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My wife and I currently run a preschool in our home.  She deals directly with the kids, while I manage the finances and keep the place clean, among other duties.

Whenever I have to sweep the kitchen floor again, or vacuum the carpets, or do umpteen loads of laundry, I tell my wife, “I’d rather be doing this than attending another board meeting.”

And we both nod our heads and laugh.

When you’re a pastor, it’s usually required that you attend regular meetings of the church’s governing board … whatever they’re called.

But since board meetings are more about institutional maintenance than personal ministry, and since they can involve difficult and even painful decisions, and since such meetings can lead to arguments and politicking, the longer a pastor’s tenure in a particular church, the less interesting … or essential … board meetings can seem.

And if several board members begin to attack the pastor in those meetings … especially if those attacks are undeserved … attending those meetings can become unbearable.

As I recounted in my book Church Coup, the last board meeting I attended as a veteran pastor happened more than six years ago.

That final meeting was so traumatic that I relived it on a daily basis for many months … and began my book Church Coup by recounting it in detail.

There are many things that I’d rather do than attend another church board meeting.  Here’s a sample:

*I would rather listen to Oprah babble on about her weight loss for a couple of hours.

*I would rather read the latest edition of Tax Instructions from the IRS.

*I would rather endure a root canal … even though the last one I had done required four hours of work over two days.

*I would rather attend a Celine Dion concert.  (I was once offered two free tickets to one of her shows, and I instinctively declined.)

*I would rather watch 50 commercials starring Flo from a certain nameless insurance company … one after the other.

*I would rather listen to Joel Osteen preach for more than a minute … and that’s stretching it.

*I would rather reassemble a document that I had run through the shredder.

*I would rather watch 7 reruns of the old Full House TV show … a show my kids used to watch … even though I never laughed even once.

*I would rather root for the Seattle Seahawks for an entire game … and for me, that would be pure torture.

*I would rather wait in a two hour security line at the airport.

*I would rather spend a day trading insults with the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey.

*I would rather spend an hour chasing our two chickens around the back yard.

*I would rather drive to Los Angeles (a distance of 100 miles) during rush hour.

*I would rather wear a suit and tie … something I last did when my son got married four-and-a-half years ago.

*I would rather endure two straight weeks of 100-degree+ temperatures.  (But please, God, don’t take that statement too seriously.)

*I would rather go camping … and I haven’t been since I was a youth pastor.

*I would rather stay in a Motel 6 with its paper-thin walls.

*I would rather drive through Oklahoma … easily the most boring of all the states on a cross-country road trip.

*I would rather use a Blackberry again.

Why do I feel this way?

Several weeks before my final board meeting years ago, my wife and I took a mission trip to Moldova, in Eastern Europe.  I led seminars two straight days for pastors on church conflict.  After that, we spent time in Wales, the Lake District, and Scotland.

We took a lot of great photos on our trip, but they’re hard to look at sometimes, because while we were overseas, the church board was plotting against me.

So not only was my last two-hour meeting with the board excruciating, but that meeting tainted all that came before it and afterward.

I once heard a prominent pastor describe the meetings of his elders.  They met in a home … they ate dinner together … they shared their lives … they prayed for each other … the pastor shared a report … and then he was permitted to go home while the rest of the board conducted business.

That pastor’s board was so loyal to him and so competent that he could trust them to make good decisions even when he wasn’t present.

I once heard a megachurch pastor tell about a time when he met with the church board.  After a brief time, he got up to leave.  One of the board members asked him, “Where are you going?”  The pastor replied, “I am going to take my daughter roller skating.”  The pastor was asked, “Isn’t this more important?”  The pastor replied, “Nothing is more important than taking my daughter roller skating.”  And he left.

For some reason, I could never do that.  I felt that I had to attend every board meeting … from beginning to end … not just because I felt the board needed my input, but because I wanted them to see me working and making decisions about the ministry.

And when I finally missed some meetings … because I was overseas … what did they do?

I’ve got to go.  I have to put down mats for the kids so they can take naps.  I also put sheets on their mats and oversee the kids for an hour while my wife takes a break.

I’d still rather do that than attend a board meeting anytime in the future.

Thank you, Lord, for knowing when and how to deliver your servants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christian Second-Guessers

Have you ever reevaluated a major decision that you made in life?

My wife and I drove 60 miles from the Inland Empire to Orange County to watch our grandsons a few days ago, and along the way, I told her, “After we left our last church ministry, maybe we should have moved to southern Orange County instead of Phoenix.”

I was second-guessing a decision that we had made six years before.

At the time, moving to Phoenix made sense.  We had lived there in the past … I had family members there … friends invited us to stay in their home … and the desert is a great place to heal.

On the other hand, moving back to Orange County after a 29-year absence also could have been a wise move.  Our son and his family live there … as do Kim’s twin brother and his family … as do many friends … and we could have rented a house, adjusted to the lifestyle, and mapped out our future much quicker.

Most of us probably second-guess major decisions that we’ve made on occasion.  We did what we thought was right at the time … followed the light we had … and hindsight is 20/20, right?

But it’s another thing entirely when family and friends second-guess your decisions.

Here are four decisions of mine that others have questioned over the years:

First, I was second-guessed on where I went to seminary.

Nearly 30 years ago, a district leader of my former denomination sat in my office before a worship service.  He asked me how the ministry was going.

I was in the midst of a horrific conflict which resulted in nearly 25% of our people leaving the church … so I told him that the ministry wasn’t going so well.

He looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “You went to the wrong seminary.  That’s your problem.”

