Know What You Cannot Do – Fence Post #4

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fifth and final blog post in a series regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first three “posts:” recognize your role in the church, pursue personal health, and guard your flock even from other Christians.

In a church I planted a few years ago, I knew going into it that boundaries were going to be vital as I was going to continue to work full-time at LifeWay Research. So, from the very beginning, my leadership team and I created my job description around those boundaries.

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Know Your Boundaries

The fourth post supporting a healthy ministry is knowing what you can and cannot do.

At that church plant there were three things and ONLY three things that I did: I met with the staff/apprentices, I preached about 70% of the time, and I led a small group in my home.

One of the benefits this boundary had brought to the church is that we were very clearly not a pastor-centered church. I was very upfront with my role in that church. I explained I could not do funerals, visits, phone calls, or meetings. This left the door wide open for our congregation to see areas of leadership where they were needed, and to respond accordingly.

Choose Boundaries Based on Your Situation, Church, and Gifting.

The question arises: why are those the three things? Because they were the three things that only I could do. My boundary may not look like your boundary. But, God called me to teach and preach and that is part of what I do.

Leading the small group was a really important component of my job description. It was mission-driven and it included several of my neighbors.

My small group gave me a personal, front-line connection with the people that we needed to reach. It prevented me from developing tunnel vision from just preaching and talking with the staff each week, while reminding me that I could not lead what I did not live.

The other major component that my small group brought me was regular personal interaction. As your church grows, you need to sacrifice some personal interaction. That can be tough because a lot of people go into pastoral ministry because they are passionate and good at gifts like serving, providing personal care, etc.

A person can’t care for people like this for a group much over 100. It’s why the typical median church size in America is under 100 people. Growing a church past that size means being willing to allow some of those close relationships to change and shift along the way.

A small group is a perfect venue to meet that need for pastoral care when your church has grown beyond your ability to provide that for the entire congregation. It’s where real shepherding and friendships can happen.

Being a pastor is a lonely business. You see a lot of people, but you aren’t in community with a lot of people. A small group is an integral part to solving this problem.

Be Clear and Consistent on What You Can and Cannot Do

The key to establishing this boundary is knowing what you can and cannot do. Churches will want you to do everything. You should do something, but you should do the right thing.

Typically, your “right thing” will line up with your gifts. Other areas are where you should bring others alongside you, and build a team. This team is what will truly help you to accomplish what God has called you to do as a leader.

When you establish these four fence posts – recognizing your role in the church, pursuing personal health, guarding your flock, and knowing what you can and cannot do – you will enable and encourage growth in yourself and your church. Without these four, you will more than likely experience ministry burn out and hinder the development of those under your care and the church as a whole.

You must be intentional about the long term viability of you, your family, your ministry and your church. If you are not, your boundaries will be compromised and your schedule will be full, but your body and spirit will be exhausted.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Guard Your Flock, Even From Other Christians – Fence Post #3

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fourth blog post in a series (intro, fence post 1, fence post 2) regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first two “posts:” recognize your role in the church and pursue personal emotional health.

The next may be the hardest to implement in our culture. Also, I imagine it will generate the most disagreement. However, I think it demonstrates a biblical approach to shepherding of a congregation, rather than turning the church into a place where a group of customers demand that their area of interest is paramount.

The third post supporting a healthy ministry is guarding your flock, even if it is from other Christians.

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It may seem ironic, but some of the people from whom you have to most tenaciously guard your church are other believers. If you don’t, the focus of the ministry is to respond to the special interests of customer Christians. And, that means your ministry (and its boundaries) will be focused on keeping customers happy—and no boundaries will exist.

I wrote about this in another blog post entitled, “Why I Have No Problem Helping Issue-Christians to Move On.”

The inspiration for the post came from an incident after a service at Grace Church, the church I planted and pastored while I worked full-time at LifeWay Research (something, by the way, that I could only do with a lot of boundaries).

I basically encouraged a first-time visitor who was clearly well-versed in Revelation prophecies (and enjoyed sharing his interpretations with everyone he met) to move on from our church and find another that was going to best meet his passions and beliefs.

