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Pastors in Jeopardy

Alex Trebek was not happy.

The thirty-year host of the TV game show Jeopardy was hosting Kids Week on the program during the first week in December.

One of the contestants ended up $1400 in the red, and according to show rules, she couldn’t compete in Final Jeopardy.

Trebek said to the girl: “We have bad news for you, because you’re in a negative situation, it means you won’t be around for Final Jeopardy, but you’ll automatically pick up $1000 for a third place finish.”

The girl was visibly upset and ran backstage.

The girl’s mother later wrote a letter to Sony, the show’s producers: “If he had taken the time, he would have known, like you do, that my daughter is not a sore loser, and does not become emotional solely over losing a game,” she wrote. “She was upset about not being able to completely play the game to the end… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that.”

Trebek was accused of not making a credible effort to make the girl feel better and was asked to re-tape the moment right before the girl became upset and ran backstage.

Pastors go through this stuff all the time.

During my first pastorate, I was reading William Manchester’s biography of General Douglas MacArthur called American Caesar.  I discovered that I knew next to nothing about MacArthur or his accomplishments … like writing Japan’s constitution after World War 2 ended.

During one sermon, I selected an illustration from the book, a story where the Americans won and the Japanese lost.

A young couple attended our church.  The wife was Caucasian … and her husband looked Caucasian.

His wife later told me that he was part Japanese, part Caucasian … and that because of my story, he probably wouldn’t be coming back to the church.

How could I know that he was part Japanese … and how could I know that my story might offend him?

From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then discarded my manuscript as much as I could.

I realize this style isn’t in fashion nowadays because congregations expect their pastors to speak without notes.

But one reason I chose to write out my messages was because I had time to think through how to say what I wanted to say so I would offend the fewest possible people.

But just like Alex Trebek, a pastor never knows when he’s going to say something offensive … or who is going to be offended.

My wife runs a preschool in our home with about 25 kids attending at various times.  She can say the exact same thing in the same way to 24 kids and they’ll comply, but the 25th child will burst into tears.

Should she then aim her directives toward the 24 kids or the one kid who is overly sensitive?

And should a pastor speak to the congregation as a whole or change his language so some people won’t be offended?

I once heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that about 15% of his congregation might be classified as dysfunctional, while the other 85% were pretty healthy people.  (This was at least twenty years ago, so the percentage of dysfunctional people might be higher now.)  Hybels believed that a pastor should direct his message toward the 85% and direct the 15% toward counseling.

How does that sound to you?

Pastors have two choices when it comes to preaching: they can speak in a politically and emotionally correct way … in which case they won’t say much at all … or they can be themselves before God and just let it fly.

But it’s not just up to the pastor, but up to the church board as well.

If the church board backs the pastor’s right to say whatever he wants before God … even if some don’t always agree with him … that pastor’s ministry can flourish.

But if the board demands that the pastor speak in such a way that he doesn’t offend the wrong people … that pastor’s ministry may not succeed because he’ll always wonder if he’s offending somebody by what he says.

During my last ministry, I said something in a message that really upset one couple.  They complained to the church board and wanted my head.

The board chairman listened to a recording of my message, felt I didn’t say anything wrong, and told the couple just that.

They didn’t stop their crusade against me until they left the church … livid … but I felt supported, and free to continue to say whatever God wanted me to say.

In the end, Alex Trebek wrote the following words to the show’s producers: “If you all think I should retape the opening, I will.  But I want to say that for 30 years I’ve defended our show against attacks inside and out.  But it doesn’t seem to operate both ways.  When I’m vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say ‘don’t say anything and it’ll blow over,’ and I’m not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the _______ out of me.”

As a former pastor for 36 years, I understand where the Jeopardy host is coming from.

When you’re attacked, if you sense support from those you account to, you’ll forge ahead with greater confidence and boldness.

But if those you account to collapse on you when you’re attacked, your morale will plunge, and you’ll start looking for a way out … which is why Alex Trebek ended his statement by saying, “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

My favorite verse on preaching is John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Fundamentalists focus on speaking the truth … but often without grace.

Liberals focus on speaking with grace … but usually have little to say.

But biblical pastors prioritize truth in content … and grace in presentation.

And those are the ministries that make it to Final Jeopardy.

