Archive for September, 2011

There’s an old joke about a pastor who proposed a change to the governing board.  The board immediately rejected his idea, but it was part of the pastor’s strategy.  The pastor waited six months, a board member made the same proposal, the pastor vehemently opposed it, and the board immediately adopted it!

Facilitating change in a home, company, or church can drive anyone nuts.

Let’s imagine that you’re weary of the way your family members remove and drop their clothes anywhere in the house.  You want everyone to place their clothes in a hamper so they’re centralized when it’s time to do the laundry.

How would you institute that change in your house?  Here are four ideas:

First, model the change you want to see.  No matter what, you need to place your clothes in that hamper every single day.  If you mess up even once, your family will use your failure as an excuse to do the same.

Be an example, not an exception.

The same idea applies in a church.  If a pastor teaches that husbands should love their wives, he better treat his well – both in private and in public.  If he preaches tithing, he better deposit 10% of his income in the offering every Sunday.

Second, ask key players for their input.  In your family, you could call a meeting, describe the clothes problem, and ask everyone for their ideas.  While this may seem unnecessary, there’s great value in this approach.

The meeting highlights the problem, invites family members to see the issue from another perspective, and tells them that you value them enough to solicit their opinions – some of which might be superior to yours.

In the same way, when a pastor wants to make a major change, he needs to identify the opinion makers and solicit their honest input about the issue.  Leaders ask others what they think and genuinely listen to their ideas.  Dictators don’t care what others think and impose their own goals – and will – on people.

The larger the change, the more input a pastor needs to seek.  And he needs to hear from critics, too, because sometimes they see issues more clearly than the leader.

Third, explain the change over and over.  If you’re in charge of the CHP (Clothes Hamper Project), tell your family what you want them to do (put their dirties in the hamper daily), why you want them to do it (to keep their rooms clean), and what the benefits will be (a cleaner home, a happier parent, a ready wardrobe).

You can’t assume everyone will remember.  While you want to avoid nagging, you do want to remind and affirm them often.

21 years ago, I was the pastor of a church in Silicon Valley.  After much prayer, research, and board input, I recommended to our church family that we sell our property (we lacked a worship center) and use the proceeds to launch a new church in the light industrial area of our city.

I initially thought that I only had to explain the change once in a public meeting, but some were so taken aback by my proposal that they completely misunderstood it.  And those who weren’t present for our initial presentation were totally confused, especially when they heard faulty information from others.

It took me and the board a long time to put our plans together – and then we sprung it on the congregation.  So I needed to give people plenty of time to understand the proposal, challenge me, ask questions, rant and rave – whatever they needed to do.

For that reason, I went into “sales mode” and communicated the proposal in a variety of ways: through messages, newsletter articles, public meetings, private conversations, group meetings, and so on.  Since some people had misconceptions about the project, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, we had “a lot of ‘splainin to do.”

And it was a lot more than I envisioned we’d need – but it was the only way to keep everyone together.

Overcommunicating the proposal was boring for me but enlightening for everyone else.  Every time I publicly explained what we were doing and why, I gained a few more supporters – and they were able to correct the critics.

The greater the change in a church, the more ‘splainin the pastor and leaders need to do.

Finally, permit individuals to choose their responses.  With the CHP, there will be times when family members slip up.  Don’t yell at them or nag them or shame them.  Let them make their own choices about cooperation.

I used to tell my son, “If your room is clean by 5:00 this afternoon, you can go out with us to eat.  If it’s not clean, you can stay home.  It’s your choice.”  While I wanted him to come with us, I wasn’t going to force him to do anything.  He was old enough to make his own decisions.  (And most of the time, his room was clean by 5:00.)

The wise pastor will use a similar approach: “Here is the change we plan to make.  I hope that all of you will come along with us.  However, you have the freedom to choose your response.  You can join us or stay home.  We will respect whatever decision you make.”

That’s far better than to tell people that if they don’t comply, they’re sinners who are out of the will of God and fostering division in the church.

Over the years, I discovered that whenever I became impatient about instituting a change, some people overreacted and either attacked me or left the church angrily.  But when I took my time, gathered feedback, calmly answered people’s questions, and let each person decide what they were going to do – the church stayed united.

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus reported to His Father, “I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:12).

The challenge for every shepherd is to keep the sheep God has given him while seeking to reach lost sheep – but he must reach the lost through the found, so it’s critical that he has their support first.