Now, let me clarify my thinking behind my actions. If someone in my congregation came up to me after the service saying, “I’ve been doing some reading and I have some questions about prophecy. Could we talk about it?” I would take some time right there for discussion. But that clearly wasn’t the case.

This guy was obviously a pro. He actually told me that his friends call him the “Prophecy Terrorist.” This was his introduction—The Prophecy Terrorist. He didn’t have questions. He wanted to get inside my church to find someone who would give him the attention he desired. He wanted me to meet with him so he could debate me—and convince me.

And, I have boundaries. I don’t do that. And, I shepherded a congregation at that time that also had boundaries. We did not need the “Prophecy Terrorist” distracting us from our mission.

You may not have met the “Prophecy Terrorist,” but I bet you’ve met other issue-driven Christians. There are “issue Calvinists,” “issue Charismatics,” “issue homeschoolers,” “issue political Christians,” and the list goes on and on.

Your church is not a public square for people to debate and opine. It’s a place that you are to guard and shepherd. You create boundaries—both personally and congregationally.

People won’t like that, but if you allow your church to be a gathering of special interest groups, then your ministry will be built around keeping them happy. Or, keeping them apart. And, promising them attention that you then spend your life trying to fulfill.

There is a better way, though not everyone will like it.

Creating a healthy boundary for your church means knowing who you are as a church, where you are, where you’re going, and what that means for people who are outside of that. Your church is not the place for issue Christians who want to dominate your time to be given the freedom to do so. Save that time for counseling the hurting, not arguing with the agenda-driven.

On the other hand, I will welcome and talk to “issue non-Christians” all day long. If someone came up to me and said, “I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra and thinking about some deep thoughts.” I would sit down and talk with them in a heartbeat about what Jesus has to say about Deepak.

There is a big difference between the two.

Issue Christians want to get inside so they’ll have someone to give them attention, and it destroys the boundary. Issue non-Christians need to be brought inside so that they can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The most important reality is that “Prophecy Terrorists” and other issue Christians are not going to stop walking with Jesus because they’re not in my church. They will find a place—probably a church (and a pastor) without boundaries.

If it is in your church, however, I’m guessing there are a lot of people who are going to be driven out, including some who need Jesus.

Boundaries are set up by shepherds. That’s the term that the Bible uses several places in Scripture. You must be a shepherd. Your church is not a voluntary society of opinion givers and special interest groups. It’s a body that needs to be in community with one another—served and led by shepherds, pastors, and leaders, focused on a common mission.

So, this is a touchy ministry fencepost, but an essential one. You and your church must recognize that the mission is more important than special interest groups. Your church needs boundaries so that it is focused on its mission and won’t be distracted from that. You need boundaries so that you won’t spend your time trying to keep “issue Christians” happy and placated.

Those boundaries will cost you a few people, but they will focus your church in powerful ways and free you to do ministry about the hurting that otherwise will be overlooked.

In the conclusion of this series, I will explain the fourth and final ministry fence post: know what you can and cannot do.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Pursuing Emotionally Healthy Boundaries – Fence Post #2

By Ed Stetzer

In the introduction to this series, I talked about how your schedule is not the primary problem that leads to burn out, rather it was not setting healthy boundaries in your ministry. Last time, I said the first “post” in your ministry boundary fence is to recognize your role in the church.

For the second post, we have to understand that unhealthy pastors create unhealthy boundaries.

Look, it’s nice to be needed. When people in the church look to you for everything and you do it, they’ll think you’re awesome. Wanting others to think you are awesome isn’t necessarily bad. It can be perfectly normal. The enjoyment of deserved praise, however, can quickly snowball to an unhealthy dependency upon praise.

Your congregation is not naturally going to help you with this. In most church contexts, many look to the pastor as a “distributor of religious goods and services.”

The congregation feels that they have chosen you, and that they are regularly “paying” for you. As a result, they have certain expectations of what you should do. Those expectations can include things like personal visits to every sick person. If it is not done, people may get mad or claim their spiritual walk has been compromised.

The second post supporting a healthy ministry is to pursue emotionally healthy boundaries.

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In order to create proper boundaries, pastors must be healthy and confident enough to be able to say, “No,” when other people want you to say, “Yes,” even when they don’t understand why you have to say, “No.”