 

 

 

I once sat in the office of a Christian leader who viewed himself as being extremely important and powerful.  Arrogance oozed from every pore.

During our conversation, he took a stack of letters and began to sign them.  I felt worthless in his eyes … and tried to leave as soon as possible.

For some reason, I wasn’t surprised when I later heard that his wife divorced him.

Another time, my wife and I were invited to the home of some casual friends so we could spend an evening with their new minister.

The night with the pastor was a disaster.

All he did was talk about himself.  He showed zero interest in me or my wife.  He was on stage, delivering a soliloquy, and we were expected to listen and applaud.

Many, if not most, Christian leaders know how to treat people well.  It’s a crucial part of their calling and position.

But, sad to say, this isn’t true of every Christian leader.

Let me share five ways that Christian leaders treat people well:

First, Christian leaders show a genuine interest in others.

When leaders are talking to others, they look at them … listen carefully to them … and seek to understand where they’re coming from.

I recently met a pastor right after a church service.  I told him that I knew a friend of his, and he immediately took out his business card, wrote his phone number on it, asked me to call him, and engaged in several minutes of conversation.

He made me feel important.

His church is healthy and growing, even though it’s in a city corner.

When a Christian leader shows an interest in others, they tend to reciprocate.

Second, Christian leaders demonstrate concern for everybody.

I once knew a Christian leader who prided himself on ministering to wealthy people.  He surrounded himself with people with money … but had little time for people who were poor.

His bias toward the wealthy was noticed and commented upon by others.  If you had money, the pastor would try and befriend you.  If you didn’t … forget it.

But Jesus noticed everybody and anybody around him.  While he paid attention to wealthy people like Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, he also had time for lepers, the blind, and the lame.

A loving leader shows Jesus’ concern for widows … those without jobs … kids in the youth group … those who are “odd” … and those who feel lonely.

I’m not saying that a leader has to spend an equal amount of time with everyone, but that it’s important to treat everybody well.

Third, Christian leaders learn as many names as they can.

During my teens, I attended a medium-sized church.  I listened to my pastor preach twice every Sunday and became a member.

My senior year in high school, I became president of the youth group, and then went to a Christian college.

And every Sunday as I shook the pastor’s hand at the door, he would say the same thing to me:

“Hi, guy.”

It bothered me that my pastor didn’t know my name.  Maybe he did, and forgot it after every sermon … but I’m not so sure.

It’s not easy to do – and a pictorial directory helps – but Christian leaders need to learn people’s names

I once heard Rick Warren say that he knew the names of the first 3,000 people who attended Saddleback Church … and that included children and youth.

Dr. Charles Feinberg, who taught at my seminary for many years, had an incredible ability to remember names.  The last time I saw him, he asked about my wife by name, even though he had never met her personally.  I understand that Jerry Falwell acted the same way.

You have to be relaxed to remember names.  Leaders who are experiencing stress can’t remember their own names, much less anyone else’s!

Fourth, Christian leaders should always correct people in person.

Several months ago, I met a pastor who told me he was fired … via email.  The church board that fired him were obviously COWARDS.

Leaders who treat people well don’t document dissatisfaction with those they are trying to correct via email or letters.  (The revelation of emails from current SONY executives should make this obvious.)

When leaders need to have a tough conversation, they make the time to speak face-to-face with the person whose performance they’re unhappy with.

When I was a pastor, and I was unhappy with something a staff member or volunteer did, I did my best to speak with them with dignity and respect … which meant loving them enough to speak with them directly and personally.

And if a leader can’t or won’t do that, in my view, then they shouldn’t be a leader at all.

Case in point: one could argue that Mars Hill Church in Seattle … which hosted 14,000 people per weekend last January … is dissolving by January 1, 2015 because Pastor Mark did not treat the people around him well.

When a leader who claims to be serving Christ treats people like dirt, that leader is not only sowing the seeds of his own demise, but may very well be sowing the seeds of his church’s destruction as well.

Finally, Christian leaders take their promises seriously.

When they say they’ll return a phone call, they call you.

When they say they’ll meet you for lunch, they meet you.

When they say they’ll pray for you, they pray for you.

When they say they’ll send you a book, they send it.

I understand emergencies.  I understand forgetfulness.  I understand pressure, and exhaustion, and a full schedule.

But Christian leaders need to be people of their word.