I went to Talbot Seminary … now Talbot School of Theology … for many reasons.  My father went there … it was close to my home … I had friends there … and I admired many of the professors.

It took me five years to earn my Master of Divinity degree at Talbot.  I received a solid theological education at the school.

Why did this Christian leader think that I went to the wrong school?

When I first came into the denomination, I was told that Talbot grads were not well-received … that they tended to take their churches out of the denomination.

I also learned that if you went to Bethel College and Seminary, you became part of the denomination’s “good old boy network” … but if you didn’t go to Bethel, you had to prove you belonged in other ways … like growing your church very large.

But when I had to make a decision as to where I was going to go to seminary in the spring of 1975, I knew nothing about either the denomination or Bethel … yet years later, denominational leaders held me at arm’s length for not attending their school.  (How irrational.)

I visited the Bethel campus twice.  Over the years, I heard many of their professors speak.

I’ll take Talbot every time.

Under God, I know I made the right decision … even if others disagreed.

Second, I was second-guessed for becoming the pastor of my last church.

In January 1998, I resigned from my position as senior pastor of a church in Silicon Valley.  I was absolutely exhausted and needed a place to recover.

I ended up serving as the teaching pastor of a church in Arizona alongside a long-time ministry friend and colleague.

While there, I was contacted by another pastor friend, who asked me if I would consider becoming his associate pastor.

A search team at his church was reviewing resumes – they eventually combed through 85 of them – and my friend wanted me to become his associate.  He would retire … and I would become the senior pastor.

As I described in my book Church Coup, that’s exactly what transpired.  I came to the church as associate pastor in June 1999 … was voted senior pastor-elect in April 2000 … and became the church’s second senior pastor in December 2000 after my friend/predecessor retired and moved to another state.

In my mind, the handoff went flawlessly.  I felt loved and well-received, and the church grew steadily and joyfully.

Even though our campus was located on just a single acre of land in one of America’s most resistant communities, our church nearly doubled in size … the offerings nearly doubled … we built a new worship center … and for years, we were the largest Protestant church in our city … by far.

So by any objective measurement, the church was a success.

However, I knew that some people in the church – including a few key leaders – would always be more loyal to my predecessor than to me … and that whenever they had a problem with me, they would complain to him … and he would listen … maybe even gleefully.

Two years before my eventual departure, my predecessor came to our community, and I invited him out to lunch.

While we were eating, he told me about a conversation he had with our current district minister.  Referring to me, the district leader told my predecessor, “You picked the wrong man.”

Outwardly, I remained calm.  Inwardly, I was fuming.

Here it was, seven years after my predecessor had left the church in my hands, and he was telling me that by choosing me, he had made a mistake!

I know why he told me that.  It had nothing to do with how the church was doing.

It had everything to do with who received the credit for all the good things that were happening.

He really wasn’t second-guessing me.  He was second-guessing himself … but he tried to dump that conversation on me, and I didn’t bite.

Under God, I know I made the right decision … even if the person who chose me later disagreed.

Third, I was second-guessed for allowing my wife to become the outreach director in our church.

A few months after I became senior pastor of that church, the church board and I decided that we needed a full-time director of outreach to help our church reach out to our community.

We posted the job opening in many places, but received only 20 resumes.

When my wife heard about the position, she wanted to apply for it.

Some pastors might have said, “No, you’re my wife, and since you’re related to me, you are not allowed to apply for this job.”

I guess I don’t think in those categories.  I hated to rule anyone out in advance for any reason.  I just wanted the best person possible.

Besides, the precedent had already been established because my predecessor’s wife had served as office manager/small group leader for years.

Because my wife applied for the position, I told the search team that I would stay out of the first round of selections altogether.

My wife was the only person to make it to the second round.

Should I have ended the process right there?

The search team was enthusiastic about Kim’s passion for the position.  And when the church board finally hired her, the decision was met with great acclaim … for the most part.

One woman came up to my wife and told her, “This is a mistake.”  But several years later, that same person came to her and said, “I was wrong.”

Kim was an ideal staff member.  She outworked everybody else on staff.  She brought creativity, excellence, and enthusiasm to everything she touched.

Several years before, when she worked for the largest day care company in Silicon Valley, she became one of the organization’s five top executives.  She was sent to failing schools to turn them around … which she always did.

Kim has boundless energy.  She can start ministries … recruit a host of volunteers … run large events … and do it all with style and a smile.

Over time, I knew some people resented her … not necessarily because she was my wife, but because she became too influential.  She almost did too much good.

After 8 1/2 years of ministry, some leaders … wanting to get rid of me as pastor … sensed they didn’t have anything solid they could use against me … so they went after my wife instead.

Their plan succeeded.

Even though we were cleared of any wrongdoing by an outside consultant as well as a 9-member investigative team from inside the church, her ministry … and mine … were over.

Because people attacked my wife as a way of attacking me, I’ve heard some people say, “Jim never should have allowed Kim to be hired in the first place.”

Under God, I know I made the right decision … because we grew larger and better with her than we ever would have without her.

Finally, I was second-guessed for starting my current ministry.

When I left my last church after a 36-year ministry career, virtually no one thought I should go back into church ministry again.

And I didn’t want to become a punching bag … er, pastor either.

One individual … who had always been supportive of my ministry and had given me good counsel over the years … told me before I left that I should teach in a seminary.

I tried to tell this person that I needed a PhD to do that, and that my Doctor of Ministry degree would not get me hired anywhere.

Six months later, she and I spoke again.  I told her about my plans for Restoring Kingdom Builders, and she told me that I should become a professor instead.