While our theology as Christians must never change, our methodologies must always change.

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How well do you adjust to change?

If you’re like most people – not too well.

Many years ago, our family lived in a comfortable middle-class neighborhood in Santa Clara, California.  Just down the street from us was a shopping center including a grocery store, a drug store, a Chevron gas station, a store that sold tropical fish, and a baseball card store.  (Yes, I was there all the time.)  Kids walked or rode their bikes there.  Families went there to eat.  And the center wasn’t located on a busy street, but was right in the middle of our residential area.

Our Old Neighborhood in Santa Clara, CA

Like most area residents, our family felt proud that we had our own private place to shop.

But then the owner of the center sold it to a developer, who began to raise lease rates so high that business owners began departing one by one.

After everyone eventually left, bulldozers came and destroyed our beloved Village Green Shopping Center – and there wasn’t anything any of us could do about it.  The developer constructed three-story townhomes on that property, and they remain there to this day.

I didn’t like that change one bit, and it happened at a time when I was making changes in the church I served as pastor.  The way I felt about the shopping center enabled me to better understand how some people felt about changes at church.

If you’re in a church that is making changes – and some of them make you feel uneasy – you are in good company!  Let me share four quick truisms about change in churches:

First, change is inevitable.  I initially resisted Facebook, but now I visit my site several times a day.  I loved video cassettes for years, but just threw several boxes of them in the trash.  E-books?  Love my Kindle.  Smart phone?  Just got a Droid 3.  iPod?  Greatest invention in history.

I even opened a Twitter account several weeks ago because of the importance of social media in ministry marketing.

My point: Christians can identify specific cultural shifts and use them to our advantage or we can drag our feet and appear culturally irrelevant.  Sometimes it’s better to get out ahead of the curve.

Second, change is painful.  Change can make us feel anxious, uncomfortable, and even stupid.  Think about how you felt when you first started learning how to use a computer.  I messed up so many times.  “What do I do when my computer freezes?  How do I get out of this program?  Where’s my typewriter?”

My wife and I have lived in four different places within the past two years.  We’ve had to pay for moving vehicles and packing materials.  We’ve needed to ask friends and family for assistance in carrying our belongings.  And my lower back has taken a beating.  The next time we move, there will be more discomfort – but pain is the price we pay for change.

And yet after a while, when things settle down, we forget about our initial pain.  I’ve been hauling around three computers with me for a long time.  Last Saturday, I recycled them – and watched as those hard drives were inserted into a machine and mashed.  It was difficult giving them up – but today, I don’t miss them at all.

Third, change is positive.  Thirteen years ago, I announced my resignation as pastor to a congregation I dearly loved.  Because many people didn’t see my departure coming, I was concerned how it would be received.  One wise woman, who was also an attorney, told me, “Change is good.”

I never forgot her words.

Change is good.  Most of the major milestones in our spiritual lives occur because of change.  We can wait until we’re ready to change internally – something most of us aren’t good at – or God can force us to change through the use of external circumstances.

The same is true of churches.  They tend to drift unless they are forced to change.  And if they resist, they can die a slow death.

Eleven years ago, my wife and I visited a church near the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The songs were from the Psalter and sung accapella.  While the pastor’s message was biblical, he didn’t use any illustrations or make any applications.  The pews were HARD, the lighting was abysmal – and there were less than 35 people in attendance.  Some of the other area churches had already closed their doors, and I was concerned for this church’s survival because it wasn’t making the necessary changes to stay relevant.  (However, it’s still there!)

Church on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

Churches can survive without making important changes, but they cannot thrive.  If a church is going to reach its community for Christ, it must embody corporate change before calling people to personal conversion, the greatest change of all.

Finally, change is biblical.  Eve was certainly a change for Adam.  The flood was an unprecedented change for Noah.  God called Abraham to move to a new location he knew nothing about.  Bethel marked a change for Jacob.  A pit, a prison, and a prime minister’s role were all changes for Joseph.  Egypt was a change for Moses.

The prophets called God’s people to change.  The best Jewish kings (like Hezekiah) instituted major changes in their kingdoms.  But Jonah ran because he didn’t want to see Gentiles change toward Yahweh.

Jesus brought all kinds of changes to Judaism, didn’t He?  And His apostles changed the world.