Those whose word is good often lead thriving congregations.

Those whose word doesn’t count don’t tend to have much impact.

Tonight I’m going to play Santa Claus for some preschoolers.  (They all know me, so I hope nobody figures out who Santa is.)

With each child, I’m going to ask them their name … ask them what they want for Christmas … try and understand their desires … and not overpromise anything.

I’ve seen a lot of Santas in my time, and I haven’t seen a “bad Santa” yet.

Let’s pray that Jesus’ leaders take a cue from Santa and treat people well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is an assumption among many Christians that when a pastor … staff member … board member … or churchgoer remains perpetually hurt about something, this is an indication that that person is bitter.

And as long as they’re bitter, we’re told, they can’t be right with God, they’re automatically divisive, and good Christians should avoid them until they repent.

As proof, Christians like to quote Hebrews 12:15, which says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

The phrase “no bitter root” is translated “root of bitterness” in other translations.

I’ve met bitter Christians, and you probably have as well … and we’ve all been bitter in our own lives at times.

But I believe there is a difference between Christians who are bitter and Christians who have been wounded, and that most Christians make the mistake of identifying the two.

So let me share with you three contrasts between bitter and wounded Christians:

First, a bitter Christian stays that way over the years, while a wounded believer gradually begins to heal.

Let’s say that I’ve been a volunteer at my church for years, and one Sunday, my supervisor (also a volunteer) tells me in front of others, “I’m making some changes in this ministry, and you’re out.  That’s it.”

How would you feel?

Angry?  Probably.  Hurt?  Definitely.

Would you stay in the church?  Maybe … or maybe not.

Most likely, you’d be bitter initially.  You wouldn’t feel like forgiving the supervisor, or supporting the church’s capital campaign financially.

In fact, you might even feel like getting even with the supervisor, like writing him a nasty letter, or putting some derogatory comments on Facebook, or blasting him to your friends.

Many Christians feel bitter when they are mistreated by another believer … and we have to allow them to feel this way.

But in most cases, that initial bitterness will probably subside over time … and may very well change into woundedness.

Second, a bitter Christian focuses on the injustice, while the wounded believer focuses on God’s sovereignty.

If I’m a bitter Christian, I’ll say to myself, “I was doing such a great job at my church!  I was there all the time … really cared about people … and this is the thanks I get?”

And I’ll say that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

I’ll keep recalling the words of the supervisor and ruminating about the way I felt on that Sunday so long ago … and I won’t be able to put it out of my mind.

For the bitter Christian, yesterday’s injustices are just as fresh today as the day they occurred.

But the wounded Christian says, “Yes, I was hurt, and had every right to be.  My supervisor handled matters poorly, demeaning and devaluing me.  But although I couldn’t see it at the time, God used that incident to let me know that I was overloaded and overwhelmed in my life, and that I needed to spend more time with the Lord and with my family.”

Focus on the injustice, and you’ll stay bitter.  Focus on God’s good plan, and your bitterness will subside … but not necessarily your woundedness.

Third, the bitter Christian won’t forgive his assailant, while the wounded believer will.

We Christians spend a lot of time excusing people who have hurt us.  We don’t want to admit that someone has penetrated our emotional defenses enough to harm us.

The only way to handle some situations is to say, “So-and-So really hurt me … and maybe they meant to hurt me.  What they did was inexcusable … and very, very wrong.”

We only need to forgive those who have wronged us.  There’s no need to forgive anybody who hurt us without wronging us.

The bitter Christian holds on to his or her anger because it makes them feel alive … and more powerful than their attacker.

And the bitter Christian continues to hope that something awful happens to the person who hurt them.

The wounded Christian eventually forgives the person who hurt them … and lets the bitterness go … because they know that ongoing bitterness will destroy them, much less their relationships with others.

Several days ago, I was listening to the great Irish vocalist Mary Black sing a song from her CD Mary Black Live called “The Poison Tree.”  Black and Marcia Howard rewrote some of poet William Blake’s original lyrics and they deeply moved me:

I was angry with my friend
I told him so and my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe
Told him not and my wrath did grow

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles

And it grew both day and night
Till it bore an apple bright
And my foe beheld it shine
And he knew that it was mine

Was a poison tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree
Growing inside of me

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched
Beneath that tree

Was a Poison Tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree
Growing inside of me

Poison Tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree

What happened to you
And me

I don’t want a poison tree growing inside of me … and my guess is that you don’t, either.

