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I served as a youth pastor in my first staff assignment, and every two months or so, I was allowed to preach on a Sunday night, with varying degrees of success.

One night, I decided not to speak in “pastorese,” but to speak the way I normally did, using words like “guts” and “stuff.”

Several days later, my pastor told me that a prominent church couple was offended when I said “guts,” and that I should drop that term from my preaching vocabulary … along with “stuff.”

My purpose is not to argue about pulpit terminology, but to point out that the words of a pastor carry great weight for many people.

Let me share three quick examples:

First, many people remember what a pastor says in personal conversation.

When I was first a youth pastor, a young man (I’ll call him Bob) who attended our church often attended an earlier service at another church led by a famous televangelist.  Bob had known this pastor personally for years.

Bob was something of a rascal and took great delight in listening in on the post-service conversations of this well-known preacher and sharing what he said with his “other church.”

One time, Bob called the pastor by his first name in a crowd, and the pastor called him aside and said, “That’s Dr. __________ to you.”

Another time, a seminary professor told our class about a long conversation he had with that same televangelist at a banquet … that all the professor did was listen to that televangelist the whole night … and that he didn’t care for him at all.

The point: people were forming opinions about this televangelist simply from personal conversations he held with other believers.

And pastors need to know that people are not only listening carefully to their conversations … but even listening in on them.

Whether we know it or not, our words carry weight.

Second, pastors need to be careful when they point out someone’s faults in private.

I don’t know how to say this properly, but over 36 years of church ministry, I didn’t view myself as anyone special.

I always took the responsibility of being a pastor seriously, but sometimes, I didn’t realize how powerful my words were to some people.

Many years ago … and it pains me to this day to think about it … someone connected me to a nationally-known church consultant who was big stuff at the time.

The consultant reviewed our church’s documents and promotional materials … watched a video of our Sunday service … critiqued my preaching … and ran down where we needed to improve.

And he said that the people who were on the stage needed to look sharp … and not be overweight.

What should I do with that last suggestion?  Bury it?  Share it?  If so, with whom?  I honestly didn’t know what to do.

To my everlasting shame, I shared it … as gently as possible … with a handful of people … but I hurt people … needlessly … and what I said got around.

A new and talented couple immediately left the church.  Another faithful family left as well.

I learned firsthand that a pastor’s words can wound people for years.

Sometimes a pastor has to say the tough thing in private.  He can speak in a kind and sweet and loving way … and his words may still sting … but he has to do it.  It’s his job as shepherd of the flock.

But I’ve learned that pastors are often unaware of how powerful their words are … especially when they’re correcting someone … and even if it’s necessary.

Finally, the words of a pastor can bring people great healing.

When I was a youth pastor, I invited one of my college professors to conduct a weekend retreat in the mountains for 50 students.

All of his talks were from Proverbs … and the talk with the most impact included verses like these:

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.  Proverbs 10:19

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.  Proverbs 11:13

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Proverbs 12:18

He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.  Proverbs 13:3

Hearing those verses in concentrated form, I realized … as did many of us in that mountain cabin … that our tongues had the potential to harm or heal others.

So I’ve tried to bring healing through my words … by using Scripture … by keeping confidences … by restraining my speech … and by encouraging people.

I haven’t always succeeded … and it devastates me when I mess up … but every time my words touch others, I’m grateful … because I know how much encouraging words mean to me.

Twelve years ago, I turned in a 70-page class project to Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary toward my Doctor of Ministry degree.  While I did my best on that paper, I wondered how Dr. Hart …  one of my few Christians heroes … would respond to what I wrote.

When I got it back in the mail, I was petrified, until I read his words on the title page: “An excellent paper … among the top 5% I have ever received …”

I keep that title page in a frame five feet from my desk.

Without Dr. Hart’s encouragement, I would never have written a blog … a book … or anything else.  “The tongue of the wise brings healing.”

If you’re a pastor, I beg you … heal people with your words … and with God’s Word.

But I wonder … how many times have the words of a pastor healed you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m constantly hearing about church leaders who are upset with their pastor … or their associate pastor … or their youth pastor.

And all too many of these leaders end up dumping the pastor or staff member unceremoniously.

