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Landrum Leavell: ‘Things I wish I had been taught in seminary’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Saying one out of every 18 Southern Baptist pastors will lose his job every 18 months, Landrum Leavell II, president emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged students to prepare for ministry by committing to the principle found in Colossians 3:23, “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Introducing Leavell as the longest-tenured president of the seminary, and a passionate preacher and soul-winner who believed that the organizing principle of a seminary ought to be the Great Commission, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley told an Oct. 4 chapel audience that Leavell hails from a family that has had a great influence in the Southern Baptist Convention, on both the home and foreign fields. He was the son of one of nine Leavell brothers, eight of whom served in fulltime vocational ministry.

After 53 years in the ministry, Leavell noted that he learned many things he was never taught in seminary. He declared as he began his sermon, “I don’t walk with the presumptuous step of a know-it-all, but there are some things you need to be told.”

Leavell said a pastor should consider himself blessed to be called to a Southern Baptist church. Describing the work of a pastor as a job — not a position — and a calling, he said, “God places you there and work will keep you there.” Furthermore, the work of a pastor is a determined activity, he said, and a pastor must set goals.

“Make up your mind what you are going to do, what kind of church you are going to have and how to lead them to get there,” he said.

One goal every pastor should have is to visit every resident member of the church body, Leavell counseled, saying he was able to accomplish the goal in the last three churches he served. The last of these churches had more than 7,500 members. The entire church staff participated in meeting the goal through careful organization and high accountability.

Such visitation helped the church break Sunday school, baptism and giving records, Leavell said, adding, “The church was alive because the people became convinced that the church staff really did care.”

Leavell said he believes pastor candidates have the responsibility to “check” churches out “just as thoroughly as the church checks” them out by calling the former pastor and the director of missions.

If the church checks out, he advised imperatively, “Go with the flow.” He clarified, “If they are not into contemporary music, sing hymns. Sing the songs that they know and love. If your church is not interested in [choruses] and your church does not want a contemporary service, don’t try to force it on them.

“You can destroy the spirit and the fellowship of your church by radical changes,” he said, advising pastors to ease into changes.

A pastor also must be determined to avoid certain behaviors, Leavell continued.

“Don’t you dare steal a church,” he said, explaining that pastors should not try to change the church’s denomination because of their personal preferences. “Start your own church,” he said. “Don’t go into a Southern Baptist church and split it down the middle.”

He also cautioned against questionable actions with church money and members. “The church budget is not your personal slush fund,” he said. Any change to the budget must be voted on by the church.

“Don’t touch the church’s money, except for your paycheck,” he said, because other people in the church must carry that responsibility.

“Don’t compromise your personal integrity,” he challenged the students. “Your staff should set the example for the church members to follow in tithing and service.”

Noting that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, Leavell said, “Do you want to be like Jesus? Get with the program. Go out in a relentless day by day search for the unsaved.

“Instead of lusting after a big church, get out there and build one,” he said. “The sky is the limit. You’ve got billions of people who are unsaved and who are prospects.”

He continued, “God’s call is not for spiritual journeymen. God didn’t call you for two years and then you move on to a better paying job. If your call is from God, it is for life.”

He concluded with an admonition, “Thank God daily for the opportunity to serve. Thank the people publicly and privately for what they do for you. Work hard. Let them know you are earning what they pay you.

“You’re in for the most thrilling, enjoyable ride of your life.”
Miley is a master of divinity student at NOBTS. Shannon Baker contributed to this story. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: EMERITUS & CURRENT PRESIDENTS.

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  • Joanna Miley