And the only way to stop the poison tree is to forgive those who have hurt us.

But even after we forgive, we may still feel wounded … but being wounded does not mean that we are still bitter.

Over the past five years, I have lost many things I once held as precious: a career, a job, a house, Christian friends, and so much more.

Those losses have created wounds that won’t easily go away.  How could they?

But I don’t wish any harm on those who hurt me.  I don’t wish … or plot … that they will lose their careers, or houses, or friends.

I’m not bitter.

I am wounded.

There’s a difference.

And I’m trying to take those wounds to prevent and resolve conflicts in churches … especially those that involve pastors.

I guess, in the words of Henri Nouwen, I am a wounded healer.

And that’s the best thing to do with our wounds: heal others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty some years ago, I attended an all-day seminar taught by H. Norman Wright designed to help pastors give, score, and interpret the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis “test.”

The test measured nine character traits like depression/lightheartedness, sympathy/indifference, and discipline/impulsiveness.

Mr. Wright said that one trait was the most important one on the test – objective/subjective – because it provided a prism through which to view the other traits.

When a person is objective, they are able to look at life events and interpret them accurately.

When a person is subjective, they look at life events and interpret them inaccurately.

The same events can happen to the same people at the same time, but the way they interpret those events determines how emotionally healthy they are.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you receive your bank statement and you notice a charge you’ve never seen before.

The objective person might say, “Hmm.  I wonder what that charge is for.  I’ll need to ask the next time I go to the bank.”

The subjective person might say, “Oh, no!  Another unauthorized charge!  My bank is ripping me off!  It’s time to find a new bank!”

My wife runs a preschool in our home, and I see this trait demonstrated in some of the children.

If she has to correct one child, the child will immediately do what she says without batting an eye.

But if she has to correct another child, he or she will start crying uncontrollably.

Same teacher … same words … same attitude … varying responses.

The same traits are seen in pastors … staff members … church leaders … and regular attendees.

Let’s say that a pastor receives an anonymous letter in the mail.  (I’ve received a few of those in my time.)

The best thing to do with an anonymous letter is throw it in the trash without reading it.

You can’t answer it … weigh the criticisms … or respond to it because you don’t know who sent it.

So the objective pastor says to his office manager, “The letter is unsigned.  It’s not worth reading.  Please shred it … now!”

But the subjective pastor might say, “Uh oh.  These criticisms and threats worry me.  This person claims that he’s going to leave the church unless we change the music to his liking … and that he’s going to take as many people out of the church as he can.  I wonder who this is … and if I’ll have a job in six months!”

Then he proceeds to call the associate pastor … board chairman … and his wife, scared to death his career is over.

Or take the board member who meets with the pastor about the church’s finances.  While the board member is worried that the church might not meet the budget for that fiscal year, the pastor doesn’t seem all that worried.

In fact, the pastor tells the board member, “I remember a time like this in my first church.  We were much further behind budget than we are right now, but God brought us through with flying colors.  It always pays to trust Him.”

But the board member focuses on the idea that the pastor let his first church get behind budget … wonders if he’s doing the same thing now … and begins to doubt that his pastor can pull the church through its donation crisis.

Then there’s the regular attendee who visited the pastor one day for marriage counseling two years ago.  The pastor is now doing a series on marriage, and makes a strong statement about what Scripture says about how wives should treat their husbands.

She becomes convinced that the pastor is preaching directly at her, so she tells five of her friends that she doesn’t like the pastor and wishes he would leave.

Church conflicts sometimes start when individual believers misinterpret the statements … actions … and motives of others, especially church leaders.

I hate to say this, but most pastors fall into the subjective camp.  It’s wonderful that pastors are sensitive to the needs and struggles of others … but not so wonderful when pastors become hypersensitive to everything that is said to them or about them.

Pastors do need to be on their guard … after all, it’s the job of a shepherd to protect his flock from wolves … but sometimes pastors – especially if they’ve been wounded in the past – find opposition where it doesn’t exist.

This is why it’s crucial for a subjective pastor to surround himself with a few staff/board members who are much more objective.

