Archive for January, 2012

Today’s guest blogger is Chuck Austin.  He has been a pastor for many years and is currently serving as a transitional pastor at a church in San Jose, California.  We were talking on the telephone recently and he told me this unusual story that he witnessed.  I thought you’d enjoy reading it!

I arrived at one church where I served immediately following the dismissal of a pastor.  His dismissal had not been handled correctly and resulted in a great many people becoming unhappy, angry, and quite sad.  Many of the people had become disillusioned with their leadership and some called for all of them to step down.

As I listened and heard both sides of the event, I became convinced that the leadership of the church needed to do something proactive.  I even spoke with one of the men to specifically ask him to consider giving an apology to the church.  I left him alone to pray and to let me know when he reached a decision.  I knew that these men needed to go and visit the pastor who had been dismissed (which they all did over a period of time).

One Sunday, as we were getting ready to celebrate communion, the one I had spoken with came to me and told me that he needed to say something to the congregation – and he told me what it was.  He was quite nervous because he didn’t have any idea of the reaction he would receive.  Needless to say, I was excited about preaching God’s Word that Sunday, but I was also excited about this man taking this courageous step.

He spoke in a quiet voice that Sunday and I already knew that a lot of his biggest critics were sitting in the congregation on that particular day.  Following his statements to the congregation, we celebrated communion followed by a closing song and prayer.

Because the man who made this confession was involved in serving communion, he remained at the front of the auditorium following the service.  Immediately, a line of people lined up to hug this man.  Almost every one of them had taken the time to tell me what they thought of him since my arrival.  Now I watched as they waited patiently to talk to him.

There was no mistaking what was on their hearts: forgiveness.  You could see it in their faces, in their embraces, and in their words.  The mistake had been made and acknowledged and the congregation was there to show its support and love for the integrity the man showed.

Standing on the Word of God and doing what it says should never cause fear in any of us because when we attempt what the Lord has told us to do, He’s there to empower us.

On that particular Sunday, it made me proud to be a pastor, but even more proud to see someone take God’s Word and do the biblical mandate … and demonstrate that it’s never too late to ask for forgiveness.

And it’s never too late for a congregation to respond by forgiving as they themselves have been forgiven by God!

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What are great Christian leaders really like behind the scenes?

Let me share a story with you.

When I first got married, I took a full-time job as a church custodian.

On Good Friday, a famous preacher and author – who was also on the radio – came to speak at the church.

The church seated around 400 people.  More than 600 attended that night.  The place was packed.

I stood outside with a friend waiting for the speaker to arrive.  He was late.

When the speaker finally showed up, he was grouchy.

A seminary classmate who was African-American played the piano and sang during the first part of the service.  He was good.  But the speaker wasn’t paying attention.  Sitting on the stage, he began playing with his microphone cord like a jump rope, causing people to laugh.

And then when this famous man began to speak … he started off with a racial joke.

My mouth dropped open.  I was horrified.

And then he gave a great message on Christ’s seven last words from the cross.  People were spellbound.

Every Christian leader has their flaws.  Some are public, some more private.

Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, smoked cigars – and said he did it to the glory of God.

The marriage of John Wesley (founder of the Methodists) was an absolute wreck.  (“You wreck me, baby, yeah you break me in two …”)

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, couldn’t stay out of debtor’s prison.

Yet we consider those men to be great Christian leaders.

But would we today?

A pastor friend recently told me about a famous Christian author whose daughter claimed that she only had a couple of conversations with her father while growing up.  You may have this man’s books.  (I do.)

And another author – a man whose books have helped me immensely – is now divorced.  Based on his writings, he’s the last man I would have expected to undergo that experience.

Rick Warren has issues.  So does Beth Moore … and Erwin McManus … and Max Lucado … and Paul Crouch … (Oh, wait, not Paul Crouch).

I don’t know what their issues are.  Their spouses probably do.  Their staffs might.  But you might never know.

But they have issues, just like anyone else.

Leaders struggle with handling money … and lust … and overeating … and alcohol … and pride … and poor self-esteem …

While a select few sins should disqualify people from leadership, most issues do not.

And because of our frail humanity, it’s a wonder God ever uses anybody, but He does … in spite of our frailties.

Some people are masters at appearing perfect in public.  I have admired some of these individuals greatly.

I practically worshiped one of my professors.  He was smart, funny, passionate, and wise.

Then I had the privilege of having dinner with him and another leader.