I tried to tell her that I didn’t have the drive or the funds to enter a PhD program, and that even if I completed one, I had two chances of being hired: slim and none.  (I’m both the wrong age and the wrong ethnicity.)  And someone close to me told me that there are 400 resumes submitted at some Christian schools for every open position.

But I’ve been waiting to be involved in a pastor-church conflict ministry for 13 years … and now God had given me the opportunity.

It’s a part-time position.  I have a small salary.  I’m not very prominent, nor do I desire to be.

But I believe that I am doing what God called me to do, and for that reason, I am incredibly content.

Under God, I know I made the right decision … because I’m helping far more people now than I ever did as a pastor.

Let me conclude this little article with three quick thoughts about Christian second-guessers:

*There’s always someone around who will second-guess any major decision that you make.

Didn’t Paul’s followers second-guess his decision to go to Jerusalem?  And didn’t Peter second-guess Jesus’ announcement that He would be crucified?

I once knew a couple that abruptly left Silicon Valley and moved a few hours away.  The decision was more emotional than rational, and as I recall, they hadn’t even consulted with God about it.

At the time, I told my wife that I thought they made a bad decision … and maybe they did.

But I didn’t tell them how I felt.  It wasn’t my decision to make.  It was theirs.

I might ask people a few questions to see if they’ve thought through their decision, but I can’t play Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

We must give them the freedom to succeed … or fail … on their own.

*The time to second-guess someone’s decision is before they make it, not years later.

It’s fruitless … heartless … and even hurtful to tell someone years after they made a major decision:

“You shouldn’t have married that person.”

“I never thought you should attend that college.”

“Why didn’t you become a computer programmer instead of a pastor?”

What’s the point of rubbing it in?

Such remarks only serve to wound people … and to try and demonstrate your superiority.

Whatever it’s called, that’s not love.

*We are ultimately responsible to God for our decisions, not second-guessers.

Yes, we should listen to people – especially wise, mature, godly people – who question some of our decisions.

But sometimes Christian leaders in the same organization don’t always agree.

I remember a major decision that I made 25 years ago.  It impacted my entire congregation.

One district executive told me that I had made a mistake.

Another district executive told me that I should have made that decision years before.

Who should I have believed?

I did what I believed God wanted me to do … and I’ve never looked back.

When you make a major decision … if God is in the center of it … resolve to learn from your mistakes and look forward.

As the great baseball pitcher Satchell Paige used to say, “Don’t look back … something might be gaining on you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever I hear the story of a pastor under attack – whether the account comes from the pastor, one of his family members, or a board member – I wish I could utter some magic words and resolve the entire conflict peacefully.

In the minds of many Christians, those magic words already exist in the pages of the Old Testament.  Those words are:

“Touch not the Lord’s anointed!”

I first encountered this phrase in my early twenties when I was serving as a staff member under the supervision of a pastor.  Within a short time after I came to the church, the pastor and church council butted heads.

The council asked the pastor to carry out certain duties.  He agreed that he would do them, but then resisted.  The council became frustrated, and then the pastor promised that if they asked him to resign, he would do so.

They finally did ask him to resign, and he countered with, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do thy prophets no harm.”

I guess in the pastor’s mind, those words – quoted as a proof text – were supposed to end all discussion about his future as pastor.

He had played his trump card.

I don’t remember how many council members backed off after hearing those words, but I know of two individuals who decided to go to Scripture and view those words in context.

I was one of them.

The first time we encounter the phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” in Scripture is in 1 Samuel 24 when David has the opportunity to kill Saul.  Let me share with you what I wrote about this passage in my book Church Coup:

“I have heard pastors under fire quote 1 Samuel 24:6 as a way of keeping their critics at bay.  While King Saul sleeps in the front of a cave, David – who is hiding in back with his men – creeps up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, even though David’s men want him to murder Saul instead.  But David tells them, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’  David speaks directly to Saul in verse 10 and utters a similar sentiment.  I’ve also heard pastors quote 1 Chronicles 16:22 to silence critics: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’

“These passages teach that God appoints and anoints leaders, whether kings or prophets.  (Paul states in Acts 20:28 that the Holy Spirit appoints pastors/elders as well.)  David knew he was the successor to Israel’s throne but would only secure it in God’s time and way.  But when David agreed not to ‘lift my hand’ against the Lord’s anointed, he was refusing to remove him from office by killing him.  (Israel didn’t vote on anything.)  Because the Lord selected leaders in the Old Testament, they could only be displaced by divine decree.  But since members elect their pastors in congregationally-run churches, they have the right to un-elect them as well.”

Let me delve a little deeper into this phrase by making four observations about it:

First, while we can draw some parallels between Israel’s leaders in the Old Testament and spiritual leaders today, we can’t press every detail.

David had the chance to kill Saul, but didn’t take it.  Good for him.  He didn’t want to become king by using violence … nor to become king prematurely.

But who is trying to kill pastors today?  Almost nobody.  When churchgoers attack their pastor, they attempt to remove him from office and destroy his reputation.  But that’s a far cry from the temptation confronting David: to become king by murdering Saul while he was sleeping.

However, I will say this: a cursory study of the Old Testament reveals that most of the time, God was the One who authorized the removal of a king, prophet, or priest from office.  He may have done this through human means: Saul was killed/committed suicide in battle; various kings were assassinated; a prophet like Isaiah was sawn in two.

But most of the time, God removed the leaders of His people through death by natural causes (like David himself) … and He let “nature” take its course.

Second, some Christians quote this phrase because Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of guidance concerning how to remove spiritual leaders.