I’ve been blessed to serve with a few board chairmen who could tell me:

“Hey, Jim, you’re worrying about something that isn’t really a big deal.  Don’t give it another thought.  I’ll take care of it.”

“She’s spoken with me, and her real concern is that her son stays in the youth group.  Address that problem, and she’ll be fine.”

“I agree with you.  I don’t think Bart is doing a good job as a staff member, so we need to find a way to ease him out in the next few months.”

When I used to give the Taylor Johnson test, I was surprised at how many people fell into the strongly subjective category … and I was alarmed to discover that was my bent as well.

There’s nothing wrong with being this way … it just leads to a lot of drama for those who know and love you.  (Jesus’ disciple Peter was definitely more subjective than objective!)

I don’t think we should expect subjective pastors to suddenly become more objective … it would probably take three lifetimes to pull that off … but it’s smart for pastors to identify and recruit several people as advisers who see people … and church life … in more objective terms.  (Brit Hume, the political commentator on Fox News, strikes me as an objective person who would make a great pastoral consultant … and he is a believer.)

When subjective leaders become anxious … the objective leader calls for calm.

When subjective leaders avoid their critics … the objective leader prefers engagement.

When subjective leaders grow pessimistic … the objective leader remains realistic.

When subjective leaders want to quit … the objective leader counsels perseverance.

If a church is filled with objective leaders, it might not have much heart.  But if a church is filled with subjective leaders, then their changing feelings might make things chaotic.

The body of Christ needs both objective and subjective leaders.

Which one are you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever wondered how Jesus handled family get-togethers at Christmas?

You say, “Wait a minute, Jim.  There’s nothing in the New Testament about Jesus getting together for Christmas with His parents and relatives.  I’ve read the New Testament and it’s not there!”

And you’d be right.  Jesus and His family didn’t celebrate Christmas per se.

But in another sense, they did.

Let me share with you five truisms about the way that Jesus dealt with family gatherings:

First, Jesus had an unusual family.

Think about this: Jesus’ biological father wasn’t Joseph or even God the Father but the Holy Spirit.  This means that Jesus’ real father was someone He didn’t see on earth until His baptism at age thirty when the Spirit appeared like a dove.  (I wonder if Jesus said to Himself, “That’s the Spirit” or “That’s my biological father” when He saw the dove.)

I’m not sure when Jesus learned the truth about His “father of origin” but this could make a boy feel either special or strange.  To the people in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus was just an ordinary boy who lacked any special wisdom or powers (Matthew 13:55-56).

If you think you have an unusual family – especially during the Christmas season – don’t sweat it.  You’re in excellent company.

Second, Jesus had half-brothers and sisters.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn child (Luke 2:7) and that Jesus had four half-brothers and at least two half-sisters (Matthew 13:55-56).  So Joseph and Mary had at least seven children, but while Mary was the biological mother of all seven, Joseph was the biological father of only six, Jesus excluded.

So Jesus knows what it’s like to live with brothers or sisters who have different parents, and He knows what it’s like to be a part of a large family.  And when those nine people sat around the table to eat, there had to be some friction at times.

If you have step-siblings or half-siblings -and you don’t understand them, and they don’t understand you – relax.  Jesus gets it.  But you may be surprised to learn that:

Third, Jesus celebrated holidays with His family.

In Jesus’ day, the Jews celebrated three holidays: Pentecost, Tabernacles, and Passover.  As each feast drew near, Jewish families from all over the ancient world formed caravans and streamed into Jerusalem, especially for Passover.

Dr. Luke tells us in Luke 2:41-52 that when Jesus was twelve, His family traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  On the way home, Jesus vanished, and His parents felt that sense of panic when a parent misplaces a child. (Of course, in their case, it was even worse because they had lost the Messiah!)

Speaking of Joseph and Mary, Luke writes, “Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.  Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends” (Luke 2:44).  They expected to find Jesus hanging out with “relatives and friends” at this Passover celebration, so He probably spent time with them at other Passovers and other holidays as well.  You say, “Yes, Jim, but they didn’t celebrate Christmas together.”

Or did they?  Most likely:

Fourth, Jesus may have celebrated His birthday with family.

As far as I can tell, there is only one birthday mentioned in the New Testament, and that’s the birthday of the wicked King Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great who was king when Jesus was born.