Sometimes the pastor or staff member is responsible … while other times the employer/search team must shoulder their share of the blame.

Here are five mistakes I’ve seen pastors make (in hiring staff) and search teams make (in hiring pastors) when it comes to contacting their references:

First, occasionally a search team doesn’t contact any references at all.

I was once hired to be a full-time staff member in a church … and nobody checked my references.

Although the pastor had known me for years, the church board only knew me through him.  I wanted them to contact my references and to know my strengths and weaknesses … but it didn’t happen.

Why not?

Was it too much of a hassle?  Were certain people anxious to get me on board?  Or had I sold myself so well that nobody thought my references would matter?

To this day, I don’t really know … but this isn’t a wise policy.  Neither is the next mistake:

Second, sometimes an employer will contact a reference after already hiring someone.

I once hired a part-time youth pastor (let’s call him Bart) who did a good job.  When I offered Bart a full-time position, he laid out some demands that we couldn’t meet, and so we parted company amiably.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I received a phone call from a pastor many states away.  The pastor told me that he had already hired Bart but still wanted to call his references.

To me, that’s like eloping with a woman and then asking her family and friends, “What kind of a person is she, anyway?”

After the pastor hired Bart, he told me that he sensed Bart had a problem with a certain issue … and that issue must have affected Bart’s employment, because he didn’t last a year.

No pastor or search team should ever be in such a rush that they fail to contact a prospect’s references before hiring them!

Third, sometimes an employer fails to ask one or two more tough questions before ending the interview.

A church I served as pastor once went through a long, protracted process in trying to hire a youth pastor.

We reviewed scores of resumes.  We narrowed the field down to a handful of candidates.  We brought many of them in … but nobody was a fit.

And then we found him.  Outwardly, Frank was everything the search team, parents, and youth were looking for.  We were thrilled!

I remember speaking to Frank’s supervisor at the church where he was still employed.  I asked some tough questions … but for some reason, I backed off just when I needed to accelerate.

We hired Frank, but a year later, his behavior was driving me crazy.  I called Frank’s former supervisor and asked him the questions I should have asked a year earlier … and found out something very disturbing.

Frank’s supervisor only told me great things about Frank a year earlier because he wanted us to hire Frank so he could get rid of him.

Our church was so anxious to hire a youth pastor that we settled on someone we shouldn’t have hired.

When you’re looking to call a pastor or a staff member for a reference, do your best to ask the hard questions or you may pay for it down the line.

Fourth, some churches don’t do a criminal background check or a credit check.

I’ve heard about churches that don’t insist on either one of these checks … but they usually regret it later on.

One time, I interviewed a prospect for a staff position, and I was blessed to have a copy of his driving record in front of me.

Within a short amount of time, he had recently received five speeding tickets.  Five.

I asked him about the tickets.  He said that he was in a Christian leadership program and was consistently late for class.

I drew some quick conclusions:

*This guy doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes.  He keeps repeating them.

*Why didn’t he alter his behavior?  Get up earlier?  Drive the speed limit?  Avoid the traps?

*To what extent could I let him drive young people around?  What would happen if we hired him and he got into an accident with youth in his car?

Needless to say, we didn’t hire him.

It’s crucial to complete a credit history, too, because the way a staff member manages their personal finances is the way they’ll manage church money.

Finally, in many cases it’s foolish not to contact a staff member’s former supervisor.

I’ve learned that after many staff members leave a church, they won’t list their previous supervisor as a reference.

Maybe the staff member resigned under pressure … or was fired outright … or didn’t get along with their supervisor (usually the pastor).

So it’s understandable that many staff members don’t list their previous supervisor as a reference … but a prospective employer should speak with them anyway … because sometimes only the supervisor and a handful of others know the real truth about that individual.

What if a pastor or staff prospect stole church funds … or slept around … or consistently lied … or resolved conflict with his fists … or harmed children or youth?

There may be legal repercussions if a former supervisor handles specific questions in an unwise fashion, although there are ways to answer questions without being too direct.

But as a Christian leader, I believe in giving people … even former pastors or staff members … second chances.

I’ve certainly needed a second chance in my own life.  For example, during my freshman year at a Christian college, I flunked my Christian service assignment … yet went on to spend 36 years in church ministry.