For example, Paul never says in any of his 13 epistles: “Now here is the way to remove an elder/pastor from office …”  He doesn’t seem to even have envisioned it, which is why some churches believe that elders should be leaders for life.  It would have been helpful if Paul had included several extended sections on how a congregation could remove a spiritual leader in his writings, but he never did.

In 1 Timothy 5:19-21, Paul says that those elders/pastors who sin [continually] “are to be rebuked publicly,” but he doesn’t state explicitly that they should be removed from office.

This is why many churches … but not enough … create a section in their governing documents on how to remove the lead pastor from office.  Those documents may or may not cite Scripture with their directions, but because Scripture isn’t clear on how to pull this off, many churches have chosen to follow an extra-biblical/political process instead.

I believe that whenever we discern the theology of Scripture on any given topic, we need to take the whole of Scripture into account … so I don’t think this single phrase represents the entirety of the Bible’s thinking on the issue.

Third, the good thing about David’s words in 1 Samuel 24 is that he takes the call of God on Saul’s life seriously.

As talented as David ended up becoming, he didn’t call himself to become Israel’s second king.  God did that through a “not it” process involving Samuel the prophet selecting David instead of his brothers.

I don’t think most churches – or church boards – think very much about the fact that pastors haven’t chosen to go into church ministry by themselves.

No, pastors go through training and ordination because they believe that God has called them into the pastorate.

I served as the solo/senior pastor of four churches.  Nobody in those churches ever witnessed how hard I worked to obtain my Master of Divinity degree from Talbot.  Nobody saw me research and write my 100-page thesis for Dr. Robert Saucy.  No board members in those churches were present at my ordination council or commissioning service.

In other words, they did not witness all the events that transpired when I was called, trained, and commissioned for service.

And most board members, I would guess, have never even attended an ordination council or commissioning … so they don’t view the pastor as a called individual, but as a hired one.

But I do know this: I became a pastor not because my grandfather and father were pastors … not because I couldn’t do anything else with my life … not because I thought I would become rich and famous … but because God handpicked me to become a pastor when I was 19 years of age.

My general call to the pastorate was ratified when I was ordained.  My call to specific churches was ratified when a congregation voted on me to become their pastor.

God called me to be a pastor, and no board or person can take that call away from me.  As my friend Charles Chandler is fond of saying of churches, “They can take your position, but they can’t take your calling.”

But I don’t see church boards or church antagonists even referencing God’s call upon their pastor when they attack him … either his general call to ministry or his specific call to their congregation.

I believe this is a grave mistake.

The call of God upon a pastor’s life does not mean that he cannot be criticized or even removed from office.

But it does mean that such actions need to be engaged in carefully and soberly.  David carefully weighed the idea of removing Saul through murder and decided against it because God had called Saul to be king at that time … not David.

Many church boards need to decide against removing their pastor as well … and learn how to work things out in a biblical manner instead.

Finally, the call of God upon a pastor’s life does not protect him from the consequences of his own actions.

If a pastor drifts into heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, a church has the right … and the duty … to remove their pastor from office.

*If a pastor teaches that you can earn your salvation through good works … or that Christ’s death on the cross isn’t enough to save us … or that Jesus rose from the dead spiritually but not physically … that pastor is guilty of heresy and should be removed from office.

*If a pastor has been sleeping with a woman other than his wife … or he’s been sleeping with another man … or he’s been caught with a prostitute … quoting “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” just doesn’t wash.  The pastor has disqualified himself from office.

*If a pastor robs the local Best Buy … or smacks his kids around … or, God forbid, murders someone … he can’t yell, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” as if he’s immune from correction and removal.

But sadly, this is how this phrase is sometimes used.  The pastor is saying, “I’m special … I’m above God’s law and man’s law … you can’t touch me … and if God wants to remove me from office, He will do so directly.”

But most of the time, God removes a sinning pastor through His people.

Now should proceedings begin to remove the pastor from office, I believe the pastor should be treated with dignity, respect, and love … even if he has disappointed many people.

I think of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who word hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

If you’re a pastor, and you’re under fire in your church, please don’t use the phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” as a way of getting your critics – or the church board – to back off.

God doesn’t include that phrase in Scripture to provide you with ecclesiastical immunity.

And if you’re a board member, and your pastor has clearly been engaging in conduct that requires correction or removal from office, don’t even hesitate to move forward, even if he should tell people repeatedly, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”

There are many phrases I’d prefer that Christians use instead whenever a pastor is under attack … and Colossians 3:13 just may be my favorite:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

 

 

 

 

Pastor Karl woke up Monday morning with a splitting headache at 4:37 am after having the same nightmare he’d had for the past few weeks.

It was Sunday morning – 15 minutes before the worship service was scheduled to begin – and he had not prepared his sermon.

Karl wondered, “Why do I keep having the same nightmare?”  Whenever he got up to preach, he was always well-prepared … and everybody knew it.

Unable to get back to sleep, Karl stumbled into his home study, rubbed his eyes, and tried to have his quiet time.  As he read from 1 Kings about Elijah, that day’s packed schedule flooded into his mind.  He became so overwhelmed that he kept reading the same lines from Scripture over and over … but he couldn’t seem to grasp their meaning.

After a brief time of prayer, Karl sat in his chair, turned on the news, and fell asleep.

Waking with a start at 7:23, Karl awoke to find his two children had already left for school with his wife Valerie … so for a few minutes, he had the house all to himself.

As he ate breakfast, cleaned up, and got dressed, Karl continued to review that day’s schedule.  He kept telling himself, “I will be home tonight by 10 pm … I will be home tonight by 10 pm.”