Matthew 14:6 refers to Herod’s birthday and how the king ended up giving the head of John the Baptist on a platter to Salome, a young woman who danced in the king’s presence.

However, kings weren’t the only people who celebrated birthdays in ancient times. If Jesus’ family celebrated His birthday in some fashion every year – and they had to mark His age so they undoubtedly knew the date – family and friends may have been invited over, just like we do in our day.

Today we refer to Christmas as Jesus’ birthday.  Back then, Jesus’ birthday wasn’t called Christmas, but I’m sure family gathered together to celebrate His birth, which means they celebrated Christmas without knowing it.

Can you imagine celebrating Christmas with Jesus right there in the room?

When our kids were small, a man in our church named Earl loaned me his video camera.  Earl received the camera as a gift and didn’t know what to do with it, so he asked if I wanted to use it.  Video cameras used to be fairly large and used VHS tapes.

I captured our daughter Sarah’s seventh birthday on video, and whenever our family wants a laugh, we play the tape back.

Since I believe that God videotaped all the important events of the Bible – and even some of the ones not mentioned – it is possible that someday, we’ll be able to watch one of Jesus’ birthday parties, kind of like a pre-Christmas Christmas.

Finally, Jesus’ family thought He was crazy.

When I was in seminary, I took a class in counseling, and our professor told us that Jesus was the only normal person who ever lived.  That means that Jesus is the norm for human living.  He lived the way God intended us to live.  Since He’s the norm, the more we’re like Him, the more normal we are, and the less we’re like Him, the less normal we are.

However, our family members are usually convinced that they are normal and that everyone else in the family is abnormal.  This even happened in Jesus’ family.

Mark tells us about a time early in Jesus’ ministry when He was working non-stop.  He wasn’t eating or sleeping and it concerned Jesus’ family to the point they concluded, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

When Mary and His brothers arrived to take Him back home, Jesus resisted them, claiming that He was now the leader of a new spiritual family.  Jesus’ family thought He was crazy, but He implies here that they were the ones who lacked an understanding of spiritual reality.

As you celebrate Christmas this month, remember that Jesus Himself had an unusual family, had half-brothers and sisters, celebrated holidays with His family, probably celebrated His own birthday with loved ones, and had a family who on one occasion thought that He was the abnormal One.

If Jesus could survive family during the holidays, so can you!

 

Thankful For So Much

For many years, I kept a condensed list called “Top Ten Things I’m Thankful For” in my wallet.

Whenever I saw the list … much less read it … I was reminded how much God has blessed me, even when I was having a bad day.

Let me briefly share an updated list of five things I’m thankful for in reverse order:

Number 5: I am thankful for faithful, lifelong friends.

Steve, Dave, Jim and Ken @ VBC August 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve made many friends over the years, especially in the 9 churches I’ve served.  In most cases, I’ve lost contact with those people, but I’m thankful for 3 friends who have been there for me no matter what for nearly 50 years … and we all came to attend the same church.

Steve (on the left) and I met on the first day of fifth grade.  He taught me more about sports than anyone I’ve ever known … and beat me in most of them, too.  It’s fitting that he became a high school athletic director and teacher.  He’s the best athlete … and game player … I’ve ever known.

Dave (second from the left) was my constant companion at Biola and Talbot.  We rode to school together … took classes together … and graduated together (twice).  Dave is a well-known pastor and speaker in the Calvary Chapel movement and has a nationwide radio program.  I often watch his sermons on Roku.

Ken (on the right) has been my friend since seventh grade.  He taught me how to play ping pong … invited me to his church (where I eventually met my wife) … and convinced me to go with him to camp at Hume Lake (where I ended up dedicating my life to Christ).  He’s a great dentist, too … I have an appointment with him next week!

What did Clarence the Angel write to George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life?  “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

That’s how I feel.

Number 4: I am thankful for a Christian upbringing.

Jim with Dad and Mom (2)

From birth, I went to church involuntarily.

But when I was old enough to make up my own mind, I went voluntarily … and never stopped or rebelled.

Maybe that’s a credit to the churches I attended … the friends I made at those churches … or those who taught me God’s Word.

But my parents receive most of the credit.

I grew up in a home where I knew that my father and mother loved me, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine that God loved me, too.

And the older I get, the more grateful I am for parents who were godly role models … read me Bible stories … and took me to church.