My professor was painfully shy, socially awkward, and a poor conversationalist.

But man, could he preach!

It’s okay to have heroes.  We need role models.

But let’s not turn any leader into a god.

Because there’s only one God, and only He is perfect.

And yet for some reason, He only uses imperfect people.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to rip into a Christian leader.

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Pretend you’re the pastor of a new church plant.

You have the funds to hire one part-time staff member.

Who would you hire first?

Some might say, “An office manager.”

But right now, the church office is in your home.  I’d hire her second.

Others might say, “A youth pastor.”

But you don’t yet have any youth, and besides, I’d hire the youth person fifth.

How about a children’s director?

I’d hire him or her (probably her) third.

My first choice?

A worship/music director.

Why?  Because people in our day expect good music on a Sunday.  If the music makes people cringe – even if the message is a home run – many people won’t come back, and they’ll encourage their friends not to attend.

But if the music is great, you’ll start attracting people more rapidly.  Great Music + Great Message = Growing Church

If the Sunday service is all you’ve got when you start, make it as good as possible.

But part-time worship directors are not easy to find.

As a pastor, you want a strong believer in that role, someone who professes what they perform.

That rules out the leader of the neighborhood garage band.

You also want someone who is musically competent, who plays and sings skillfully.

That rules out many church volunteers … and most of them will run when there’s a conflict.

You want someone who can recruit musicians and vocalists, or else it’s going to be a one-man/woman show each week.

Because the more gifted the leader, the higher quality people he/she can attract.

You want someone who gets along with people, because musicians and vocalists tend to be perfectionists.

So you can’t hire a Simon Cowell clone for the job.

And you want someone who performs in the style of your target …

which eliminates Dino and George Beverly Shea (much as I appreciate GBS; Dino is another matter).

And you especially want someone who gets along with you as pastor.

Because if the two of you constantly disagree, guess who’s leaving?

But because you’ve hired a part-timer … they may already have a full-time job, and there’s always the danger their job will intrude on the music ministry or they’ll have to move away.

So let’s say that you as pastor have hired this person, and he begins to recruit others onto the team.

What about the spiritual lives of prospective musicians and vocalists?

Can any be unbelievers?  What about someone guilty of immorality?  What if a gifted guitar player isn’t a team player?  What if someone on the team knows about another person’s sordid past?

Your new worship director may be competent musically, but how strong are their leadership skills?

Because if they can’t handle some of the above situations, they’ll revert to you as pastor … and the sparks will start to fly.

The key to everything is the relationship between the pastor and the worship director.

They must get along both personally and professionally.

They must agree on the kinds of people who can sing and play on the team.

They must agree on the predominant style of music for weekend services.

They must clarify these decisions by putting them in writing.

They must learn to trust and support each other in public, even if they’re negotiating in private.

The music director has to handle these kinds of complaints from team members:

“Why does he get to play a guitar solo on his second Sunday when I’ve been in the band for two years?”

“How can you let her sing onstage when she’s obviously a prima donna?”

“How come I can’t sing on the worship team?  My parents say I have a great voice.”

“Why is he allowed to play on Sunday when he missed rehearsal?  I was there!”

Then there are complaints from people in the congregation:

“The music was way too loud last Sunday.  Can’t you turn it down?”

“I tried but couldn’t make out the words to the performance song, so I thought it was a waste of time.”

“Can we sing more hymns?  The worship songs sound all the same.”

“The dress on the young woman who sang last Sunday was inappropriate for church.  You need to talk to her!”

When I was a pastor, I had people tell me at times, “I wouldn’t want your job for anything.”

That’s how I feel about the job of a worship director.  No wonder some people call music the War Department of the Church.

Everybody wants to look good and sound good, but they may not want to be good and do good.

For that reason, let me make three suggestions:

First, pray for your worship/music director(s) by name on a regular basis.

Second, thank them for their ministry when it really rings the bell for you.  (I emailed a worship director from our church last year to thank the band for doing a U2 song, and he wrote back to thank me.  I meant to do it two Sundays ago when the band performed Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble by Delirious?, but forgot.)

Finally, insist that those who criticize the worship director either (a) go to him directly, (b) stop griping, or (c) go somewhere else.

Being responsible for leading worship is a challenging task and not for the faint of heart.

So let’s cherish those who do a great job … and keep working through the inevitable conflicts.

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Which single issue has the greatest potential for conflict in a church?

The amount of a pastor’s salary?

The color of the ladies’ bathroom?