Karl arrived at his church study at Family Bible Church at 8:28.  After putting his things on his desk, he walked into the church office to greet Amy, his office manager.  She promptly handed Karl an envelope and said, “It’s another anonymous letter … the second one within a week.  I think you better read it.”

Karl replied, “It’s not our policy to read unsigned correspondence.  If they don’t care enough to go on the record, how can we weigh their complaints or respond to their grievances?”

Amy responded, “I still think you should read it.”

Karl gave it back to her and told her to destroy it.

After signing some letters, Karl asked Amy, “Do you have the numbers from yesterday?”  Amy handed them to Karl.

For the third straight Sunday, overall attendance was down.  Karl couldn’t figure it out.  His sermons on marriage were relevant, the services seemed inspiring, and he’d received some great feedback from a cross-section of the congregation about his messages.

But the attendance figures didn’t reflect his optimism.

Just as ominous, Karl noticed that the offering was abysmal … about 25% less than the average amount the church needed every week to make budget.  Nothing made any sense.

Demoralized, Karl walked toward his office and was intercepted by the worship pastor, who reminded Karl that he would be on vacation the next two Sundays.  Just what we need, Karl said to himself: the B Team will be leading worship when we need the quality of the A Team more than ever.

Just as Karl breathed a brief prayer to the Lord for strength, Amy buzzed him and told him that Patti, the women’s team leader, was on the phone.  Patti was upset with the way the last two women’s events had gone … so upset that she threatened to quit.  Karl spent 45 minutes he didn’t have trying to get her to reconsider.

As he left his office for a much-needed bathroom break, Karl was intercepted by Joe and Tom, two of the seniors.  They wanted to know if Karl had a minute for them.  Karl assured them he would speak with them as soon as he returned from the men’s room.

Joe and Tom told Karl that several of the seniors were upset with him over his recent sermon on marriage … specifically the sermon where Karl preached on 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Paul’s instructions on sex to married couples in Corinth.  The two men told Karl that the language he used was too graphic for some of the seniors to handle and that they would boycott the rest of his series on marriage as a result.

Karl tried to explain that for those under 60, the terms he used were mild and demonstrated relevance, but the two men said, “We just view ourselves as messengers.  We thought you needed to know.”

An anonymous letter … poor attendance and giving stats … the B team leading worship … and now a seniors’ boycott.  Karl wondered, “What else can go wrong today?”

Karl slipped into the worship center and tried to reach his wife on her cell phone … just for support … but she didn’t answer.

He prayed a brief prayer and returned to his study.

Checking his emails, Karl received two encouraging notes thanking him for last Sunday’s message on sex in marriage … but he also received two notes telling him that his sermon was too graphic.  Karl answered them all.  With one of the critical notes, he wrote several paragraphs … just for self-therapy … but then he erased everything and wrote a two-sentence reply instead.

Lunch was approaching, and Karl was scheduled to meet with Tim, whose family had been coming to the church for several weeks.  When Karl arrived at the restaurant at the scheduled time of 11:45, Tim was nowhere to be found.  He finally showed up at 12:10, causing Karl stress because he had so much to do that day.

Tim said some encouraging things about Family Bible, but then told Karl that if he had and his family were to stay, they needed to see improvement in the youth and children’s ministries.  Because Tim had an important position in a large company, Karl momentarily imagined him giving several thousand dollars a month to the church … helping to alleviate those nagging budgetary difficulties … but Karl swatted that thought away.  He then told Tim, “I will speak to the leaders of both ministries and see what I can do.”

When Karl returned from lunch, he looked through his mail, returned several phone calls, and then sat down for a marriage counseling session with a key couple from church.  Both partners led important ministries, and Karl had no idea there was anything wrong in their relationship.

An hour later, Karl felt like throwing up.  The woman claimed that her husband was guilty of physical abuse … the husband apologized for his temper … and Karl knew he couldn’t counsel them any further, so he recommended them to a local Christian counselor.  But now he knew too much about this couple’s relationship.  How could the husband remain a leader at church … and what was really going on in their marriage?

Since it was mid-afternoon, Karl decided to take a walk, and he ended up at the local drug store.  Trying to get his head together by killing a few minutes, two women from the church saw Karl and began telling them about problems they were having with their adult children.  Karl listened as best he could … offered to pray for them … and walked back to church … the last place he wanted to go.

After answering a few more emails and phone calls, Mike, the board chairman, showed up at Karl’s office for his 4 pm appointment.  The two leaders were supposed to review the agenda for that evening’s board meeting.  Karl asked Mike if he knew anything about the seniors’ boycott, and Mike assured Karl that he had heard nothing about it.

Mike then spent most of the session detailing his problems at work … draining Karl even further.

At 5:15, Karl drove home.  He changed clothes … looked at the mail … greeted his wife … conversed with his kids for a few minutes … and drove right back to church.

The board meeting … which began at 6 pm to accommodate the schedules of the board members … went downhill fast.  The board always reviewed the attendance and giving numbers, and two board members in particular wanted Mike to explain why both indicators were plunging.  Mike stammered out a response … he wasn’t ready for this grilling … but they didn’t seem satisfied.  “Oh, no,” Karl thought, “why aren’t they more supportive?  What’s going on around here?”

During the meeting, Karl received a text.  The senior leading the boycott against Karl’s marriage sermons was taken to the emergency room of the county hospital … 30 minutes away.  Should Karl stay in the board meeting or go to the hospital?

Karl asked the board.  They told him to go to the hospital.  When Karl got there, the senior had been placed in a room, and it was too late to see him.

Now Karl worried about what the board would say about him in his absence.