Thelogical liberals have tried to change the Christian message while keeping their methods largely static.  But evangelicals have guarded the gospel message while constantly changing their methods.

Which is the more biblical approach?

I think most Christians accept the fact that our churches need to keep changing methodologically.  But we struggle most with how change is instituted.

That will be my topic next time.

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This past week, a lot of friends and family members have been complaining about the layout changes on Facebook.  Several nights ago, in fact, there was almost one continuous run of negative comments expressed.

This reminds me of how many people feel whenever change is introduced at their church.

The Old English word “wyrd” and the English word “weird” have their source in the German word “warden” which means “to become.”  Whenever there is a period of change or becoming, weirdness results.  Change brings anxiety, and anxiety causes reactivity in many people.

Veteran church consultant Speed Leas notes that he receives more calls for help during ten particular times in a congregation’s life than in any other.  These times are Easter, stewardship campaigns/budget time, the addition of new staff, a change in pastoral leadership style, the pastor’s vacation, changes in the pastor’s family, the introduction of a new generation (like baby boomers) into a church, the completion of a new building, a loss of church membership, and an increase in membership.

Every one of these situations is marked by change, whether the change is perceived as being positive or negative.

Church in Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

I visited a church several Sundays ago here in Phoenix that hasn’t changed in decades.  At one point, I closed my eyes and asked myself, “What year is it in this place?”  My conclusion: 1961.

The sanctuary was filled with pews.  The choir was accompanied by piano and organ.  After the pastor prayed, the choir responded with “Hear Our Prayer, O Lord,” a song I haven’t heard for nearly 50 years.

The offering was taken by children (although I didn’t notice if they counted it).  The pastor’s message was on Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first the kingdom of God …”), and while I enjoyed the message, his application went straight to (a) you gotta show up Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights, (b) you gotta serve, and (c) you gotta give a tithe, because Malachi 3:10 commands us to bring all our tithe into the storehouse – and, of course, the storehouse is the local church.

Then the service ended up with an altar call.  To my surprise, in a room of 60 people, two women came forward … for membership.  No membership orientation classes in that church!  The congregation voted them into membership immediately.

I walked away drawing three conclusions:

First, while some churches never change, that appeals to an increasingly smaller segment of the Christian population.

Second, most churches need to continually make changes to reach the culture for Christ – something that church didn’t care anything about.

Third, that’s what I get for choosing the first church that had a 10:30 am service!

Because our culture is changing so rapidly, some Christians prefer attending a church that institutes few changes.  I visited a church last year that had a choir, piano, and organ – those things hadn’t changed for years – but the church made extensive use of video inside their Sunday service.

The pastor must be doing something right because the place was packed … but I had to be the youngest person in the whole place.  (There were lots of bald heads and wigs – and everyone was dressed up but me.  I felt like a liberal.)

By contrast, some churches are constantly changing.  They are reformed … and reforming.  While their theology never changes, their methodology continually does.  In my understanding, this is the New Testament model.

Christ's Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ

I’ll write more about change next week, but for now, take a look at this brief video describing what’s happening this Sunday at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona.


Write and tell me what you honestly think about their approach.  Does it appeal to you?  Would it appeal to some of the men you know?

I will write more about change in churches next time.  Have a Jesus-filled weekend!

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The other night, I caught the tail end of an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  A faith healer comes to Walnut Grove and wins over many of the townspeople, leaving Reverend Alden with a dwindling congregation.  He thinks about quitting, but after the faith healer is exposed, his flock returns.  Laura Ingalls’ final narration declares that the good reverend is “a simple man” and “a shy man” but that the people loved him very much.

When a pastor first comes to a church, he’s chasing a lot of ghosts.  Sometimes the shadow of a predecessor hangs over that church for a long time.  And when newcomers move into town, they bring with them mental images of their favorite pastor from the past.  And some people watch Joel Osteen or Charles Stanley on television before coming to church and compare their pastor to those superstars.

So it’s not easy for a pastor to come to an established congregation.  But when he does, there is one thing above all that he must do.

He must let the people know that he likes them.

Notice I didn’t say love.  That will come in time.  When I left my last church, I told the people how much I loved them because I did.  But I couldn’t have told them that during my first few months because I didn’t yet know them.  You have to know people to love them.

But you can let anyone know that you like them.

It has to be communicated in various ways:

*By greeting everyone you meet on the church campus, regardless of age, attractiveness, or temperament.