The temperature in the worship center?

How about the style of music played on Sundays?

I don’t know if that’s the big issue now, but it sure used to be.

In one church I served in the late 1970s, the youth planned to put on a musical by John Fischer called The New Covenant.  Based on 2 Corinthians 3, the musical was contemporary but hardly edgy.

One Saturday afternoon, after the youth practiced for the musical, a couple of men walked into the worship center and found a student playing drums.  The men immediately ordered the youth to leave the worship center.  They weren’t going to have drums in their church!

Wow, we’ve really come a long way since then, haven’t we?

Let me share three thoughts about resolving conflict involving church music styles:

First, choose a target group before settling on a music style.  If a congregation is filled with octogenerians who are sensitive to loud sounds, rock isn’t going to work.  But if a church is primarily composed of young families, rock may be the only style that works.

A music style is a language.  Styles are not inherently right or wrong.  While rock was once considered to be rebellious, everyone under 65 has grown up with it as the language of their generation.

When I attended Biola College (now University), someone in student leadership invited The Resurrection Band to play in chapel.  (Their motto was, “Music to wake the dead.”)  The band played uncompromisingly fast and hard.  While it wasn’t my style of music, some students walked out during their performance.  (I can still see the red face of a school administrator during the band’s set.)

There wasn’t anything wrong with Rez Band.  Their style worked great in certain venues.  But did it work that day in chapel?  Rather than foist that style on everyone, it might have been better for the planners to ask, “What kind of music do most of our students listen to?  Knowing that, who should we invite for chapel?”

Rather than start with a band or a style, it’s better to start with the target group and work backwards.

Second, determine a style and stick with it.  Every weekend at my church, I know which musical style to expect.


Not classical.  Not jazz.  Not gospel.  Not hip hop.  Not show tunes.  Not folk.


I don’t know when Pastor Don and his music leaders made that decision.  It may have been twenty years ago.  I’m sure when they made it, some people left the church.  When Saddleback Church changed their music years ago, Rick Warren said they lost hundreds but gained thousands.

If a church’s leaders don’t settle on one style, then people will lobby for the style they want behind the scenes.  And if that happens, conflict will break out, and it may not be controllable.

The style chosen should not be the pastor’s preference, or that of the worship leader, or the board, or the biggest donors, or the loudest complainers.

Instead, a style should be chosen that best speaks the language of the target group.

That’s not music – that’s missions.

Finally, make provision for those that prefer another style.  The builder generation grew up on gospel songs and hymns sung to piano and organ accompaniment.  When rock came along, it slowly wiped out gospel songs and most hymns.

When this happened, attendees had five choices:

*sit at home on Sundays and stew.

*watch Charles Stanley, Robert Schuller, or the Crouches on TV on Sundays.

*find a church where you liked the music style.

*threaten to stop attending and giving while recalling the board and firing the pastor.

*try and adapt to the style as much as possible.

I don’t like the “take it or leave it” approach.  There is something inherently selfish about it.  If you’ve been attending a church for years, and you love the church and its mission and its people, but you can’t stomach the new music, should you be forced to leave?

I don’t think so.

Imagine that you love rock, but that this Sunday, the worship music is done in a hip hop style.  It’s done that way the next Sunday … and the next … and the next …

You’d probably ask, “Hey, aren’t we switching back to rock on Sundays?”  If the answer was, “No, we’re a hip hop church now,” what would you do?

That’s how many churchgoers felt when hymns were exchanged for rock.

That’s why I’m a big advocate of the multi-venue approach on Sundays.  Everyone hears the same sermon – live or via a DVD – but people can choose the music they prefer from several different styles.

At the very least, a church can offer one or two contemporary services along with a more traditional one.

When people have:

*attended a church faithfully for years

*served the Lord with their gifts

*donated thousands of dollars, and

*prayed consistently for its leaders …

how can church leaders force those people to leave because they don’t like a church’s new musical direction?

Let me suggest a truce:

Church leaders can freely choose the musical style they believe will best reach their target group without interference,

and in exchange,

church leaders make provision for those who don’t like the new music to enjoy their old music in another venue.

Your thoughts?

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I am crazy about music.

In fact, as I’m writing, I’m listening to the aching beauty of Phil Keaggy’s guitar on iTunes.

But I can remember a time in the late 1970s when many Christians would go ballistic if they heard drums or a guitar in a worship service.  In fact, the 1980s featured the infamous “worship wars” in thousands of churches.