Once when I was serving as an interim pastor, a long-time family in the church asked if I could talk to little “Johnny” so that he could receive Christ. I very calmly and kindly answered, “No.” The parents were confused as to why I would not meet with them, but I explained that I did not want to take that opportunity from them.

They protested again, explaining that he had questions. Really, he was eight. Was he struggling with the ontological argument for the existence of God? I expressed that I was confident the questions would be basic, which they should be able to answer since they had been sitting in a great church for fifteen years.

If people need to go through you, as the pastor, to meet Jesus, their understanding of the Gospel is rather limited.

Unfortunately, Johnny’s parents didn’t see it that way. Actually, they saw it in a way that resulted in calling two small groups worth of people explaining that the interim was the, well, a yankee devil.

Within two weeks, however, they found me after church and thanked me for not robbing them of the opportunity of praying with their son. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this case, the boundaries created a really special moment for this family– but they never called back the families they complained to two weeks before.

Creating boundaries is hard for everyone, but necessary for longevity in ministry.

At the end of the day, pastors must not allow the people in their congregation to bring cultural expectations to their boundaries. Instead, they must allow the Bible to inform their implementation of healthy boundaries. The Bible does command and describe what pastors should do, and most boundary making is unrelated to those biblical commands, but is rather driven by church-culture expectations.

The properly established boundaries create a much healthier pastor and church. Part of the health of the church comes from the third post, which we will examine next – guard your flock … even from other Christians.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Recognize Your Role in the Church – Fence Post #1

By Ed Stetzer

In the first post of this series, I began a discussion on the importance of pastors establishing healthy boundaries in ministry.

As it’s an area in which I have personally struggled, and one in which I continue to grow, I’m passionate about sharing what I have learned in order to help others not make the same mistakes that I did.

In the next four blog posts, I will share keys to establishing these boundaries. Think of them as four fence posts surrounding a healthy ministry.

The first “fence post” supporting a healthy ministry is to recognize your role in the church.

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You, as the pastor, are not ultimately responsible for the church. While you do have some, only King Jesus bears the final responsibility.

When this boundary is ignored, the church ends up being built around the pastor, who then actually becomes part of the problem rather than the solution.

At my second church plant, we had grown to a congregation of about 125 after 18 months. While this might seem like a positive development, it became a bit of an Achilles heel for me. The attendance numbers became my driving force from week to week.

I would actually take time every Saturday to personally call all of our regular and occasional attendees and encourage them to be at church the next day. I was convinced that if I didn’t call everyone, the church would fall apart the next day. Because my identity was so wrapped up in our weekly attendance, if the church numbers collapsed the next day, my life, in effect, would collapse with it.

When pastors misunderstand their role like I did, they tend to put all their focus on some predetermined view of success rather than those things they are biblically called to, such as shepherding and equipping.

Thankfully, a combination of my wife and a pastor friend in another town lovingly pointed out to me that I needed to make some changes. It resulted in my resignation. Well, sort of.

I actually got up one Sunday and “resigned.” (Yep, I used air quotes.) I told my congregation that I was going to resign as the sole shepherd and caregiver of the church.

I apologized for not creating proper boundaries and explained that I was restructuring. Using some very 90’s language (which wasn’t too terrible because it was the 90’s), I explained that I was going to move into a “rancher” role, while appointing “shepherds” who worked there. It was a big step of growth, both for the church and myself.

Although moving to a decentralized ministry model was a good step, it was a hard step. The next boundary “post” we will examine speaks to the difficulty of creating healthy boundaries: the pastor has to be healthy enough to create the boundary.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Don’t Blame Your Schedule for Your Burnout

By Ed Stetzer

We live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us that we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.

While it may be true that the term “boundaries” has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church planters and pastors.

People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.

Pastors and ministry leaders who experience burnout tend to exhibit lifestyles that neglect the discipline to handle their activities. Without properly set and upheld boundaries, individuals will more likely experience exhaustion of both body and spirit.

When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo along with all of those duties, I was husband to Donna, blowing insulation to support myself, and a seminary student in Pittsburgh, driving myself four hours, in the snow, uphill both ways. I may have made that last part up, but it was Buffalo after all.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles until I failed to create strong boundaries. That was what finally got to me. If a car hits a dog, the dog isn’t injured because he was running at it too quickly. He’s hurt because he didn’t abide by the boundaries that were set for him.

