Archive for March, 2013

Jesus Christ is my Savior.

He was executed on a Roman cross twenty centuries ago.  That’s history.

But I also believe He died for me.  That’s faith.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered death … and sin … and hell … and Satan.

And in the process, He become Lord of All.

So when Jesus became my Savior, He also became my Lord … my Director … my Benevolent Master.  Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This is why the New Testament so often refers to “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  In this context, the word “Lord” refers to Jesus not only as our Director, but more importantly, as God.

And when Jesus taught, He was speaking the very words of God.

Whenever He engaged in debate with the Jewish leaders, He quoted the Old Testament as the final arbiter for His followers.

And when He selected the apostles, He made provision for the writing of the New Testament … mostly written by His apostles Matthew, John, Paul, Peter, and John.

There are two ways to look at Jesus’ relationship to the Bible:

One way is to start with the Bible and then embrace Jesus by saying, “I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that the Gospel writers accurately reported what Jesus did and said.”

Another way is to start with Jesus and say, “I believe Jesus is my Savior and Lord and that I adopt His view of the Scriptures … that they are divinely-inspired and authoritative for all His followers.”

Jesus does not allow us to say, “I will receive you as Savior, but not as Lord.”

But that’s exactly what too many professing Christians are doing right now with gay marriage … or as the culture puts it … marriage equality.

Christians today seem to want all the privileges of salvation without embracing any of the responsibilities of discipleship.

(If you’d like, you can read what I wrote about this issue last May: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2012/05/10/thoughts-on-gay-marriage/)

I expect the culture to cave on this issue.  I expect secular politicians, entertainers, commentators, and justices to wilt … and I expect the Republican party to cave as well, guaranteeing they they’ll lose future elections by even larger margins.

Like you, I know all the arguments for and against gay marriage.

But it grieves my soul … almost to the point of torment … to hear professing Christians – especially Christian leaders – cave on this issue as well.

Because for a follower of Jesus, this is about one thing and one thing only:

Is Jesus your Lord or not?

If not, just declare that you have given yourself the right to pick and choose which commandments of Jesus you will obey:

Adultery?  Since it’s so prevalent, it must now be relevant.

Stealing?  Must be permissible in certain situations.

Idolatry?  What an archaic viewpoint!

Murder?  Well, that’s wrong … unless we’re killing a fetus with a heartbeat, in which case it’s perfectly permissible.

Because too many Christians are living like this already, the church in America is losing its voice … its nerve … and its impact.

But if Jesus is your Lord … if you sincerely seek to follow Him … if you believe that Jesus’ words truly set people free … then what will you do with His words in Matthew 19:4-6?  Jesus said:

“Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Four points:

*Jesus quotes from Genesis 2:24, the definitive and authoritative biblical text on marriage.  Paul, the Christian apostle, cites Genesis 2:24 as the basis for marriage in Ephesians 5:31.

Jesus the Christ … Moses the Lawgiver … and Paul the apostle … all agree on the importance of this verse for marriage.  That’s a pretty powerful trio … and I’d rather follow their wisdom than that of Beyoncé, Bill O’Reilly, or Barack Obama.

*This directive is trans-cultural.  Jesus doesn’t cite a poll or an article in the Jerusalem Journal.  He goes back to the beginning … back to creation … back to the loving and wise intentions of God the Father.

Marriage is a gift from God to human beings.  Animals don’t get married.  Stars and plants and rocks aren’t capable of a lifetime commitment of love.

*The verse does not envision or permit marriage between two men or two women.  3,500 years of orthodox Judaism and 2,000 years of Christianity both recognize this fact … as well as the teachings of Islam and Mormonism.

If God intended men to marry men and women to marry women, He had 1,500 years to state His viewpoint while the Bible was being written.  But rather than change His position, He solidified it over time.

And He isn’t issuing any new Scriptures.

*God’s ideal for the family is for two heterosexuals to marry each other … for two heterosexuals to be parents … and for two heterosexuals to produce children.

I think most “Christians” who applaud gay marriage are just jumping on the cultural bandwagon.  It’s a way to feel cool … to brand oneself as open-minded and progressive … to feel real empathy for people who wish to live in a committed relationship.

I get all of that.

But most of us don’t realize where this is headed.

Because “marriage equality” will prove to be a Trojan Horse inside Jesus’ church:

*Bible versions may have to be rewritten.  The words of Moses and Jesus and Paul may have to be changed to reflect this reality.