So just because a worker … volunteer or paid … made some mistakes or errors in judgment does not indicate they’re irredeemable.

For that reason, if someone calls me for a reference, I’ll focus on all that’s good about that person … and will all I do to help them get another job.

But … if their character is warped … especially if they aren’t forthcoming about past mistakes … that’s a different matter.

Several times, I’ve heard about an ex-staff member who was hired by another church and yet no one ever contacted me as their former supervisor.

And I’ve thought to myself, “If they didn’t contact me, who did they contact?  Who would know more about the way they performed at our church than me?”

While I’ve learned a lot about ministry references over the years, I still find it a tricky topic to master.

What are your thoughts and experiences concerning pastoral references?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my last post, I wrote about three characteristics of narcissistic pastors that lead to conflict in churches:

First, narcissistic pastors are obsessed with their image, not their character.

Second, narcissistic pastors delight in putting down their rivals.

Third, narcissistic pastors cannot empathize with the pain of others.

Here are two more qualities of the narcissistic pastor:

Fourth, narcissistic pastors become wounded when people don’t constantly admire them.

Congregational consultant Peter Steinke writes: “The narcissist functions to maintain a projected, inflated image of self.  By coercing, charming, or controlling others, the narcissist ensures that the need for supplies will be satisfied.  Functioning to mirror his grandiosity, others guarantee him a sense of specialness, exaggerated importance, and superiority.”

Tell the NP, “That’s a great suit,” and he feels admired.  Tell him, “That was a great sermon, ” and he feels special.

There’s nothing wrong with making either statement.

But if you stop doing it, the NP will eventually turn on you and despise you.  They keep mental scoreboards in their heads.  Steinke says they become “vindictive, vengeful, devaluing, and abrasive.”

It’s hard to hang around someone who constantly needs to be told, “You’re great.  You’re fantastic.  You’re larger than life!”  But the NP needs to hear those words just to feel normal.

And when those around the NP … his wife … his staff … and his board … stop saying, “There’s nobody like you!” … the NP will humiliate them, even in public.  The NP then becomes ruthless toward those who don’t see him as special.

And in a church situation, that attitude leads to conflict.

Finally, narcissistic pastors need groupies to supply them constantly with admiration.

Wherever you find a NP, you will find an inner circle of devoted fans.

How does the NP acquire these fans?

He chooses them from among those in the congregation who make him look good.

The NP scans his congregation and discovers the most prestigious individuals … especially those who have money.

He also listens for accolades that indicate who holds him in high esteem.

When he finds them, he focuses on them like a laser beam and basically ignores the rest of the congregation.

These two groups – the prestigious and the praisers – make up the NP’s Fan Club.  This is who he socializes with … listens to … and confides in.

As long as the NP’s fans worship him, the NP will continue to tell them that they’re great as well.

But if any of the NP’s fans fail to adore him, he’ll drop them from the club … so they have to keep telling him, “You look great!  You’re so talented!  You’re the best!”

But … the NP’s fans don’t realize that he is controlling them … for his own purposes.

And this is how NPs foster division in a church.  They control a group of followers … mutually reinforce each other’s specialness … and when the NP begins to attack others … especially other pastors and leaders … they march in lockstep.

Steinke writes:

“The narcissist functions like a magnet, possessing the power of attraction.  People caught in the spell surrender obediently.  Under the spell of enchantment, they become dedicated followers as impervious to reason and truth as infatuated lovers.”

He continues:

“In the circle of charm, there are no checks and balances.  Groupthink develops.  Not surprisingly, many narcissistic leaders shield their swooning constituency from outside influences.  They demonize outsiders who might potentially uncover the truth of things or expose the charismatic figure.”

Steinke concludes:

“Those who are most vulnerable to charm are those people or groups who need stimulation outside themselves.  Often they are depressed or demoralized.  Many are looking for a high, some brightness or good feeling in their lives, to make them special…. By associating with the special person, they get dusted with the same magic and importance.”

_______________

Let me conclude this post by sharing 5 ways to deal with NPs:

First, it’s okay to identify narcissistic symptoms … but resist the urge to label someone a narcissist.

I can meet a pastor … or hear a pastor preach … and say to myself, “He certainly seems to have some narcissistic tendencies.”