In some ways, the worship wars have subsided.  Boomers and their music are dominant in most churches today.  It’s rare to hear exclusive piano-organ instrumentation in services anymore.

But that doesn’t mean that music ministries are conflict-free today.  Far from it.

In fact, I believe there are qualities inherent in music ministry that readily lend themselves to conflict.

Let me share some of them with you:

First, people involved in music ministry want to sing and play perfectly.

I once had a discussion about music with Craig Bidondo, our music director in Santa Clara for three years.  Craig told me that he loved to play jazz on his keyboard because he was free to improvise, but if he played a classical piece, he had to get it note-perfect.

This is why vocalists and musicians rehearse for hours.  They want to present God their best when His people gather together.

But what happens if a backup singer is off-key, or the bass player keeps missing notes, or the sound guy doesn’t get the mix right?

That one person can affect everyone else on the team – and greatly upset the other musicians and singers.

But if they express their concerns, the offender may lash out or feel hurt.

Those of us who aren’t musical performers need to understand the stresses that singers and instrumentalists feel when they’re onstage.  We need to pray for them by name that God will use them to honor Him and touch people’s spirits – and that they will all support each other.

Second, those involved in music ministry want to look good onstage.  Microphones pick up every note played and sung to the congregation.  Lights reveal the various shapes and wardrobes and hairstyles of musicians and singers.

It’s natural for those onstage to want to look and sound their best – and this can make them feel self-conscious.

Those of us in the congregation do notice how people look and sound onstage, especially in churches where everyone up-front appears larger than life on giant video screens.

This magnficiation of people’s appearances and voices can make vocalists and musicians extremely sensitive.

25 years ago, I visited the Oakland Coliseum on a Friday morning to watch a Fantasy Baseball Game involving former members of the A’s.  There were maybe 100 of us in the stands.  At one point, I looked at the scoreboard and saw my face up there – and I was horrified.  If I had known I looked like that … I would have hidden my face between pitches … and I had no appreciable talent.

Christian musicians and singers can feel that way sometimes as well.  Just understand – and encourage them.

Third, the pastor and the music/worship director sometimes aren’t in sync.  This one is huge.

I was on the staff of an Orange County church where the music director was a woman.  She was a gifted accompaniest and vocalist – and I liked her personally – but boy, was she opinionated!  She liked a certain music style and was going to do things her way, and if you didn’t like it – tough.

She rubbed many in the congregation the wrong way.  They in turn constantly complained about her weight and aggressiveness and stylistic preferences.

When the pastor backed her up, she was fine.  But if he caved on her, she was toast.

She didn’t last very long.

My pastor is fond of saying that he doesn’t have to adjust to his staff – his staff have to adjust to him.

I’m in complete agreement with that sentiment.

I believe that the lead pastor and the worship director need to settle on a host of issues, including:

*the predominant style on Sundays

*the number of praise/worship songs

*the number of vocalists/musicians onstage

*the pre-service/post-service music

*a host of other issues

And just in case matters aren’t clear, they should put their decisions in writing.

While the pastor is ultimately responsible for the worship services, the music director is directly responsible for the music.

My preference was for the music director to suggest praise/worship/performance music.  I valued that input.  And if I had a song I wanted done, I would tell him.

I also had the right to veto songs I didn’t think fit, especially sappy songs that men couldn’t sing in church.

The pastor and the music director need to communicate constantly.  The worship director has the right to share his opinions, but he ultimately needs to abide by the wishes of the lead pastor.

And it’s the job of the music director to communicate and gently enforce the pastor’s directives for music to his team.

When the worship director can no longer do so, he needs to make plans to leave rather than use his musicians and vocalists to push back against the pastor.

J. Vernon McGee was fond of saying that when Satan fell from heaven, he fell in the middle of the choir loft.

While there are fewer choirs in our churches today, Satan still knows how to stir up trouble involving music.

But when everyone is working together, the music ministry can lead people into God’s presence and prepare hearts for the preaching of God’s Word.

Any thoughts on what I’ve written?

I’ll share more about music in my next article.

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There’s an inspiring scene in Steven Spielberg’s new film War Horse that sheds light on the conflicts in our lives.

Joey, the war horse, is trapped in barbed wire in No Man’s Land during World War 1.  An English soldier spots him through the mist and boldly leaves his trench to free him.  Holding up a white flag to declare a temporary ceasefire – with his buddies in the trench calling for his return – the soldier reaches Joey but cannot free him alone.