In fact, entire sections of Scripture – like 1 Corinthians 7 – may have to undergo extensive revision.  Some people will insist on it … and even take Bible publishers to court.

And some parts of the Bible may either have to be rewritten or eliminated because they “offend” certain people.

I’ve heard the argument, “How will two people who love each other and want to get married hurt you?”

But where will this end?  Based upon the evolution of people’s position on this issue, it won’t end until everyone in the culture is forced to recognize “marriage equality.”

*Jesus’ views on marriage (as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 19) may be branded as archaic and even dangerous.

Pastors may not be able to quote from Matthew 19:4-6 at wedding ceremonies because Jesus doesn’t discuss the possibility of “marriage equality.”

And the words of Moses and Paul on marriage may be branded as bigoted … unenlightened … irrelevant … and hostile.

After all, doesn’t culture know best … even better than the “Son of God?”

*Pastors and churches will be sued (this has already started to happen) for not marrying gay couples.

What Uncle Sam has given … Uncle Sam will be happy to take away.

And just like in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and China today, the day is coming when churches will have to register with the government … and if churches don’t comply, they will be closed down and their pastors will be arrested.

Will you decide to speak up then?

In fact, what do Christian pastors in America believe anymore?  Do they still believe in the Lordship of Christ?  If so, why aren’t they equipping their congregations to handle these issues?

When is the last time your pastor addressed this issue publicly?  If not, why not?

But the silence coming from our pulpits is deafening … and we’re conceding the issue without a struggle … demonstrating to the culture that Christians are pushovers who lack the courage of their convictions.

We may have already lost the fight about “marriage equality” in the culture … but God’s people cannot acquiesce or approve of it inside our churches.

This issue of gay marriage isn’t just about gays or marriage.

For Christians, it’s about the Lordship of Christ, the infallibility of God’s written Word, and the right of Christians to hold and express our faith without government interference.

As Peter and John told the Jewish Supreme Court when ordered to shut up in Acts 5:29:

“We must obey God rather than men!”

Jesus is my Lord.

If you’re a Christ-follower, is He yours?

Or is culture your Lord?

It’s your call.

And the decision you make – and the way you arrive at that decision – will determine the influence of the Christian church for years to come.

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Toward the end of the last millennium, the American Film Institute produced a list of the Top 100 Films of All-Time.  Since I was unfamiliar with most of them, I systematically visited the local video store and checked out as many as I could.

One of those films was High Noon – now listed by the Institute as the 27th greatest film ever.

Last night, through the magic of Roku, my wife and I watched the film again.

Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane.  (My brother John has lived for years in Montana on land once owned by Gary Cooper.)  As the film opens, it’s Kane’s wedding day.  He’s marrying Amy (played by Grace Kelly).

But as they’re ready to leave on their honeymoon, Kane and his wife learn that the dreaded Frank Miller has been released from prison … and is coming to town on the noontime train … to wreak vengeance on the marshal who put him behind bars.

As evidence of this fact, Miller’s brother and two cohorts ride through the middle of town toward the train depot while all the townspeople scatter.

Marshal Kane is advised to hightail it out of town with his bride and not look back.  After all, a new marshal is scheduled to take over the next day.  Let him handle the Ferocious Four.

Kane is torn.  On the one hand, everybody’s telling him to leave town with Amy … so that’s what he does.  But five minutes outside town, he turns around and goes back, telling Amy that they’ll never be safe if he doesn’t confront Frank Miller and his boys now.

As I watched the film with fascination, I saw many parallels between the way people reacted to the conflict inside their town and the way churchgoers respond to open conflict at their church:

First, everyone feels anxious when a group’s leader experiences an attack.

The opening scenes of High Noon show a town that’s been rejuvenated.  The people of the town are having fun and laughing.

But when Ben Miller (Frank’s younger brother) and his two buddies ride through town, everybody gets off the street and hides.

The town became a happy place because of the work done by Marshal Kane.  He’s the one who cleaned up the streets and made the place safe for women and children.

But as anxiety rises in the town, people begin to engage in self-preservation.

When a group – and it’s always a group – attacks a pastor, the entire church senses something is wrong.

Sometimes people can tell a pastor is under attack because he’s no longer himself.  He lowers his head, doesn’t smile, and seems jittery.