When he arrived home at 10:17, Karl’s wife Valerie was waiting for him.  She told him about her day … he told her about his … and they both went to bed.

But again, Karl had a hard time sleeping.

_______________

Being a pastor looks so glamorous to many people.  When the pastor stands up to preach on a Sunday morning, his voice is magnified … the lights shine on him … he seems to be in command … and best of all, he seems to be speaking for God.

My guess is that many young people sense a call to ministry by imagining themselves preaching to an enraptured congregation.

But preaching is only a small portion of church ministry for most pastors, even if it’s what most people think about when they mentally picture their pastor.

But the real work of ministry happens Monday through Saturday … behind the scenes … in a church’s offices and hallways as well as community restaurants … and it’s anything but glamorous.

Church ministry is incredibly stressful work.  The late management expert Peter Drucker said that being a local church pastor is one of the four most difficult jobs in America.

Why is this?

*People come at the pastor from all angles: appointments … phone calls … emails … letters … and even when he’s shopping.  And every time, the pastor feels like he has to be “on.”

*Church ministry is incredibly slow work.  People change slowly.  Congregations change even more slowly.  Pastors may be in a hurry for positive change, but almost nobody else is.

*Pastors have a hard time defining success.  Is it measured by statistics?  A full schedule?  Changed lives?  Faithfulness?

*Pastors are expected to give themselves completely to their congregations … but when can they replenish their own energy and strength?  After all, they work nights and weekends … times most people use to replenish themselves.

*Pastors often don’t know what people really think about them … and maybe that’s the only way they can stay sane.  But they also don’t know what people are saying about them, either, and such talk can end a pastor’s position … or career.

*Pastors can feel momentum shifting away from them in a congregation … and it feels like a very slow death.

_______________

I’ve had many days in church ministry like Pastor Karl.  In fact, much of Karl’s Very Bad Day originates from memories of my own time in ministry.

How do you feel about what I’ve written?

I once served as the pastor of a church where the board chairman made a colossal mistake … and I didn’t know what to do about it.

The elders had hired a contracting team to renovate a warehouse we rented into a contemporary worship center.  The contractors we hired lacked a sense of urgency and weren’t making much progress.  Worst of all, when the contractors billed us, we paid them immediately … but they were diverting funds to other projects without paying their sub-contractors.

Concerned that we might be getting ripped off, I recommended to the elders that we consult with an attorney, who told us in no uncertain terms not to pay the contractors any more money until we received lien releases from all the sub-contractors.

One Friday afternoon, the contracting team met with the board chairman (I’ll call him Ben), another elder, and our associate pastor in my office.  (I wasn’t present.)  The contractors said that if we didn’t pay them even more money, they’d pull their people off the job.

Ben took out the church checkbook – he also served as leader of the finance team – and wrote the contractors a large check.  He wanted to keep the project moving along.  The associate pastor warned him not to do it … but Ben did it anyway.

When I was informed later that evening of what had taken place, I was justifiably angry.  Not only had Ben acted against the advice of our attorney, he had also paid the contractors in direct violation of the will of the other elders.

What in the world was I going to do?

Since I accounted directly to the elders … and since Ben was the chairman … in a very real sense, he was my boss.  How could I confront him – of all people – with wrongdoing?

After a terrible night, I arose that Saturday morning and drove to the warehouse.  There was a small room upstairs where some men held a half-hour prayer meeting early every Saturday.

Ben – who met me for prayer on Saturdays – was the only person to join me that day.

And he felt just terrible.

He told me softly but emphatically – with his head hanging down: “I blew it.”

I don’t recall what either one of us said after that, but as pastor, I had to discern how to handle Ben’s mistake.

I don’t remember how many Christian leaders I spoke with about Ben’s action, but I do recall talking to two in particular … and one gave me counsel that I’ve always appreciated.

This leader … who had known Ben for several decades but was now serving at another church … told me that I needed to put Ben’s blunder in the context of his total life and ministry.

This leader told me: “Ben has served the Lord faithfully as a layman ever since I’ve known him.  He has done it all joyfully and yet has never been paid a nickel.  His track record does not indicate that he’s made similar mistakes in the past, so please take his entire life and ministry into account as you make your decision.”

I finally decided that Ben could remain as chairman of the elders, but that he would have to step down as finance team leader.  (I never wanted him to hold two such positions – it concentrates too much power in one person’s hands – so it was an arrangement that I welcomed.)

I called Ben into my office and shared with him my decision.  He completely understood my reasoning and didn’t fight me.  He resigned as finance leader immediately.

I don’t think we ever discussed it again.

Years later, I left that church and moved hundreds of miles away.  I didn’t think I’d ever see Ben again.

But a few years ago, he and his wife were driving across the country, and the other elder I mentioned above invited me to lunch with Ben.  We had a great time.

Ben died several years ago, and although I wasn’t able to attend his memorial service, I wrote his wife a letter.  Although I can’t find the letter on my computer, I know that I didn’t mention his mistake more than two decades before.

In the context of his entire life, it simply didn’t matter.

We live in a culture that exhibits zero tolerance toward the mistakes of public persons.  Say or do the wrong thing in someone’s eyes, and they’ll mention it on Twitter … slam you in a blog … or denounce you in a press conference.

I fear that much of that spirit has leaked into our local churches.

There is great pressure on pastors to be perfect.  It’s a pressure that I felt every day during my 36 years in church ministry.

And it’s an impossible standard to meet.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons why I’m glad that I’m not a pastor anymore.

Because when a pastor misspeaks from the pulpit … or makes a less than stellar decision about a staff member … or doesn’t show up for a large social event … there are always people ready to pounce on him and denounce him.