But I can’t say definitively that he’s a narcissist.  Only a qualified psychologist can do that.

So don’t go up to a pastor and say, “I think you’re a narcissist.”  And don’t tell others, “I think our pastor is a narcissist.”

The most you can say is, “I believe he has narcissistic traits.”

Second, realize that narcissistic pastors know much more about church than they do about God.

Why do I say that?

Because NPs are consumed with outward signs of success (like church attendance and their salary) rather than inward signs of success (like the fruit of the Spirit).

For this reason, a NP may impress you with his dress and humor and stories, but he’ll rarely help you to know God better.

Third, narcissistic pastors are fun in the short-term and obnoxious in the long-term.

When you first meet a NP, they’re fun to be around.  They make you feel good.  They seem larger-than-life.

But the more you get to know them, the more you realize that they only love themselves … and that ultimately makes them hard to like.

Fourth, you can’t get close to a narcissistic pastor.

Because the narcissist is always mindful of his image, he’s not going to tell you anything that might ruin the way you view him.

You might spill your guts to a NP, but he’s only going to reveal so much of himself.

So if you suspect that your pastor is a narcissist, stop hoping that you’re going to become best friends.

He’s probably not even close to his wife or children.

Finally, narcissistic pastors just don’t change.

In Johnson and Johnson’s book The Pastor’s Guide to Psychological Disorders and Treatments, the authors write about narcissists:

“Referrals for therapy are generally not likely to be helpful.  Not only do narcissistic persons rarely follow through with treatment, there is no significant evidence that they benefit from any form of intervention.”

If you’re on a church staff … or on a church board … or regularly attend a church … and you suspect your minister is a NP… please realize that he will probably stay that way until Jesus returns.

God has the power to change him … it’s just that he doesn’t think he needs to be changed.

_______________

Many of us have been deeply wounded by narcissistic pastors.  When we play their games, they’ll accept us into their fan club, but when we stop playing their games, we find ourselves permanently ostracized.

I’ve observed that narcissists carry around two lists: the good list and the bad list.

If you tell them you’re great, you’re on their good list.  If you tell them they’re ordinary … or you stop telling them they’re great … then you’re transferred to their bad list.

And once you’re on their bad list, you’ll never get back on their good list.

What are your experiences with (presumably) narcissistic pastors?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One December evening 30 years ago, I broke my left elbow playing church basketball.

It was an awkward time.  My left arm was immobilized, so I did almost everything with one arm.

My wife helped me get dressed.  I drove using just my right hand.  When I preached, I could only gesture right-handed.

Several days later, I attended a luncheon of area pastors at a megachurch where the pastor (I’ll call him Pastor Billy) was on television.  My grandmother, who lived in another state, watched him all the time.

Pastor Billy welcomed everyone, then minutes later, said something that caused a pastoral colleague to interrupt Billy and point out that I had a broken elbow.

Pastor Billy just stared at me without saying a word.  He seemed upset that someone else had deprived him of the limelight for just a moment.

Welcome to the world of narcissistic pastors!

Approximately one percent of the population in our country has narcissistic personality disorder.  We’re familiar with narcissists in the entertainment industry … the world of sports … and politics.  But somehow, it doesn’t seem proper for there to be any narcissists inside the church of Jesus.

But they’re there all the same … especially among the ranks of pastors.  Although I haven’t met that many (less than 10), I’ll never forget the ones I have met.

We all have narcissistic tendencies.  Given the right circumstances, each of us can behave in a self-centered, vain and childish manner.

But the true narcissist behaves this way all the time.

At first, narcissistic pastors are a kick to be around.  They’re charming … entertaining …  clever … and interesting.  They tend to develop a following … at least for a while.

But narcissistic pastors can also become the source of much conflict in a local church, and the sad thing is, they remain oblivious to their own part in creating and sustaining conflict.

Let me share with you five ways in which narcissistic pastors create conflict (three today, two next time):

First, narcissistic pastors are obsessed with their image, not their character.

Narcissists believe that they’re perfect or nearly perfect already.  They lack the ability to engage in self-examination because they’re vacant at their core.

So because they don’t focus on their inner selves, they focus on their outer selves instead.