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Number 3: I am thankful for two wonderful children: Ryan and Sarah; a special daughter-in-law: Vanessa; and two growing grandchildren: Jack and Liam.

My great kids Ryan and Sarah

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Kim and I raised our children to love God and each other … and they’re still doing that today, for which I thank God.  I am so proud of my kids.

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Jack turns two in a few weeks, and Liam turns six months this Monday.  I prayed for grandchildren for a long time, and I’m thankful that God answered that prayer.

Number 2: I am thankful for Kim, my wife of 39 years.

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Who you marry largely determines how your life will go.  I married well.

I am grateful to Kim because:

*she tells me what she really thinks and feels.

*she is an incredibly hard worker.

*she always served alongside me in our various ministries without wavering.

*she was – and is – an awesome mother.

*she knows me and still loves me … a great feat indeed!

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Number 1: I am thankful for my salvation in Jesus Christ.

There are two ways to look at life:

*Assume that life is meant to be a utopia and that you should be anxious and angry about anything short of paradise

*Assume that life is a struggle and that you should thank God for every good thing that happens

The greatest thing in my life happened when I was a child and received Jesus Christ.

As Philippians 4:19 says so eloquently, I gained “riches in glory in Christ Jesus” when I became a believer.

And I’ve been drawing on those riches ever since.

Great friends … a godly upbringing … loving children and grandchildren … a wife for life … and salvation in Christ.

Regardless of my income, I am indeed a wealthy man.

My wife recently gave me a unique birthday gift: a three-hour “Tragical History Tour” of infamous locations in Hollywood appropriately called “Dearly Departed Tours.”

We saw the house where Michael Jackson died … the bungalow where John Belushi died … and the hotel room where Janis Joplin died … and heard some gruesome but fascinating narration.

While it all sounds a bit morbid, we also saw the Cunningham’s house from the TV show Happy Days and many other memorable locations in the greater Hollywood area.

All this got me to thinking: what if I took you on a tour of churches in your community?  The narration might go something like this:

Welcome to the Church Conflict Tour!  My name is Jim, and for the next 90 minutes, we’ll visit four churches in your community, as well as hear the back story behind their histories.  Since this tour frightens some people, I want you to know that once we leave our beginning point, you must complete the tour.

The first church we’re going to visit is Trinity Bible, the tall white building on your immediate left.  Back in 1994, Pastor Don tried to update the music and add video screens so the church could attract the unchurched.

The governing board voted unanimously to support Pastor Don’s vision, and for two years, the church grew from 211 to 326.  But several vocal members opposed Pastor Don and complained to their friends on the board, threatening to leave the church if Pastor Don didn’t quit.  When the board succumbed and asked Pastor Don for his resignation, he complied.

See the parking lot there that’s overgrown with weeds?  That’s where many of the discussions opposing Pastor Don took place.  And the chipped paint on the sanctuary walls … the overgrown bushes and grass … and the deteriorating church sign all indicate that this church is just a ghost of its former self.

Now barely 45 people attend the church, which is composed primarily of people who don’t have families and consider this church their family.  And Pastor Don?  He’s selling insurance, trying desperately to make ends meet.

The lesson from this church?  It’s far better for the governing board to follow their pastor than chronic complainers.

The second church is about a mile away and is called Unity Baptist.  The church began in a storefront in 2002 when Pastor Rick – who had recently graduated from seminary – moved to our community with his wife and baby daughter.

Pastor Rick wanted his church to be characterized by love, which is why he called the church Unity Baptist.

Things went well for the first four years.  The church grew from a core group of 18 to 163 people on Sundays.  People were coming to Christ … serving with joy … and enjoying the fellowship.

But a faction arose within the church and opposed Pastor Rick’s ministry.  There were only six of them, but they were aggressive and determined to bring down Pastor Rick.  At first, they were very quiet … researching his background, contacting his previous churches, and looking online for any dirt they could find about him.

Then the rumors began: Pastor Rick was lazy … he was buying his sermons online … he was really a dictator … and on and on.

The rumors spread throughout the church, and by the time Pastor Rick heard them, too many people believed the lies.

Pastor Rick was never given a chance to respond to anything said about him.  He was never allowed to face his accusers.  And no one ever produced any evidence that the charges were true.