*By learning the names of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

*By stopping to chat with people as often as you can.

*By smiling as much as you did on your wedding day.

*By approaching people rather than waiting for them to approach you.

*By accepting and understanding the traditions of the church before you try and change them.

*By taking the time to explain who you are as often as is prudent.

My son Ryan attends a church in Orange County with a pastor just like this.  On the many occasions that I’ve visited the church, if I walk anywhere near Pastor Terry, he sticks out his hand, gives me a warm smile, and says hi to me, even if he can’t remember my name.  He makes me think that he likes me.

So it’s easy in turn for me to like him.

However … there are pastors who just aren’t built this way.  They are more introverted, or reserved, or scholarly – and that’s okay.  Some of the most impactful pastors in our culture are not “people persons.”  I stood near Andy Stanley last year minutes after he gave a talk at my church and he looked awkward and uncomfortable as he sought a space away from people.

But great pastors continually give off vibes that they like the people in their church – and that feeling is reciprocated.

A pastor friend once recounted a conversation he had with a seminary professor, who told his class to “love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  My friend was so impressed that he told the professor after class, “That was really great: lead the sheep and then love the sheep.”  The professor corrected him, “No, that’s love the sheep first, then lead the sheep.”

If a pastor leads the sheep and only later tries to love them, people will feel manipulated and distance themselves from that pastor.

But if the pastor loves the sheep first, the people will follow him almost anywhere.

However, no matter how kind or gracious a pastor is, there will always be someone in the church that doesn’t like him.  Maybe he reminds certain individuals of an abusive father or an ex-husband or a cruel boss.

I don’t like pastors who scream at their congregations.  When I was a kid, I heard a traveling evangelist speak at my church, and when he started yelling at everybody, I thought he was yelling at me.  Ever since then, I have recoiled from pastors who verbally assault their hearers.  It’s all right to become angry with sin – but not with sinners.

A pastor needs to let everyone know that God loves them – and so does he.  In fact, people have a hard time believing that God loves them if they think their pastor hates them.

So what do you do if you’re in a church where you don’t like the pastor?

Ask God to change your heart.  Try and get to know the pastor better.  Focus on his good qualities.  (There has to be some reason why he got the job.)  You might like him once you get to know him.

But if you’ve tried everything, and it’s just not working … then leave the church.  Find a pastor you do like.

Above all, avoid all attempts to join forces with those who want to get rid of him.

Try not to feel guilty about it.  Try not to blame the pastor.  There are undoubtedly people that do like him.

Just shop around and find another church.  Quietly vote with your feet.

It’s a short life, and we can’t afford to be miserable when we go to church.


Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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How often does anything miraculous happen at your church?

Has any hardhearted individual chosen to follow Christ recently?  Has a dormant ministry suddenly turned around?  Has a terminally ill individual been gloriously healed?

After I wrote my last article on the Holy Spirit, it struck me later that night: too many churches give little evidence that God is alive and working supernaturally in their midst.

Consider the following examples:

*Intead of trusting in the power of God’s Word, pastors use Scripture as a springboard to what they really wanted to say.

*Instead of spending a few quality minutes speaking with God in prayer, pastors sprint through their public prayers.

*Instead of holding prayer meetings during the week, church leaders hold strategy sessions – and hardly pray at all.

*Instead of trusting Christians to invite people via word of mouth, church leaders rely on marketing and social networking to tell people about Jesus and their church.

*Instead of being faithful to the gospel message, some church leaders believe they need to reinvent the gospel “to reach more people.”

*Instead of acknowledging the existence and cunning of Satan, church leaders ignore the fact we’re in a spiritual battle.

*Instead of submitting themselves to the control of God’s Spirit, church leaders trust their own education, experience, and energy.

Friends, we can’t superimpose an American business model onto our churches and expect to see God working miracles in our midst – but that’s just what many church leaders are doing today.

I read a blog the other night that disturbed me.  The writer was an ex-pastor’s wife and a former Christian.  She no longer believes in Jesus, His church, or His leaders.  While commenting on the state of the American church, she noted that many top pastors could run any kind of organization and make it go.  They’re CEOs by nature, and they run their churches that way.  And by American standards, they’re successful.

Of course, try asking that same pastor if he’ll stand by the death bed of your loved one.