They’ll brag that they wear the best clothes … live in the best house … drive the best car …  attended the best school … and visit the best doctors.  If someone or something is associated with them, then that person or thing automatically becomes the best.

The problem, though, is that their secular value system clashes with the values of Scripture, which emphasize virtues like love, faith, worship, and obedience.

When the pastor’s values and biblical values clash at church, there’s going to be conflict … guaranteed.

Second, narcissistic pastors delight in putting down their rivals.

The narcissistic pastor engages in a silent competition with other pastors.  He’s constantly comparing his achievements to theirs, especially the Big Three: bodies, bucks, and buildings.

The NP becomes inwardly joyful when he hears that a fellow pastor’s church is shrinking … or that the church down the road isn’t meeting its budget.

In fact, the NP is always dishing dirt on Christian leaders, but because he does it in a humorous way, most people just accept it.

I once invited a NP to be a guest speaker.  During the course of his message, he harshly criticized several other pastors, to the point that I was embarrassed.  Most people were unaware of what he was doing, but sadly, I knew.

More than most people, the narcissist believes that when others are descending, that means that he’s ascending …. and he’s often willing to help that process along.

A NP that I know was having trouble with his church board.  After he announced his resignation, he preached a final sermon, and severely criticized the board before the entire congregation … leaving a bigger mess for the congregation to clean up after his departure.  (Years later, I visited that church’s website, and his name and ministry were conspicuously absent.)

Third, narcissistic pastors cannot empathize with the pain of others.

So when someone shares a struggle, they reply with stock phrases: “That’s terrible” or “That’s horrible” … but they don’t feel terrible or horrible for the other person because they feel nothing.

The NP isn’t vulnerable or transparent.  He rarely admits that he does anything wrong because imperfection ruins his image.

So it’s difficult … if not impossible … to get close to a NP because you can only truly befriend someone who is authentic.

It’s hard to like someone who conceals who they really are.  Consequently, NPs have few close friends.

Because they don’t understand how their words and actions can cause pain for others, they never admit the wrongs they commit, choosing to blame anyone and everyone for conflict except themselves.

And when the leader of a church … or a business … or a country … refuses to take personal responsibility for his decisions and actions, that creates resentment, and conflict grows.

_______________

Peter Steinke, a congregational consultant, wrote the book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times 8 years ago, and his 11-page postscript is titled, “People of the Charm” and describes narcissism in Christ’s church.  The book is fantastic, but for anyone who has struggled to serve with narcissists in the church, that postscript is worth the price of the book.

Next time, I’ll add two more ways that NPs create conflict in churches, and then suggest some ways to limit narcissism in the church.  See you next time!

 

 

 

When I was in third grade, my class received music instruction from Miss Rose via closed-circuit television.

I loved to sing, and I liked Miss Rose – until she visited our classroom one day.  I was disappointed because Miss Rose didn’t look like she did on TV.

So when my class was lining up after recess, I told somebody that I thought Miss Rose was ugly.  A girl immediately wheeled around and told me, “Ummm.  I’m going to tell the teacher you said that.”

Okay, I shouldn’t have said what I did, but it wasn’t any of that girl’s business, either.  If she had told the teacher – or Miss Rose – she could have turned a thoughtless remark into a larger incident.

And this kind of thing happens all the time in churches.

Let me share with you three kinds of boundary violations that happen in churches all the time:

First, sometimes a previous pastor interferes with the ministry of his successor.

Several years ago, I read about the pastor of a megachurch (let’s call him Wally) who resigned and moved 800 miles away to become the pastor of another church.

The church he left called a new pastor (let’s call him Harry) whose ministry began to go well.

But Wally’s new ministry wasn’t going that well, so he decided he wanted to return to his original church.

So he orchestrated Harry’s departure, and then returned to his old church … and damaged hundreds of people in the process.

When a pastor leaves a church, he needs to leave that church alone.

It’s okay to stay on the mailing list … to have friends in the church … to have a general idea of what’s going on … and to pray for the church’s pastor and ministry.

But it’s wrong to become a complaint center for naysayers … to undermine the new pastor’s ministry … to second-guess leadership decisions … and to provide counsel for the pastor’s detractors.