A German soldier emerges from his fortifications to help Joey as well, and he knows how to remove the barbed wire from Joey’s body.  The German secures wire cutters and both men proceed to liberate this extraordinary horse – while keeping a wary eye on the other.

While the enemies work together to free Joey, they illustrate four lessons we can learn about conflict:

First, view combatants as humans.  After working on Joey, both men share their names with each other.  They aren’t faceless persons stuffied into combat fatigues, but real people with hopes and histories.

When fortified inside their own trenches, soldiers on both sides demonized their opponents as threats to be eradicated.  But when they began to work together, they grasped that their enemies weren’t evil spirits, but normal people like themselves.

Second, move toward each other.  As long as both men remained in their trenches, Joey’s life was in danger.  But when the two soldiers took the risk of standing next to each other, they were able to do together what they couldn’t do alone.

When we’re having a conflict with a spouse or a boss or a pastor, it’s human nature to stay hidden in our own trench so we feel safe.  But when we emerge from our safety and stand near our opponent, we open up the possibility for healing.

Third, speak with your combatant.  While working on Joey, the two men discussed the impact the war was having on them.  They knew that after the ceasefire, they’d start lobbing bombs at each other again.  I sensed that if not for the war, these men would have freed Joey and then shared a meal together.  But at least they talked with each other directly.

If Christians just followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15, most conflicts between Christians – and inside churches – would instantly die: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

When in conflict with others, our natural tendency is to move away from them and to tell others about them.  But Jesus says to move toward them and speak to them directly instead.

Finally, people desire peace, not conflict.  During Spielberg’s combat scenes, the soldiers battle their feelings and try to slaughter their opponents, but nobody enjoys war except masochists.  It’s normal to get to know another person.  It’s abnormal to try and kill them.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  When the two soldiers had liberated Joey, they both claimed him as their own, and could have started their own conflict – but they flipped a coin for him instead.

This scene in this film was so moving that I plan to show it when I teach on conflict.

If you haven’t seen War Horse yet, it’s a film of grandeur and sensitivity.  But be forewarned – there are some real tear-jerking moments.

But I will always remember it because of two soldiers from opposing armies who united together to free a horse.

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The church my wife and I attend opened last Sunday’s service with a Tom Petty song.

No, we didn’t sing it as a worship song.  The band performed it.

No, it wasn’t “Free Fallin’,” even though that song mentions Jesus.

No, it wasn’t “Southern Accents,” even though the bridge always moves me.  (“There’s a dream I keep having/where my mama comes to me/ and kneels down over by the window/and says a prayer for me.”)

The song was “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and it was done well, even down to the “woo hoos.”  (The song went along with the theme “Catch the Vision for 2012.”)

With all the great worship songs out there, why would a church start a service with a song by a secular artist?

It all has to do with having an outreach orientation.

I grew up being taught the following evangelism philosophy:

The church gathers for worship weekly.  Then its people scatter back to their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces to live out and share the gospel with unbelievers.

How well does that philosophy work?

At least in my experience, not very well.  The latest statistics are that only 2% of all Christians share their faith.  Most churches grow because believers leave smaller/unhealthy churches for a megachurch.

But how is that fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission?

I believe that being an outreach-oriented church isn’t about programming but about a mindset.

That’s why I was blown away by the State of the Church report that our pastor, Don Wilson, shared with our church last Sunday.

Let me share 12 things that Christ’s Church of the Valley (CCV) does well that demonstrates its outreach-orientation.  Please forgive me if it sounds like I’m a pitchman for the church.  The church has its flaws, but it does so many things right that it constantly amazes me.

1. Mission: WIN people to Christ, TRAIN believers to become disciples, SEND disciples to impact the world.

The church’s mission is WIN, TRAIN, SEND.

Notice the order: outreach is first, training is second.  Isn’t this the order of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20?  “Make disciples … baptize them … teach them …”

In my experience, if outreach isn’t first, it won’t happen.

Parking Lot Attendant at CCV

2. Vision: Pastor Don doesn’t just want to win the community around the church for Christ.  He wants to win all of Phoenix for Christ because 86% of the people in Arizona don’t attend church.

That’s a huge vision!

The church is located on Happy Valley Road in northwest Phoenix, but people drive long distances to attend the church, coming from as far away as Surprise and Scottsdale.

A few years ago, CCV planted a church in Surprise.  In 2011, that church became CCV Surprise.  While the church in Surprise has a live worship time, Pastor Don’s messages are shown there on video.  In 2012, CCV will expand into Scottsdale.