But I maintain that we should view pastors – and all Christian leaders – through more charitable lenses.

Yes, pastors who are guilty of clear-cut heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior need to be confronted – and fired.

But most of the time when a pastor makes a mistake, it doesn’t approach the gravity of these offenses … and yet there will always be someone who magnifies a mistake and concludes, “Let’s just fire the guy.”

In Ben’s case, his life and ministry were not defined by a single mistake.

Ben loved his wife and spoke highly of her.  He spent a bundle when his daughter got married.  When his father died, he invited his mother to live in his home.

I can still see him reading Scripture before board meetings … inviting the board to pray in the four corners of the warehouse before we starting using it … and reminding me all the time, “God is in control.”

And when I was attacked by a group in the church, he always supported me and encouraged me.

Because Ben didn’t define me by my mistakes, it made it easier for me not to define him that way as well.

So yes, I remember his mistake … but that’s not how I define him … and I’m sure that’s not how God defines him, either.

I think Satan wants us to focus on the flaws in God’s leaders so that we turn from them as examples.

Should we turn away from Abraham because he lied about Sarah being his sister?

Should we turn away from Moses because he angrily struck the rock in front of Israel?

Should we turn away from Elijah because he ran away in fear from Jezebel?

Should we turn away from half the Psalms because David impregnated Bathsheba and murdered her husband?

Should we turn away from most of the Book of Proverbs because Solomon had too many wives and concubines?

Should we turn away from Paul because he called the high priest “you whitewashed wall?”

Should we turn away from Timothy because he was shy and timid and often afraid?

Or should we factor in their flaws and mistakes but view their lives and ministries as a whole?

Yes, I know there’s more to be said on this subject … much more.

But for now, I want to encourage you to define the people in your life … including your pastors … not by their mistakes, but by their entire lives.

Isn’t that the way we want God to view us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Today’s guest blogger is my wife Kim, who discusses how the words “Christmas” and “Arabia” could once be used in the same sentence when she lived in the Middle East more than 40 years ago.  This post has become a Christmas tradition on this blog.  Ah, the magic and romance of the desert …

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Kim in Arabia, May 2010

It seems so long ago.  The years were 1965-1970.  It was Christmas in Saudi Arabia, where my parents were missionaries to the Bedouin people in the desert.

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Photo at Oasis Hospital with Kim’s father in back row, 3rd from left, 1967

We lived about 100 miles from the now beautiful, modern city of Dubai.

Dubai, May 2011

49 years ago, we traveled by open land rover on non-existing roads surrounded by sand dunes.  It took about 10 hours to travel 100 miles.

Several years ago, I went back to visit where I lived.  I took a taxi to the hospital where we used to work and it only took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  What a difference!

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Kim and Taxi Outside Dubai, May 2010

When the Arabs asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I lived here 46 years ago.”  With amazement, they said, “There was nothing here.”  I said, “You are exactly right.”

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In Front of Oasis Hospital, Where Her Father Worked in the 1960

We would get together with friends on the compound.  We hiked, cooked, played games, played tricks on each other, and saw our pets (cats, dogs, gazelles, goats, a donkey, a fox, and a hedgehog).

Sometimes we slept outside up on high beds to keep snakes and scorpions away.  We would wake up in the morning hearing camels eating our dried palm leaf fence.

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Saudi Arabian Desert

Life was simple.  We would run around without shoes, help in the hospital, read books, listen to good music, and sit around and just talk.  I loved the simplicity.

When it came to getting a Christmas tree, we were creative.  We chose a thorn bush and brought it home to decorate.  We had fun adorning the tree with popcorn.  We wanted more decorations so we took Kotex and tore it apart to make snow with cotton.  I wasn’t sure my mom was very happy with us.

We learned to make taffy, pulling and pulling until we had a sweet, sticky treat.

But my best memory was camping in the desert.  I remember always having a sinus infection but I was determined to go – so I bundled up and went camping.  Being in the desert at night under a clear sky, you could see every star.  You could see the campfire for miles.  You were surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of nothing.  It was peaceful and quiet.

It must have been how the shepherds, Joseph, and Mary felt when Jesus was born.

Our Christmas service was held outside at night.  The glowing of candles and far off lights made the desert romantic and magical.  I was asked to play the organ and everyone from the compound came and sang Christmas carols.  This was my gift to Jesus.

Oh, the simplicity of Christmas!

“Tell me your story.”

Whenever a pastor under attack contacts me – whether he wants a listening ear, an analysis of his current situation, or some counsel – I encourage him to let me know what he’s going through.

Even though I’ve heard scores of such stories – and have my own to tell – I always learn something that allows me to help someone else down the road.

Years ago, Chris Creech – author of the recent book Toxic Church – heard similar stories from pastors, but he didn’t necessarily want to hear them.

Creech was a new missionary, trying to meet with pastors in hopes that the pastor would persuade church leaders to financially support his plan to teach at a seminary in Singapore.  He had also been a pastor and a church planter for nearly 30 years.

Creech opens his book and all the information below is taken from its first chapter – by recounting a time when he met with a pastor named Bill and his wife Pat to ask for financial support … but the pastor needed emotional support from Creech instead.  Why?

Two elders had just met with that pastor and accused him of saying something that he had never said.  Creech recounts:

“They then asked Bill to offer his resignation.  They promised that if he refused to resign, they would make certain that he was fired.  They refused to listen to Bill’s explanations.  They had determined that Pastor Bill had to go!”