Sad to say, but some pastors are so narcissistic that they’ll cross ethical boundaries just to harm someone else’s ministry … and that creates major conflict.

Second, sometimes people try and turn their current church into their previous one.

21 years ago, I was involved in rebirthing a church.  We changed our ministry, sold our property, and started over in a new location with a new name.

An upper-class couple began attending our church.  They had once attended a nationally-known megachurch and seemed intent on helping us.

One night, the husband gave me a piece of paper on which he had evaluated major church leaders by certain categories, like appearance … work ethic … giftedness … and so on.

He even evaluated the pastor … me.

I was shocked by how brazen his actions were.  He’d only attended our church a few times … and he didn’t serve in any capacity … but he had the audacity to try and remake our church into his previous one.

After I overcame my depression, I told the gentleman that I didn’t need his help anymore, and I never saw him or his wife again.

While he tried crossing boundaries, I’m thankful that I caught it and put a stop to it.  Sometimes pastors … and church leaders … have to define and enforce boundaries or people will run roughshod over them.

Finally, sometimes people snoop around where they don’t belong.

When I first entered church ministry, I heard the pastor talking one day through a wall.  He seemed animated and passionate, so I put my ear to the wall to hear what he was saying.

Suddenly, I was seized with guilt, and quickly backed off.  Whatever he was saying wasn’t meant for me.

In a dysfunctional family, boundaries are violated all the time.  Dads search their son’s rooms for drugs and magazines.  Moms try and read their daughter’s diaries.  After their children leave home, the parents interfere with their marriages, offer unsolicited advice, and take over family gatherings without permission.

The parents think they’re helping, but they’re just making things worse.

By the same token, it’s wrong to drive by the church to see if the pastor’s car is there … to snoop around the church office looking for classified information … to monitor the pastor’s behavior to find some dirt on him … and to form conclusions without knowing the facts.

I’ve noticed that whenever there’s major conflict in a church, some individuals have violated their boundaries:

*The board begins disciplining staff members directly … usurping the role of the pastor.

*The pastor starts lying down guidelines for the women’s ministry … rather than letting the women do it.

*The youth pastor starts telling people how the church should really worship … although that’s the role of the worship director.

*The worship director starts demanding that he should make all the final decisions for the services … but that’s the pastor’s job.

*The associate pastor tells friends that he’s the best preacher in the church … but that’s not his assignment.

And on and on and on …

In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah of Judah violated divine boundaries when he entered the temple to burn incense.  Azariah the priest confronted him and said in verse 18:

“It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord.  That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense.  Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”  And then God gave Uzziah leprosy until the day he died as a way of saying, “The king is to be a king, not a priest, and a priest is to be a priest, not a king.”

Read 2 Chronicles 26:18 again and let it serve as a warning from Almighty God:

Violate the space of others … and go where you don’t belong … and you will cause many to suffer.

But if you stay in your own space … and refuse to cross boundaries … God will reward you.

What are some other boundaries that Christians cross at church?  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you always have to be right?

I know the temptation all too well.

In my first pastorate, I visited shut-ins, and one day, I visited Cecil and Freda.

Due to their age, they rarely came to church, and Cecil told me that he said the Lord’s Prayer every day.  But he had a bone to pick with me.

Cecil said that when I read or said the Lord’s Prayer, I said, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  But Cecil wanted me to know that it was really in earth as it is in heaven, not on earth.

I took out my pocket New Testament, and Matthew 6:10 said “on earth,” not “in earth.”  (When in doubt, let Scripture decide.)

But doggone it, Cecil had been saying the Lord’s Prayer for many years, and he was saying it the right way, and everybody else – even Bible translators and his pastor - were wrong.

What can a young pastor do?  I just smiled and changed the subject.

In that instance, I was wise.  But on another occasion, I was anything but.

I once visited a newly-married couple in their home after they had visited our church the previous Sunday.

While we were chatting, the woman blurted out, “But all sins are equal in God’s eyes, right?”

I should have let it go … I should have let it go … but I didn’t.

I gently explained what I believe Scripture teaches: that any and every sin will condemn us before a holy God, but that some sins are definitely worse than others in this life.  (For example, uncontrolled anger and murder are both sins, but murder is far worse than uncontrolled anger.)