3. Target: the church targets men.

If a church targets children, the whole family will come to church 7% of the time.

If a church targets mothers, 18% of the time.

If a church targets fathers, 93% of the time.

This may explain why there are TV monitors in the refreshment areas featuring sporting events every Sunday.  Last year, I watched an NFL playoff game at church while enjoying a hamburger lunch.  There was no reason to hurry home.

The church also offers competitive sports leagues on its campus, including an upcoming tackle football league.

Play Area for Kids at CCV

4. Strategy: the church encourages people to invite their friends, family members, and co-workers.

9% of the people who attend CCV came because they drove by.

9% found the church online.

11% saw the CCV bumper sticker on someone’s car.  (You see them everywhere in Phoenix.)

68% attend because they were invited by someone who already attends the church.

For churchgoers to invite others, their church has to offer people answers and experiences they cannot find anywhere else.

If I’m excited about my church, I will invite others.

Guests I Invited - They Each Get a Free Meal

5. Statistics: I do not believe any church can be measured merely by statistics, but they do tell a story.

Pastor Don said that the church aims to grow in 3 areas by 10% each year.

2010 worship attendance: 15,377 per week

2011 worship attendance: 17,855 per week

CCV Worship Center

2010 baptisms: 1,175

2011 baptisms: 1,539

2010 neighborhood group attendance: 5,711

2011 neighborhood group attendance: 8,158

6. Example: Pastor Don made a point of telling the church that he attends a neighborhood group, he invited neighbors to church, and he and his wife pledged to increase their giving for 2012.

Whenever a pastor challenges believers to do something, those people are wondering, “Are you doing what you’re asking us to do?”  Most people won’t know about a pastor’s involvement unless he shares it himself.

7. Training: CCV has four ways of training people: Starting Point (a once-a-month class orientation class); Foundations (where the church’s beliefs are presented); Neighborhood Groups (which are designed for both spiritual growth and outreach); and T-Groups (the “T” standing for Transformation, groups of 3 people who help each other grow spiritually).

Information Area, Normally Packed at Weekend Services

8. Missions: the church goes on short-term mission trips to places like Kenya, China, and Ireland, where they’re planting a church this year.  Pastor Don also travels to Africa several times a year to train pastors.  The church’s missions’ budget is $2.3 million annually.

Kenya? Did Someone Mention Kenya?

9. Compassion: the church assisted 1,400 families financially in 2011; provides free funerals (including the one for Harmon Killebrew); and has a team of people who assist widows.

Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson after Harmon Killebrew's Funeral at CCV

My wife fell in the parking lot one Sunday morning, and within a couple minutes, a woman in a golf cart picked us up and drove us to the lobby entrance.  We were blown away by the culture of service.

10. Elders: the church has 9 elders, including a friend of ours we highly respect.

3 elders are selected every year.  Their names and brief biographies are placed in the program at the end of each year.  If you think there’s a reason they shouldn’t be an elder, you’re to write down that reason and submit it.

The elders are responsible for the church’s doctrinal purity and financial integrity, as well as praying for the sick and for the pastor before he preaches.

11. Impact: Toward the end of last week’s message, Pastor Don announced that CCV is now the 10th largest church in America, and one of the fastest growing.

And the church will celebrate its 30th anniversary this April.

Line for Christmas Eve Service at CCV

By the way, Pastor Don doesn’t compromise the gospel or any biblical commandments.  He hits the hard issues head-on.

12. Conflict: The more outreach-oriented a church truly is, the less conflict they have.  The more inreach-oriented a church is, the more conflict they have.

It’s possible that I may be leaving Phoenix soon.  If so, the Lord may have wanted me here in part to learn from a church like CCV.

I am not suggesting that your church should become like CCV.  Far from it!  But we can all learn something from other churches, especially those that are effectively winning people to Christ.

May the Lord richly bless you and your church in 2012!

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“Pastor, I’d like to set up an appointment with you soon.  When are you available?”

Whenever someone asked me that, my first reaction was to wonder if I had done something wrong.

I’d plumb the catacombs of my memory trying to figure out what I had done.  Was it something I said in a message?  Were they coming to complain about the music?  Or did their visit concern a problem with a spouse or another churchgoer?

I almost always got it wrong.

Like most people, pastors do not enjoy being confronted about anything – so pastors respond to confrontation in various ways. But as I mentioned in the previous article, it is biblical to confront a pastor about wrongdoing, although you may question if you’re the best one to do it.