But how often does God work in our churches without the pastor planning, prodding, pushing, and plotting?

I’m a non-charismatic.  I seek the biblical charisma without charismania.  I don’t like fleshly attempts to whip a congregation into a frenzy so we can claim that God is in our midst.

But I long to see God show up in a service or in a meeting without our efforts to manage Him.  And when He doesn’t show up for weeks or months, what are we to conclude?

That He doesn’t exist?  Or that we’re doing something wrong?

When I attend a worship service, I want three things to happen:

First, I want to sense the presence of God.  I want to know that God is here, right now.

Second, I want to hear God’s Word taught clearly, courageously, and passionately.

Finally, I want the Lord to move my heart and soul.  I seek His touch in my life.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I attended a service at Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills in Orange County where my long-time friend Dave is the pastor.

The worship leaders and band truly led us into the presence of God.

Dave spoke for an hour from Revelation 22 and it seemed like just a few minutes.  He had taught through the entire Bible in nine years and had one Sunday to go!

And I was deeply, deeply moved by the entire service.

I’ve been to larger churches.  I’ve been to smaller churches.  But I haven’t been to better churches – and I can’t wait to go back sometime soon.

What happens in your church for which God is the only explanation?

Dr. Luke writes in Acts 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

May His touch be upon you this weekend and always.

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Many years ago, while walking around the Biola College (now University) campus one afternoon, my friend Dave bolted out of his Bible class grinning from ear to ear.  He asked me, “Where did Jesus get the ability to do His ministry?”

I made several guesses, both of them wrong.  Dave excitedly revealed the answer: “By the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I had attended church multiple times every week since infancy, but I had never heard that before.  In fact, I didn’t know much about the ministry of the Holy Spirit at all.  It was too esoteric, too nebulous, too scary.

In seminary, I took an accelerated two-week course on Pneumatology: the study of the Holy Spirit.  During that class, we had to list and categorize every reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

What an eye-opening class that was!

The three New Testament statements that most impacted me were found in Luke 4:

Right after His baptism, Luke 4:1 says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert …”

Jesus was full of the Spirit.  How many pastors and staff members and Christians can say that they are constantly filled with God’s Spirit?  Jesus was.

Because He was full of the Spirit, Jesus was also led by the Spirit … into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  I am not a fan of desolate deserts.  Jesus wasn’t either, but He had to endure “wilderness training” before He was ready to minister to people.

After beating back Satan’s temptations, Luke 4:14 tells us that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit …”  When we’re filled with the Spirit, the Father gives us the power of the Spirit.  Jesus could not carry out the Father’s wishes in His own strength, even though He was the God-Man.  No, my friend Dave was right: Jesus needed the Spirit’s empowerment to advance the kingdom.

Jesus engaged in a powerful teaching ministry and then ended up in his hometown of Nazareth.  In Luke 4:18, Jesus began His message: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor …”

When we’re empowered by the Spirit, the Spirit comes upon us – and we’re able to do great things for God.  We produce.

Not long ago, I wrote an article noting that Satan seems to have disappeared from pastoral teaching in our day.  You can read it here: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2011/06/15/whatever-happened-to-satan/

Sadly, recent experience tells me that the Holy Spirit seems to have disappeared as well.

We sing that we believe in the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Many pastors baptize new believers in the name of the Trinity, and some use the benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14 that mentions all three members of the Trinity together.  But we’re hearing fifty times more about the Father and the Son than the Spirit in our church services.

He’s become the lost member of the Trinity.  (Which makes me wonder: who has replaced Him?)

And no, I’m not a flaming charismatic – just someone who is trying to be a Jesus-following, biblical Christian.

My seminary professor, Dr. Robert Saucy, once made this profound statement in our Pneumatology class: “The Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us live the Christian life.”

We can’t live like Christ, or like a believer, or even live period, without the Holy Spirit.

And we certainly can’t teach the Spirit-inspired Word, or use our Spirit-given gifts, without the Spirit, either.

But from my vantage point, that’s exactly what many – if not most – Christians are trying to do today, and I’d place many pastors in that category, too.

We’re trying to live and serve as Christians without the fulness, the guidance, the power, and the anointing of the Spirit of God.

We’re serving God in the flesh rather than by the Spirit – and Paul makes clear we need to live differently: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16-17).