Similarly, it wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church. I became the focal point for the entire ministry that took place. I was the one everybody needed to talk to if they wanted to follow Christ, receive counseling, or have visit them after their toenail surgery.

I had a congregation full of people who would lean on me from all directions for their spiritual growth. It was these lack of boundaries that disabled any effective ministry and led to burnout.

The fact that I’m still in ministry today should tell you that I have learned some lessons along the way. I’m passionate about sharing the four guidelines I gleaned from my own experience with other pastors and leaders.

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Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry. Four posts coming in the days ahead.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

The Point of Pilot Point

By David A. Busic

It has often been said that the union of three different groups to form the Church of the Nazarene at Pilot Point, Texas, USA, was to promote the biblical doctrine of holiness as expressed in the teaching of John Wesley and the American Holiness Movement. While that is certainly true, what is less well-known is that at the very same time, nearly 30 other prominent groups in the U.S. held this same conviction. So why did these three groups merge to form our denomination, but not the many others?
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The three groups that merged at Pilot Point held several common ideas that were essential to their unity:

  • The strong affirmation for the ordination of women
  • A baptismal theology that included infant and believer’s baptism and was not bound by a specific mode for baptism
  • The willingness to allow for freedom of conscience regarding eschatology. The early Church of the Nazarene included post-millennialists, pre-millennialists, and a-millennialists
  • A view of divine healing that did not exclude modern medicine
  • A shared believers’ church ecclesiology

While many other holiness denominations held exclusive and narrow viewpoints on these issues, the Church of the Nazarene chose to unite holiness people around middle-way (via media) practices. We have never been at our best as a church when we live in the extremes.
 
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Pilot Point was that the Church of the Nazarene was able to do what few other evangelical churches could in the divisive years that followed the American Civil War — overcome issues of regional politics, prejudice, and the lingering hatred that follows horrific conflict.
 
Names like Bresee, Jernigan, and Reynolds came together from north, south, and east U.S. to embrace a transformational idea: Christian holiness can break down any walls of separation. It was a movement of God unprecedented in U.S. church history.
 
Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol powerfully summarizes the miracle of Pilot Point:

The union of churches at Pilot Point was a shining example of the social reality of Christian holiness. At the heart of the Christian message is a word of reconciliation: first between sinners and Divine Love; and second, among the members of the human family who are estranged from one another. Pilot Point signifies the reality that holiness heals hearts and unites people otherwise driven apart by sin, politics, and conflict. (Stan Ingersol, “Born In Hope, Borne Onward In Love.” A paper delivered 26 June 2017 for the Fraternal Delegates Luncheon in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

In such a time as this, in a world filled with great political strife and extreme polarities, can the Church of the Nazarene return to the spirit of our founders at Pilot Point? It was unlikely to happen then, but by the will and power of God, a union was formed. Our founders were not able to do everything, but they have given us hope that we can also deal with the issues that divide us today.
 
We serve the same God and have the same purpose. This is our holiness legacy. Let’s get back to the point of Pilot Point. 

*I am indebted to Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol for these insights.

The Last Speech of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of a sad day in United States – and world – history.  At 6:01pm on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Only 39 years old, he was pronounced dead at 7:05pm at St. Joseph’s hospital.

King was a preacher and Civil Rights activist who has served as a powerful example of courage and justice for millions around the world, including myself.  Although we soberly acknowledge that there is still much work to be done with regards to racial equality and other social justice issues he stood up for, the voice of Dr. King still speaks to us and spurs us on fifty years later.

The day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed several thousand people supporting a tumultuous, difficult strike by sanitation workers in Memphis.  He was speaking on behalf of the unemployed and impoverished.  In honor of his legacy, I reprint the transcript of his final speech here.  May the words and life of Martin Luther King Jr. inspire and disquiet us today and in the years to come.Martin Luther King Jr.

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Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.MLK & Coretta

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”

Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.

And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”

And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.

Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.

But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.

Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.

MLK speechBut I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?

After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.

Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.

We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”

Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.

Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.

They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”

That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”

And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.

The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.

They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,

“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”

And she said,

“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.

The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

MLK quote

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.