Creech continues:

“Bill was absolutely shocked.  The church was growing.  They had just completed a major building project.  The treasury was doing quite well.  They were even considering a new missionary (me).  How could they ask for his resignation on the basis of charges from nameless individuals and an attack from a person whose words were completely fraudulent?”

Creech then shares the dilemma that the pastor and his wife had:

“Should they fight the charges?  Would anyone believe them?  Would anyone care?  What would happen to Bill’s career if he left suddenly without a plausible explanation?  What church would consider him if he left without a place to go?  What would happen if they stayed to fight the charges and then were forced to leave?  Was there anyone who could help them with the struggle that was before them?”

After leaving the pastor and driving away, Creech was disturbed but wasn’t sure why.  Then it came to him:

“I was troubled because Pastor Bill’s experiences mirrored my own when I was serving a troubled church.  I too had been wounded, and I still felt the pain of being attacked.  When I listened to the lament of my new friends, Bill and Pat, I was reliving the horror that had been a part of my life.”

As Creech continued to meet with pastors and seek financial support, his experience with Bill and Pat was repeated “over a dozen times.”

*One pastor said a member of his church had died because of the attacks against him.

*Another pastor’s child committed suicide after a church member waged “a relentless war against him and his family.”

*Pastors endured serious physical ailments related to their attacks.

*Pastors had been falsely accused of “adultery, doctrinal impurity, or some other ethical or moral misconduct.”

*Staff members often colluded with the pastor’s primary accuser.

One Sunday morning, Creech was preaching, and during the early part of the service “the sanctuary had emptied of many members of the congregation, including the pastor … after the worship, the pastor told me that he had been meeting with the church’s board during the worship service.  He had been fired …”

Can you believe that?  He was fired during the worship service!

And then Creech writes:

“We have now been on the mission field for many years.  All of the struggling pastors I met during our support raising days have been forced to leave their churches with the exception of two.  These two are surviving, but barely…. Three of our supporting churches have closed their doors since we began our ministry in Southeast Asia.  Struggles between pastors and churches were a significant part of the closing of two of these churches.”

Creech’s book – and I’m not done reading it yet, but I highly recommend it so far – dramatizes what is clearly becoming a serious problem in many of our churches.

Let me make four observations based on what I’ve shared from Creech’s book:

First, the problem of pastoral termination is too widespread to be completely the fault of pastors.

Yes, a few pastors are arrogant and narcissistic … a few others are controlling and manipulative … and a few more are just plain incompetent.

But there can’t be that many bad pastors in Christian churches.

Pastors are chosen by God … trained by seminaries … ordained by churches … and called to congregations.  They are highly specialized professionals.

The root cause lies elsewhere.

Second, various church leaders – especially members of the official board – are acting independently of boards in other congregations.

I’m not aware of any blogs, newsletters, or books that encourage church boards on how to push out their pastors.  In other words, this phenomenon is not organized … on earth, anyway.

I see two issues at work when pastors are terminated:

*The church board is unable to think biblically, rationally, and creatively when someone – often another board member, staff member, or key church leader – makes a serious accusation against the pastor.

Board members don’t ask themselves, “What process does the Bible prescribe in this situation?”  They don’t ask, “Why don’t we individually think and pray about this accusation before we take action?”  They don’t ask, “If this accusation turns out to be true, how can we deal with the pastor without pressing for his resignation first?”

Instead, someone blurts out, “I think the pastor needs to go” … another board member chimes in, “I agree!” … and the flame becomes a firestorm.

*The enemy slips into the inner circle of the church undetected.

And he uses the same entry point nearly every time: a church leader who is angry with the pastor over a personal and perceived injustice.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27 that when we let the sun go down on our anger – when we let it fester and grow into bitterness – we give the devil a foothold into our lives and churches.

Just once, when a board member complains about his pastor, I’d love to hear another board member tell him, “It sounds like you have something personal against the pastor.  Why don’t you meet with him and work it out?”

Just once.

Third, church leaders move to power too quickly when love would be far more effective.

When Chris Creech told the story of Pastor Bill’s meeting with the two elders, the elders never tried to use love as a methodology.

Love would have said to Pastor Bill, “We’ve just heard someone make a serious accusation against you.  We’d like to set up a meeting between the two of you.  Our prayer is that this issue can be resolved quickly and peacefully and that you can continue to enjoy a productive ministry here.”

Instead, power said, “We don’t care if this accusation against you is true or not.  In fact, it’s such a serious charge that as far as we’re concerned, you’re through around here!  Pack your bags, pastor, or we’ll pack them for you!”

When the pastor finally resigns, the average churchgoer will hear, “The pastor said something so offensive to someone that he was forced to quit.”

But the reality is that those two elders – possibly without the knowledge of the others – were the real culprits in the pastor’s departure.

In my own case six years ago, the board never tried love.  They went straight to power.  Mass casualties resulted.

Finally, we need strong, determined, principled Christians to stand up to those who bully pastors – even if the bullies are on the church board.

The problem, of course, is that the bullies do most of their plotting behind closed doors.

But inevitably, the plot leaks into the congregation, and some people hear about it.

If I was one of those individuals, I would:

*find out who was on the church board

*ask around to find out which board member was most approachable

*ask to speak with him/her as soon as possible

*ask if the pastor is under fire

*and then ask, “What process are you using to insure that the pastor is treated biblically and justly?”

When there is no predetermined process, the pastor is being evaluated by church politics instead.

Predetermined processes heal pastors and congregations.

Church politics destroy everybody and everything.

I encourage you to obtain and read the book Toxic Church by Chris Creech.  The Kindle edition on Amazon is still selling for only $4.97.

Read Toxic Church … and both you and your congregation can become much healthier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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