And maybe this is why we’re not hearing much these days about holiness, either.  Only the Spirit of God can make us holy.  (He’s the Holy Spirit, right?)  And if we’re not being controlled by Him, we’ll most certainly become unholy, at least in our daily lives.

If Jesus needed the Holy Spirit for life and ministry – and He definitely did – how much more do we need the Spirit?

What can you do to address this imbalance?

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Last time, I presented four ways you can share feedback with your pastor:

*Speak only for yourself.

*Speak to him directly.

*Speak to him wisely.

*Speak to him positively.

Let me add three more ways:

Fifth, speak to him sensitively.  Learn his schedule and share your feedback at a time when he can receive it.

If you have something positive to say, you can share that pratically anytime.  If you have negative input, try and avoid sharing that on a Sunday.

The pastor needs to be “up” on Sunday, not only to preach, but also to meet people.  The pastor has been focusing on those few hours on Sunday morning all week long, and if you want to derail his ministry temporarily, then throw some criticism his way.  It may wound him enough that it impacts his ability to help others that day.

I don’t know how other pastors are on a Sunday, but I tried to be sensitive to God’s Spirit.  If God was going to use my ministry, I needed to be right with Him and right with others.  Although I always welcomed constructive suggestions, there were times when people meant well but said things that discouraged me.

One Sunday, a couple pastors visited our church in Santa Clara because they planned on starting an outreach-oriented church in a nearby community.  After the service, I greeted both of them.  One of the pastors was kind in his remarks, but the other one made derogatory comments about the service.  I had never met him before, and didn’t think he had earned the right to offer an instant critique.  His comment was all I could think about for days, and it deflated me.

A pastor friend once did some research on the best day to share criticism with a pastor.  Sunday was the worst day.  Tuesday was the best day.  Why Tuesday?  Probably because the pastor has worked through his emotions about the previous Sunday and is looking forward to the following Sunday with optimism.

So if you have any comments about today’s article, save them for Tuesday!

Sixth, ask questions rather than state opinions.  As a child, I didn’t enjoy taking communion.  The atmosphere was funereal.  The organ played softly while people bowed their head in reflection.  Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of your sin?”

No, He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  When I think of my sin, I’m somber.  When I think of my Savior, I’m grateful, joyful, and excited.  So during communion, I sometimes invited the congregation to focus on Jesus by singing.

While many people enjoyed this experience, some did not – and made it very clear to me.

One man expressed his displeasure to me about singing during communion three times on his response card.  After the third time, I sent him a letter telling him why I did it that way.  He promised he’d never complain again.

Which would have been more effective?

“I don’t like the way you do communion … I grew up in churches that did it another way … it should be a solemn time … I’m not used to it …”


“Why do we sing during communion?”

If you ask a pastor a question about a church issue, you make him the authority (which he probably is), and you can decide whether you like his answer and respond accordingly.  When you state your opinion like you’re the authority, you’re just setting yourself up for an argument.  There is a time and place to state your opinion, but before sharing it with the pastor, you might find out why he does what he does first.

Finally, avoid making threats.  Like most pastors, there are people who have said to me, “If you don’t start doing this or stop doing that, I’m going to leave the church for good.”

It is never wise to say that to a pastor.

Most pastors will think to themselves, “Fine.  Then leave.  If you’re going to threaten me, then we don’t need you around here.  Go mess up someone else’s church.”

I always figured that if someone threatened to leave the church, they were as good as gone anyway.  Most people have more sense than to say that.

The truth is that I usually welcomed feedback from people.  There were times when I wanted to do something in the church but either the staff or the board didn’t agree with me.  If some people came to me unsolicited and said, “Pastor, we need to fix and repaint that wall” or “We need to start a ministry for singles,” then I could share that complaint/suggestion with the appropriate group so they would know others felt the same way.

When you share feedback with a pastor, give him time to respond to you.  Sometimes people came to me with an idea and they wanted an instant answer from me, but I usually had to think and pray about it, as well as consult other leaders.

Feel free to share a time when you shared feedback with your pastor.  How did it go?

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Have you ever wanted to tell a pastor what you really think about his ministry?

Pastors are gifts from the risen Christ to His church.  They are called by God to ministry, trained in Bible schools and seminaries, and devoted to advancing Jesus’ kingdom.  They work long and unpredictable hours, are sometimes poorly compensated, and endure nitpicky complaints.