If you do confront a pastor about a personal sin, let me share with you six possible reactions you might encounter, from the least to the most likely:

First, some pastors will question your right to confront them at all.  They will tell you they work for the Lord, not for anyone else, and that He alone corrects them.

In that case I’d be tempted to say, “If the Lord is the One who corrects you, maybe He hasn’t been paying attention recently,” but that’s probably unwise.

The pastor might even pull out that famous Old Testament phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”

But realize that this phrase refers in context to David’s refusal to kill King Saul when he had the chance (1 Samuel 24:6,10).  Gently tell your pastor that you do not intend to end his life but to prolong his ministry by discussing a concern with him.

My guess is that there are few pastors around today who will respond this way.  Pastors may not admit it, but they do listen to their wives, kids, key donors, and close friends, so they don’t just listen to the Lord.

Second, some pastors will criticize you to others.  If you confront them, they will tell the staff, the board, their colleagues, and their family that you dared to take them on.  I even know of a pastor who would bring up people’s criticisms of him in the pulpit and then slam them (though not by name) in front of the congregation.

That’s one way to keep people from approaching you with their concerns.

This is the response many Christians fear most if they confront a pastor over an issue.  While it’s legitimate for a pastor to ask those closest to him if someone’s criticism might be valid, it’s unethical and unprofessional for him to take that concern into the pulpit.

Third, some pastors will listen to your concerns but disagree with your assessment.

If you express concern about the church’s direction, they’ll say you’re the first person who has ever disagreed with it.

If you tell them their humor borders on the tasteless, they’ll tell you that others seem to appreciate it.

If you criticize their preaching, they will tell you they don’t see it your way.

Many pastors are masters at making you feel like there is something wrong with you for having and sharing a different viewpoint.  If you receive this response, stand your ground but leave the ball in his court.

No matter who it is, you must earn the right to confront somene about an issue.

I once went to lunch with a man on the fringe of the church (and society) who decided to tell me what was wrong with my preaching.  In my view, he hadn’t earned the right to tell me how to teach God’s Word, so I told him, “If you don’t like my preaching, go somewhere else.”  He was the wrong messenger.

It’s not that I can’t learn from others.  I can.  (A board member once scolded me for putting down his beloved Dodgers during my sermons.  I stopped.)

Fourth, some pastors will confess, “You may be right.”  I learned that phrase from Marshall Shelley’s classic book on church conflict, Well-Intentioned Dragons.  This phrase lets people know they’ve been heard without committing the pastor to change.

“Pastor, the music is too loud in our worship services.”

“You may be right.”

“Pastor, I don’t think this church is ready for 55-minute messages.”

“You may be right.”

However, you can’t expect the pastor to use that phrase in a robotic fashion:

“Pastor, you should disband the board and run the church yourself.”

“You may be right.”

“Pastor, you should fire the associate pastor because he’s incompetent.”

“You may be right.”

The good thing about this phrase is that it shows your pastor has heard you – and isn’t that one of the goals in Matthew 18:15?  Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Fifth, some pastors will thank you for speaking with them.

This has been my response whenever people have confronted me about an issue.  Whether I agreed with them or not, I would tell them, “Thanks for bringing your concern directly to me.”

It takes courage to talk to a pastor, especially when he’s revered or has enjoyed a long tenure.  So whenever anybody came to me, I’d reinforce their adherence to Matthew 18:15 by acknowledging how difficult it must have been for them to approach me – and how much they must care about me for taking the risk.

I believe the great majority of pastors today will thank for you speaking with them as long as you approach them wisely.  (See previous article.)

Finally, some pastors will hear you out and make appropriate changes.  Pastors can be a very proud species.  You’re more liable to receive a defensive response to a confrontation than hear the phrase, “I totally agree with you.  I’ll make immediate plans to implement the changes you’ve suggested!”

So the likelihood is that if a pastor agrees with the substance of your concern, he may wait a while before making changes … so it looks like it was his idea.  But who cares as long as changes are made?

And he may have you to thank!

What are your thoughts about pastors and confrontation?

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*True or false: pastors are infallible.

That’s false.  I grew up in a pastor’s home, married a pastor’s daughter, and became a pastor myself, so I know better than most that pastors are sinners saved by God’s grace, just like every other believer.

*True or false: pastors need other believers to help them grow.