Other times, people start to hear rumors about the pastor – or charges by people who don’t like him.

And as anxiety begins to spread around the church, people start heading for the tall grass.

Second, a leader under attack needs reinforcements.

Marshal Kane was a tall, strong man who knew how to handle a gun.  But would he prevail in a showdown with four experienced gunmen?

Probably not – so Kane began asking the townspeople for help.  He asked men whom he had once deputized.  He asked the guys in the local saloon.  He even interrupted a church service and asked the congregation if a few men would volunteer to assist him.

After all, if 8 or 10 men stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to Kane, then maybe Frank Miller and his gang would see they were outnumbered and just ride out of town.

No pastor attacked by a group in a church can survive unless he has reinforcements.

Maybe some staff members are willing to stand with him … or the entire governing board … or some former leaders … or a group of longtime friends.

If the associate pastor stands with the pastor … along with the board chairman … and a few other key leaders, the pastor may have enough support to turn back the Gang of Gunmen.

But without that support, the pastor … and possibly the church … are toast.

Third, most people bail on their leader when he needs them the most.

This is the heart of the film.

Amy, the marshal’s new bride, runs away from her husband when they return to town because she’s a Quaker and doesn’t want to see any killing.

The guys in the saloon prove worthless.

The people in the church discuss helping their marshal … then decide against doing anything at all.  (The pastor says he doesn’t know what to do.)

And Marshal Kane can’t convince any of his deputies to help him.  One who said he’d stand by his leader runs when he discovers nobody else will help the marshal, and the current deputy is angry with Kane because he wasn’t selected to be marshal after Kane’s tenure.

Kane even goes to see a former girlfriend … and she announces she’s leaving town, too.

Over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, there were attempts to get rid of me on three separate occasions.

The first two times, the board stood with me.

The last time, most of the staff and a group of current and former leaders stood with me.

But when most pastors are threatened, everybody bails on them.

Why is this?

Because people aren’t informed?  Because it’s not their fight?

No, it’s usually because those who stand beside their pastor when he’s under attack end up enduring the same vilification that the pastor receives … and few are willing to suffer like that.

Finally, the only way to defeat the attackers is to stand strong.

After Frank Miller came in on the noon train, he and his boys left for town to carry out their plan: kill Marshal Kane.

At the same time, Kane’s former girlfriend climbed onto the train … along with his wife Amy.

When Amy hears shots, she instinctively bolts off the train and heads for town.

When she gets there, her husband has already killed two of the four gunmen.

While the drunks in the saloon nervously wait … and Kane’s friends hide in their homes … and the congregation down the road prays … Amy, of all people, defends her husband.

And in so doing, she saves his life … and their future together.

When a group attacks a pastor, they have one of two goals in mind: defeat him (by forcing him to leave) or destroy him (by ruining his reputation and damaging his career).

Because most pastors are tender souls, he usually has just two chances to emerge victorious after such a showdown: slim and none.

Even if the pastor wilts while attacked … and most do … the attackers can be driven away – and even eradicated – if the pastor has just a few Amys on his side.

While we have several incidents in the New Testament where a spiritual leader is corrected (Paul opposed Peter to his face in Galatians; Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos in Acts 18), we don’t have any incidents in the New 
Testament where a group of believers tries to destroy their spiritual leader.

So let’s do our best to eliminate this ecclesiastical plague in the 21st century.

With the Gang of Four lying motionless on the town’s streets, the townspeople come outside and cheer Amy and Marshal Kane … who drops his badge onto the street and leaves town for the final time.

Once upon a time, pastors would endure an attack in one church … then go to another church, where they’d be attacked again … then do the same thing several more times.

In our day, most pastors are leaving ministry after the first attack.

If High Noon ever comes to your church, don’t just talk or pray.  If your pastor is being unfairly accused, be willing to fight with him.

Because if he leaves town, the Gang of Four will end up in charge.

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I was a pastor for 36 years.  During that time, I never wanted to know how much churchgoers gave to the church.

Why not?

Because I didn’t want the amount people gave to influence the way I served them.

If someone who was poor went to the hospital, I didn’t want to think, “They don’t give much to the church, so I won’t see them.”

There’s a difference of opinion on this matter among pastors.

I’ve read that about half of all pastors know how much people from their church give.  The pastor enters his office on Monday morning and reviews computer records stating who gave how much at the previous weekend’s services.