But this couple had come from a church background where they had heard the phrase “all sins are the same before God” and my little two-minute explanation wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

They never came back to the church … and I needed to learn that I didn’t always have to be right.

How many conflicts in this world occur because people insist that they’re right and the other party is wrong?

How about Israel and the Palestinians?

How about Democrats and Republicans?

How about creationists and evolutionists … or global warning proponents and skeptics … or those who welcome illegal immigrants and those who don’t?

In the same way, many conflicts in churches occur because some people … even pastors and church leaders … have to be right all the time.

They have to be right about every nuance of theology … the proper interpretation of tough passages … the color of the nursery … and how long the pastor preaches.

And even when they violate Scripture, they still insist they’re right … and that those who disagree with them are wrong.

But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

You can know a lot … and be right nearly all of the time … and yet do it all with a prideful heart … and so be very much wrong.

Let me offer three thoughts about “being right”:

First, it’s right to take and present a position.

My wife recently did some redecorating for her home preschool.  She asked me what I thought.  I told her what I really felt … once.

She listened … countered with a few ideas of her own … and that was that.

I stated my position and then dropped the matter.  Since it’s her preschool, she needs to make the final decision.

There would be far fewer conflicts in churches if churchgoers treated pastors the same way.

For example, let’s say you don’t like a change in the worship service.

It’s all right to feel the way you do … and to tell your pastor how you feel … but then let the issue go.

Trust that he will make the right call, even if it takes a while.  You had your say … but must you have your way?

Second, learn who you can argue with … and who you can’t.

I like to argue, to test my positions and learn how other people think.  Ultimately, I’m after Truth with a capital “T.”

I try to argue without being argumentative, but sometimes, that doesn’t work out.

My wife and I were once invited by a friend and his wife to a dinner honoring various kinds of ministry chaplains.

While sitting at dinner, I made a comment about abortion, assuming the person sitting next to me would agree with my position.

He didn’t.

We quickly got into a verbal exchange … all because I didn’t yet know who he was.

If you know someone who loves a friendly argument, by all means, go at it … just so you remain friends afterwards.  Jesus certainly argued with both His disciples and His enemies a lot.

But if you’re around someone who doesn’t like to argue … let it go!

And my guess is that the vast majority of people do not like to argue.

Finally, realize that everybody is wrong at times … even you.

Last Saturday, my wife and our daughter and I visited San Diego.

I suggested that we visit the collection of shops and restaurants known as Seaside Village.

My wife gently called it Seaport Village.

I said, “No, I think it’s Seaside Village” … but then I wondered, “What if she’s right?”

When we walked up to the village, it was Seaport Village all right.

Because I didn’t make a big deal about the name, my wife and daughter let it slide.

But if I had said, “I’ll bet you fifty dollars that I’m right,” they wouldn’t have let me forget it all weekend.

When we know we’ve been wrong in the past, that knowledge should give us humility the next time that we’re positive we’re right.

But when we always insist that we’re right, we alienate our loved ones and people stay away from us.

In U2′s song Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own, Bono sings to his dying father, “You don’t have to put up a fight, you don’t have to always be right …”

If Christians would memorize and practice those lyrics, we’d have fewer conflicts and more far peace in our churches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe there is something wrong with the preaching in most Christian churches today.

The problem isn’t the setting.  Most worship centers make it easy to see and hear the pastor … often with video enhancement.

The problem isn’t the source material.  Scripture is spiritually rewarding, intellectually challenging, relationally practical, and emotionally fulfilling.

The problem isn’t with theology.  Most pastors know what they believe and why they believe it.

The problem isn’t the pastor per se.  Most pastors possess fine stage presence, connect well with their congregations, and are good communicators.

No, in my mind, the problem is this:

Preaching has become a monologue.

Last Sunday, I attended a megachurch nearby.

I thought the pastor’s message was very good.  He taught verse by verse … told some great stories … and tended to view the world as I do, since we’re roughly the same age.

But after he was done preaching, I had some questions about his message.

But how and when could I ask them?

The services weren’t designed for congregational interaction.  The first service started at 8:00 am … the second was at 9:45 … and the last one was at 11:30.