So Pastor Rick resigned.  His wife was devastated, and began drinking heavily to medicate her pain.  The couple are still married, but they’re a shell of their former selves.

After Pastor Rick left in 2006, the church has had three more pastors … two of them pushed out by the same faction.  With only 22 attendees left, the people are discussing closing their doors.

The lesson?  At the first sign of vicious rumors against the pastor, insist that those making charges meet with the pastor and governing board and make their accusations to his face … or leave the church.

Just two more churches to go.  You there … you can’t leave the van while I’m driving!  Only 40 minutes to go.

The third church today is Serene Community.  The church began in a school but moved to a light industrial building in their eighth year.  The church was 14 years old when Dr. Steve was called as pastor in 2005.  Under Steve’s leadership, the church grew from 273 to 681 people in just six years.  In 2011, this was THE church in town to attend.

Dr. Steve had two teenage sons: Robert and Jake.  Unfortunately, Robert was caught one day after school smoking pot.  Pastor Steve and his wife went to the police station and brought him home, but the news spread quickly throughout the community, and within a week, there were calls for Steve to resign.  Some people said he couldn’t manage his family.

Steve knew nothing about Robert’s “problem,” and when he found out, he took swift but loving steps to keep his son drug-free, including counseling.  But some people in the church pounced on this news and wanted Steve removed from office at once.  One group of about twenty people stopped attending and giving until Steve was dismissed.  When that didn’t work, they began demanding that Robert “repent” of his sin in front of the entire congregation.

Steve was torn between his calling and his family.  When the board wouldn’t stand up for him, Steve negotiated a severance package and left the church quietly.

Meanwhile, most of the people at the church were devastated by what happened.  The serenity at Serene Community quickly disappeared, and for the next two years, those who supported Pastor Steve refused to interact with those who opposed him.  In the end, most of the happy, healthy people left the church, and the church faced some rough days.  Within another two years, the church had dwindled down to barely 100 people.

Ironically, two of the leaders who had opposed Steve ended up having teenagers who also had drug problems.  They didn’t ask their kids to repent in front of the church, and they didn’t view themselves as poor parents.

Pastor Steve went back to school, earned a PhD, and is teaching at a Bible college in the Midwest.  Although he still loves Jesus, he attends church sporadically, but spends lots of time with his family … including Robert, who just married a fine Christian woman.

The lesson?  Only a congregation that extends grace to their pastor is deserving of the name Serenity.

Finally, let’s drive by Christ Church.  See it there on the right?

Christ Church was founded by Pastor Garth in 1997.  The church grew steadily until 2001 when The Group began making accusations against Garth.

They claimed that he didn’t show his emotions when he preached … that he was ignoring some of the older members … and that he was making changes too quickly, among other things.

Up until this time, the church had grown from a handful of people to 475.  But when the complaints began, the church stopped growing and began declining … and The Group laid the decline squarely at Pastor Garth’s feet.

Fortunately, Pastor Garth had taught his people from Scripture how to handle conflict situations.  When members of The Group complained to board members about their pastor, the board members all said, “Let’s go speak with Pastor Garth about that issue.”  In every case, The Group members backed down.

Then they called the district minister of the denomination and complained to him, but he stood solidly behind Pastor Garth as well.

The Group then began circulating emails filled with gossip and innuendo, implying that Pastor Garth was having an affair.  When one of the emails was sent to a board member, he tracked down where it originated, called another board member, and made an immediate visit to the home of the complainer.  After listening to her complaints for 30 minutes, the two board members told her: “If you want to stay in this church, then we ask that you stop your complaining right now, confess your wrongdoing, and support our pastor completely.  If you don’t repent, we will return with a third board member and you will be asked to leave the church.  Do you understand?”

She never attended the church again … and mysteriously, all the complaining instantly ceased.

Just like in Acts 6, once the conflict was resolved, the church exploded with growth, and last year, Christ Church became the largest church in our city, reaching nearly 1800 people every weekend with the Word of God.

The lesson?  When rumors about a pastor begin, they must be dealt with swiftly and firmly or the pastor may be forced to leave … and the church will take a nosedive as well.

As we drive up to our starting point, that completes our Church Conflict Tour.  I’d like to say, “I hope you enjoyed yourself,” but maybe I should say, “I hope you learned how to handle church conflict much better” instead!

 

 

 

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