Max on Leadership

April 18th, 2011

Prolific author and pastor Max Lucado has inspired millions with his writing. In his latest book, Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions, Max responds to over two hundred questions his readers and congregants are asking about faith and practical life issues. We asked Max for some pastor-to-pastor advice on answering congregants’ most difficult questions.

Max, most people know you as a bestselling, inspirational author. A lot of people don’t realize that you are still active as leader of a congregation. Tell me about your role at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio.  

I’m surprised how many people say they didn’t realize I’m still in the pastorate. My role here is what we call a Teaching Minister. That means I don’t have to do the building and the budget anymore. From 1988-2009 I was Senior Minister, and then I invited Randy Frazee to move here from Chicago, and he become Senior Minister and I became Teaching Minister. So he gets to do the general leadership; I get to teach, write books, and play golf. That last one needs a lot of work!

In your new book, Max on Life, you address a lot of the hard questions that people have today, about doubt, disaster, sex, money, and more. What is your advice for church leaders fielding such complex—and often very personal—questions?

To avoid them and pretend they didn’t ask. (Just kidding!) We have to address these issues because everyone else is. These are the issues on the news, on television shows, in books that everyone is reading. If we don’t answer those questions, they won’t hear the Christian perspective on these issues of social importance.

Now, I don’t like to turn the weekend service into a time of controversy. People come to church seeking inspiration and direction. I don’t get into a lot of political issues; I don’t want church to be known more for its stance on social issues more than its stance on Jesus. We have to let the teachings of Jesus be the focal point of church, and then address social issues. I’m thinking of things like abortion, war, etc., but they have to come second to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

What is the hardest question you’ve ever been asked as a pastor?

The question of human suffering.

Just yesterday I had a testimony in worship from a young woman who is a missionary. Her father, also a missionary, was dying of acute liver failure on their flight back from Africa. She locked herself in the restroom and prayed. A man knocked on the door of the restroom to ask if she was alright, and she told him the problem. He told her, “Well, I’m a doctor, my friends here are doctors, and there are 96 other doctors on this plane.” The doctors treated the woman’s father as best they could, and he made it home alive.

After the service, a dear lady comes to me and says “Why didn’t God save my father? Why weren’t there 100 doctors to save him?” These are the hard questions: Why wasn’t my prayer answered? Does God still love me? How do I respond when my wife has cancer? How do I respond when bad things happen?

You have a lengthy section in the book about sex, both inside and outside of marriage. It seems trendy in churches right now to do sermon series on sex. Do you feel pastors have an obligation to preach and teach about sex?

I really do. But it cannot become the big issue. That hour of worship is such a sacred time, and our goal is to make God the biggest person in that worship assembly. My fear would be trying to be relevant so much that a person would leave feeling they’d never had an encounter with God. I believe there is a place for pastoral authority on this topic. But I wouldn’t want it to be exploited as a way to get people in the building.

In 22 years, I’ve preached maybe only 12-15 sermons on sex. Some pastors would probably say I’ve missed some major opportunities. I don’t know what the perfect balance would be. Perhaps once a year, we should make a focus on how Christians should use their body, because we live in such a sexually-charged society.

I have always felt uncomfortable preaching about sex. I get embarrassed, but I think you have to do it some. Some of these people in the church don’t have anyone giving them biblical answers on these issues. I was very embarrassed for some of these issues to go in the book, and I get embarrassed speaking on it in the pulpit, but I always have people come up and say thank you.

Another section of your book focuses on finances, which is obviously a hot topic in this economy. Many pastors shy away from preaching about money. What message do you feel pastors need to send about how we handle our finances?

The easiest answer is to tell everybody to read everything Dave Ramsey writes! I’ve done that. He has such a common sense approach.

I think the role of the pastor when comes to money is to emphasize three points: 1. Everything belongs to God. 2. Debt is dangerous. 3. Giving is our highest privilege. Those are the things I want to keep reminding people of. We’re not taking a penny with us.

Do you think the questions people ask today are different from the questions of past generations? What has changed?

Yes, because the starting point is different. The starting point used to be, “what does the Bible say?” Now, it’s “why trust the Bible?” My generation grew up asking what the Bible says about things, and we assumed could trust the Bible. Now, people ask why they should trust the Bible? We need to put in terms of Jesus. Why can we trust the Bible? Because we trust the resurrection of Jesus. We need to put some apologetics into it.

Our response to this shift is simply being followers of Christ, living out our faith, one by one. The best hope for an agnostic is to have an authentic Christian living next door, who treats that person with respect, prays for that person, keeps their yard mowed, is a responsible person, representing Christ to them. I don’t think it’s through evangelism ministries or T.V. campaigns, but just the authentic witness of devoted Christians.

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