Since the pastor had to preach three times, there wasn’t any time for questions.  I understand that.

But if I sent him an email during the week, what were the chances that I’d even reach him?  I once tried contacting a megachurch pastor online and had to fill out a form beforehand … and he never wrote me back.

I guess what’s bothering me … and I’ve felt this way for nearly 30 years … is that most people don’t learn very much by listening to a monologue.

For example, I once heard former President Bill Clinton speak at an event after he was out of office, and five minutes later, I couldn’t remember a thing he said.

This is one reason why some pastors include a sermon outline in the bulletin … sometimes using fill-in-the-blanks … because “impression without expression leads to depression.”

And some churches feel they’ve resolved this problem by offering small groups during the week that discuss the pastor’s sermon … but let’s be honest, you’re still not speaking to the pastor directly.

But what if a pastor brings a message on a topic and you:

*disagree strongly with his viewpoint?

*think he’s completely missed the point of a passage?

*would like him to clarify something he said?

*want him to elaborate on an issue a little bit more?

*are struggling to find the relevancy of his sermon?

Let me offer four ideas to encourage more feedback between pastors and their hearers:

First, set up microphones in the aisles and let the pastor answer questions for 10-15 minutes after his message.

This was the custom of a famous pastor in London for many years.  After he was done speaking, he allowed people to ask him questions in public.

This is certainly biblical.

In John 8, Jesus does something similar in the temple courts in Jerusalem.  He says, “I am the light of the world.”  The Pharisees challenge him.  Jesus responds.  They ask him a question.  They mumble to themselves.  Jesus answers.  They ask Him another question.  Jesus answers … offers a clarification …  and then John says, “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.”

Whether this practice is done weekly or monthly, it would certainly arouse congregational interest.

Yes, the pastor might have to cut his message a little shorter, but what’s wrong with that?

I tried this once while preaching on “the new atheists,” and received a great response … and I absolutely loved it myself.

Second, let people text questions to someone who chooses several questions and displays them on a video screen.

While the pastor is preaching, listeners can text questions to a central location.  A very wise individual … maybe an associate pastor or staff member …  then chooses 3-5 questions … inputs them into the church’s software … and throws them up on the screen when the pastor is done speaking.

This is something that I wanted to do in my last ministry.  I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but we just couldn’t figure it out.

But this approach uses technology … keeps people interested … and forces the pastor to clarify, defend, or expand on his remarks after he speaks.

Third, the pastor announces an upcoming topic and asks people to write down their questions about that issue.

Let’s say that I’m going to be preaching on raising children in two weeks.  I’d tell the congregation, “If you have questions about raising kids, please write them on your communication/response card today and next Sunday.  I’ll choose as many questions as possible and answer them two weeks from today.”

I did this with messages on marriage, forgiveness, and heaven, and found that my preparation time was cut in half …  but the interest in those topics was sky-high because the congregation determined the topics.

On those occasions when I did this, it was always for the last message in a series.  I wanted God’s people to let me know what they were thinking and feeling.

Finally, consider having a forum over issues of national importance.

When the scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky broke in 1998, I was living in Arizona.

Millions of Americans were riveted to their TV screens, not just because of the scandal, but because we didn’t know how to think about it.

Some of the President’s defenders said, “This is just about sex.  It’s no big deal.”

Others said, “But the President has repeatedly lied to the American people and refuses to tell the truth.  Should he resign?  Be impeached?”

People were throwing Bible verses around like “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  We were told, “Let’s just forgive the President and move on.”

For the average American … and the average Christian … it was all very confusing.

A church two miles from my house … one of America’s top ten largest churches at the time … decided to hit the issue head on.

They put together a panel of experts and asked them to share their views from a biblical perspective.  As I recall, the congregation was allowed to ask them questions during Sunday services.

While I loved this idea … realizing that it scares the daylights out of others … at least that church was being relevant and letting people offer feedback.

I believe in preaching.  I believe in one man holding a Bible and saying, “This is what God says in His Word.”

It’s a powerful way to communicate … but it’s not the only way to communicate.

So from time-to-time, why can’t pastors present God’s Word and then let people ask questions?

This is just my opinion … but I think people would flock to a church that offered feedback.

What do you think about my ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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