That’s true.  No matter how close a pastor is to God, he is still an imperfect being, and will be until he becomes like Jesus in the next life.  Pastors need mentors and friends and family just like anybody else.

*True or false: pastors sometimes need to be confronted about an issue in their life.

That’s true.  We all have our blind spots, pastors included.  Pastors can be lazy, or bitter, or insensitive, or arrogant – just like non-clergy.  If someone who loves a pastor confronts him about a possible sin, and that pastor changes, then he will grow more quickly to become like Christ.

*True or false: a pastor’s wife is the only person qualified to confront him.

That’s false.  While she may be in the best position to do so – living with him all week long – she may become so accustomed to his faults that she’s learned to overlook them.  Because my own wife has been so positive toward me and my ministry over the years, when she has taken the risk of confronting me, I know she’s usually right.

However, a pastor has interactions with many people when his spouse isn’t around, such as staff members, board members, counselees, ministry leaders, and people in the community.  A pastor’s wife can’t possibly witness all of his relationships.

*True or false: God may choose to use you to confront your pastor about an issue.

That’s true.  He may use you.

Imagine that some men from your church invite you to play basketball, and your pastor comes along.  You’re excited because you’ll have a chance to see who he really is away from the church.

But it doesn’t take long to discover that your pastor is extremely competitive.  He travels with the ball but won’t admit it, fouls other players without owning up to it, and throws in a few profane words at inopportune times.  And besides, every time his team scores, he engages in trash talk.

You’re hurt, disappointed, and even a bit angry.  What, if anything, should you do about it?

Your options:

You can let it go and treat his behavior as an anomaly.

You can ask other players what they thought about the pastor’s behavior.

You can go home and pray for your pastor.

You can write a letter to the church board and tell them how he misbehaved.

You can throw the ball at the pastor, or give him an elbow on the next rebound, or …

You can talk to the pastor yourself.

I recently saw the film We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon.  (Great film, by the way.)  In the film, Damon’s character has a talk with his son and refers to the importance of “twenty seconds of insane courage.”

In other words, if you have something important to say to someone, but you’re afraid, you only need “twenty seconds of insane courage” to say it.

Why should you be the one to say something?

Because you witnessed his behavior … which is why you can’t pass this assignment off on someone who didn’t experience it.

Some tips:

*Talk to him directly.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you [and your pastor is your brother, too], go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

Instead of pronouncing judgment upon him (“May God strike you dead for using foul language!”), ask him a question, like:

“Why do you use those words out here but not in the pulpit?”

“Why can’t you admit that you’re guilty of fouls like the rest of us?”

Even if the pastor is in a competitive zone and brushes you off initially, if he’s truly a man of God, he’ll eventually grapple with your questions.

I have a theory: in the majority of cases where a pastor is involuntarily terminated, those who are angry with him (staff members, the church board, others in the congregation) have never shared their concerns with him directly.  They tell everybody except the pastor … a clear violation of Jesus’ words.

*Talk to him privately.  Nobody likes to lose face by being reprimanded in public, including pastors.  Jesus says to “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

If you’ve trained yourself to confront other believers, then you could wait until after the game and ask the pastor if you could speak with him for a moment.  During those “twenty seconds of courage,” let him know that you love him but that his behavior stepped over a line.  Next:

*Talk to him lovingly.  Jesus says, “If he listens to you …”

Let me be honest here.  Many pastors are not good listeners.  They love to hear themselves talk but aren’t quite as generous when others are speaking.  You need to use a tone that compels your pastor to hear you.  I’d opt for a gentle tone (not a judgmental one) as mentioned in Galatians 6:1.  Finally:

*Talk to him redemptively.  What’s the aim of any confrontation?  Jesus encourages us to win our brother over.

We’re not trying to harm our pastor, but restore him.  He’s temporarily become fragmented.  We’re trying to help him become whole again.

Let me end today’s article with a quote from Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker:

“Your responsibility to go to someone who is caught in sin does not vanish just because that person is in a position of authority over you (e.g., an employer or a church elder).  Since these people are as human as you are, they will also sin and need correction (see 1 Tim. 5:19-20).  Of course, you may need to exercise special care in choosing your words when you talk with such a person.  Speak in a respectful manner, and do all you can to affirm your regard for that person’s authority.  In doing so, you may not only encourage needed changes, but also increase that person’s respect for you.”

Next time, I’ll discuss various ways that pastors respond when someone confronts them.

Have you ever confronted your pastor about an issue?  If so, how did it turn out?

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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