is bigger than anyone who is sharing it. We must be mindful of that fact. And we must remember that as heralds of the truth our responsibility is to report it, to preach it, to all who will listen. It is the story – the gospel story – that has the power to change lives, not our attempts to “improve” it.

You are not central to the story. As the story of Williams’ exaggerations continued to unfold, it quickly became clear that he had engaged in a fairly regular practice of making himself part of the story. Whether it was pretending to have been in a Chinook when it was shot down or seeing dead bodies floating outside his hotel during Hurricane Katrina, Williams made himself part of the story he was supposed to be reporting. Pastors are often tempted to do the same thing. When we make ourselves the heroes of illustrations, we take the focus away from the true Hero of the gospel story.

Trust is always held in a delicate balance. According to the New York Times, after his announcement, Williams fell from the 23rd most trusted person in America to 835th. That is a significant tumble that is directly tied to breaking trust by not being completely truthful. In a church setting, most pastors could not afford that kind of free fall. Indeed, the lead pastor must be one of (if not the most) trusted person in the church. Failing to recognize that such trust is held in a delicate balance can lead to one taking it for granted. Doing so can be disastrous. This is why it is vital for pastors to make sure that the stories they are telling, the illustrations they are using, the statistics they are quoting are accurate and true. There is simply no excuse for marrying the glorious story of the gospel to embellished illustrations or make up statistics.

My hope is that these lessons will be helpful to pastors, teachers, and church leaders. We are entrusted with the greatest story ever told. Let’s make sure we do not try to embellish it, insert ourselves into it as the hero, or try to pump it up with falsehoods. The gospel really is enough.