When I first became a pastor, I didn’t appreciate the feedback some people gave me.  One Sunday, a woman shook my hand at the back door after the service and asked, “You’re not growing a beard, are you?”  I should have said, “Yes, I am, because I want to be like Jesus in every way possible.”  Instead, I replied, “Kathleen, you’re not being a Pharisee, are you?”

Over three-and-a-half decades of church ministry, I’ve learned a few things about giving and receiving feedback.  Let me share seven ways to give your pastor feedback so he can receive it:

First, speak only for yourself.  One Sunday years ago, five minutes before the service started, I went to use the men’s room, and Jim, the song leader, followed me.  As we were doing what men do, Jim told me that he and many others didn’t like the way we did communion the previous Sunday.  I asked Jim how many others didn’t like it, and he replied, “Five.”  I then asked who they were, and he refused to tell me.

In other words, Jim and four anonymous individuals didn’t like the way we did communion.

If Jim wasn’t going to tell me who they were – and I could pretty well guess anyway – then in my mind that was one complaint, not five.

It would have had far more impact on me if all five individuals had spoken with me directly.  That would have showed me they cared.  Maybe Jim originated the complaint and the others all nodded their heads.  Maybe they felt pressured to agree with him.  And maybe they all had different reasons for their views.  I needed to hear those from each individual.

Second, speak to him directly.  I once saw a comparison of the traits that are found in functional and dysfunctional families.  In functional families, people speak directly to those with whom they have an issue.  In dysfunctional families, people expect that others will speak for them.  For example, if I’m upset with my cousin Bill, I share my anger with his wife Betty in hopes that she’ll tell Bill – but I never tell Bill myself.

I have resolved that I will not carry negative messages from one person to another.  If Carla is upset with my neighbor, I refuse to pass that on to my neighbor.  Instead, I encourage Carla to tell my neighbor herself.

The same principle applies with a pastor.  Please don’t tell other people that you’re upset with him because it puts them in an awkward position.  It’s your issue, not theirs.  By complaining to others, you may be trying to gain allies in hopes that someone will pass on your feelings.  Resolve to either speak with him directly or remain silent and talk to God instead.

Third, speak to him wisely.  When I was a pastor, people gave me feedback in a variety of ways:

*A note on a response card

*An email

*A letter via snail mail

*A phone call to my church office or home (I preferred church)

*A quick conversation before or after Sunday services

*An appointment either in my church office or at a restaurant

If it was a relatively small issue, I welcomed a personal conversation or a quick email.  But if it was a serious issue, I preferred an appointment where I could look someone in the face as we talked.

I had lunch a few months ago with a longtime staff member from a megachurch.  This individual handles all the emails that people send to the senior pastor.  Evidently this is a pretty common practice in larger churches.  You’re just not going to reach the senior pastor through writing, so you have to catch him in the patio before and after services – or fight through his secretary to get an appointment.

But in small and medium-sized churches (under 500 in weekly attendance), you should expect the pastor to respond to you within a day or two.  Although many pastors ignore their emails, I made it a practice to reply to every person who wrote me – and I believe most pastors can find a way to do that.

Fourth, speak to him positively.  Most pastors are unsure how effective they are in ministry.  They can discern attendance and giving trends but they’re often uncertain how much they’re helping people.  So if your pastor does something well, tell him!

Years ago, I watched an episode of a TV show that I thought was outstanding.  I was telling my brother-in-law about it, and he asked me, “Have you told the people who produced the show about your feelings?”  I confessed that it hadn’t entered my mind – so I wrote them and thanked them for the show.

Find a way to tell your pastor that he did a great job when you really feel that way.  It won’t give him a “big head” at all.  A sincere compliment will encourage him, lift his self-esteem, reinforce the behavior you liked, and help him to remember your name!

Here’s a little secret: if you tell your pastor what you like about his ministry, he’ll listen better when you tell him about something you don’t like.  You’ll come off as objective rather than as a chronic complainer.

I’ll share a few more ways to give your pastor feedback next time.

What have been your experiences with giving a pastor feedback?

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Ever meet a Mean Christian?

My US History professor at the Christian college I attended was just plain mean.  Her voice was mean.  Her hair was mean.  Even her clothes were mean.

She didn’t like her students, and it showed.  And her tests – they were super mean!  They were multiple choice with 9 possible answers, including responses like a & b; a, b, & c; none of the above; or all of the above.

That, my friends, is proof positive she was mean.

But there was further evidence.  One day, she began class by asking a question.  No one answered.  She asked again.  No one replied.

She dismissed class in a dismissive tone, saying, “I’m not going to fill an empty milk bottle.”

I didn’t do well in her class.  It’s hard to learn from someone who doesn’t like you – especially when they don’t know you.

But Mean Christians aren’t confined to Christian schools.  They show up in churches, too.

In his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, church consultant Peter Steinke makes the following observation:

“Church conflict is a growth industry.  My experience tells me that about four out of ten congregations in any five-year period face a moderate to serious conflict.  About one third of them take effective steps to recognize and address the situation.  Not only are the number of incidences rising, but also the number of people who are stubborn, deceptive, and mean.”

Mean Christians?  Isn’t that term an oxymoron?

Most of the Christians I’ve known – inside and outside of the local church – are pleasant, gracious, and kind people.  They listen to you, rejoice with you, cry with you, and pray for you.

Which makes Mean Christians stand out all the more.

Paul may have been writing to Mean Christians when he wrote Ephesians 4:31: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  Paul echoes this same thought in Colossians 3:8: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

Since the New Testament is clear that Christians should be loving, why do Mean Christians exist?

First, they had mean parents.  Some people had mean modeled for them by Dad or Mom.  It’s normal behavior, especially when they’re frustrated or under stress.  These people need “spiritual” parents, spouses and friends to model unconditional love for them.  While this may help us understand Mean Christians better, it doesn’t excuse their behavior.

Second, they attend mean churches.  When I was in seminary, a cassette tape was circulating around the school of a fundamentalist preacher who condemned a classic Christian book.  It was one I had in my library – not one I consulted much – but I viewed the book as an asset, albeit a little outdated.

But this preacher viewed the book as heretical and dangerous.  He recommended that all copies of the book be burned.  (I went home and hid my copy.)  And then he got his congregation to shout with him, “Down with _____!  Down with _____ (the author’s last name)!”  I wish I still had that tape, but alas, it’s disappeared.  But the preacher lacked grace, class, and sense.  In a word, he was mean.  (I wonder how many people in the church went to him with their personal problems?)

A small minority of preachers model meanness to their people – and create Mean Christians in the process.

Third, they use meanness to get their way.  Some people have learned that if they insult you, or embarrass you in front of others, or pick on your weaknesses, they can easily control you.  They use mean words and a mean tone of voice and mean looks as a way of saying to others, “Back off and do what I say!”

A guy like this was on the church board when I first became a pastor.  He could be charming, but without warning, he’d suddenly go mean – and you had no idea why.  It was easier to let him have his way than to confront him.

But I used to think, “If only someone had confronted you about your attitude 40 years ago, maybe you wouldn’t be so mean today.”  This lead us to the final reason there are Mean Christians:

Finally, they are tolerated by nice Christians.  Christians often confuse being nice with being loving, but the two are not identical.  The great Dodger baseball manager Leo Durocher once said of Giants’ manager Mel Ott, “Nice guys finish last.”

Nice churches finish last, too.

When a Mean Christian is on the loose, what do nice Christians do?  They appease him rather than oppose him.  They say, “It isn’t my job to confront that person.  I’ll leave it to the pastor/board/staff/ushers/nursery workers.”  The Mean Christian knows this and continues his scorched earth policy … until somebody finally stands up to him or her … if they ever do.

Peter Steinke writes: “In congregations, boundary violators too often are given a long rope because others refuse to confront the trespassers.  When boundaries are inappropriately crossed and people are harmed, no one wants to name the violation.  It’s as if the disturbance of the group’s serenity is a greater offense than the viral-like behavior.  Boundary violators go unattended and suffer no consequences.”

I once knew a woman who continually said caustic things to my wife – who had no idea what to do – so I encouraged her to address the woman’s behavior when it happened.  I encouraged her to ask this question: “What do you mean by that?”

Worked like a charm.

Just like Jesus asked questions of His enemies, I encourage you to ask a question the next time a Mean Christian lays into you or someone else.  Pause for a moment, and in a calm manner, ask:

Why did you use that tone?

Why are you trying to hurt me?

Why are you so angry?

We have to be careful, though … because there’s a Mean Christian inside each one of us, too.

“Beware lest, in fighting a dragon, you become a dragon.”

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