Pastors who access this information argue that it’s tremendously helpful.  For example, if a family has stopped giving, maybe they’re having job or financial issues, and the pastor can reach out to them.

More ominously, a family that stops giving may be angry with the pastor or the church and may be hoping to (a) influence church policy, or even (b) eventually get rid of the pastor.  Withholding giving may be an early warning sign of trouble.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to know what everybody is giving.

But a pastor absolutely needs to know about the giving patterns of key church leaders … especially members of the staff and board … and preferably before they become church leaders.

Years ago, a district minister told me that when he was a pastor, and he was considering someone as a board member, he first checked with the financial secretary to discover that person’s giving pattern.

If the person was a generous giver (what looked like a tithe), he’d be considered for the governing board.  If he wasn’t a generous giver, his name would be dropped from consideration.

From what I understand, this is standard practice among growing, impactful churches.

Why is this important?

First, church leaders are required to set an example for the rest of the church.

If they’re giving generously, they’ll communicate that to their social network … and challenge their friends to follow their giving example.

But if they aren’t giving generously – or at all – they will also communicate their non-giving in subtle ways.

I heard Bill Hybels speak on giving several times, and during his message, he invited his listeners at Willow Creek to look at his checkbook after the service to see if he was practicing what he was preaching.

Following his example, I issued the same challenge whenever I preached on giving.

Wouldn’t it be great if the pastoral staff and governing board of your church did the same thing?  At the end of a service on giving one Sunday, the pastor and leadership team could all stand at the front of the worship center with their checkbooks open, as if to tell the people of their church, “As your leaders, you can follow our example of generosity.”

After all, doesn’t 1 Peter 5:2-4 state that spiritual leaders should not be “greedy for money” but “examples to the flock?”

And how can leaders let people know they’re generous givers unless the leaders tell them?

Second, church leaders need to invest in advancing Christ’s kingdom locally.

When a leader gives abundantly to his church, he’s saying, “I believe in what we’re doing and where we’re going.  I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”  By investing his money, he’s investing himself.

But when a leader isn’t giving, he’s implicitly communicating, “I’m not behind our pastor or our vision.”  In that sense, withholding giving can become a subversive action.

And yet, in staff and board meetings, whenever the topic of money comes up, the other leaders assume that every leader present supports the ministry financially … but nobody is going to confess that they don’t.

Jesus put it clearly in the Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

If your treasure is all at home, that’s where your heart will be.  If some of your treasure is at church, your heart will follow.

By the way, many people assume that a pastor listens attentively to the desires of the large givers in a church, while ignoring the pleas of sparse givers.  But some wealthy believers are up to their neck in debt and give little to their church, while some relatively poor people faithfully give a tithe.

In fact, I cannot ever remember a time when someone in a church threatened to my face to give or not give funds.

Third, church leaders are the ones making financial decisions for the rest of the church.

Generous givers know from personal experience that when they give to God, He is likely to replenish those funds.  They’ll treat church funds the same way.

Stingy givers are making a silent confession that they don’t trust God in their personal life … and that lack of trust will eventually manifest itself when money is discussed at church meetings.

Pastors don’t want non-givers making decisions about church budgets involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Non-giving leaders will usually want to curtail spending because they assume everyone is like them.  They say through their attitudes, “Money is god.  If we don’t have the money, let’s not spend anything.”

But generous leaders are more likely to say, “The Lord is our God.  Money is not god … it’s just a tool.  If God is telling us to do something, let’s step out in faith and do it, trusting Him to take care of our church.”

The phrase on our coinage says, “In God we trust.”  But I’ve met my share of church leaders who trust gold far more than God.

Because most Christians rarely discuss their finances or giving with others, some believers like to quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:3-4: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus says, “Don’t call attention to your giving or brag about it.”  But Jesus never says we can’t discuss it with our family or friends or fellow believers!

In fact, Jesus did discuss other people’s giving with His disciples.  Mark 12:41 says:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.”

Then Jesus noticed a widow who deposited two small copper coins … and called over His disciples to discuss her generosity.

Jesus noticed and discussed how much other people gave with His disciples.

And it seems to me that parents should talk about their giving with their kids … veteran believers with new believers … and current leaders with prospective ones.

Let me put it bluntly:

Church leaders who are generous givers are the ones who stand behind their church and their pastor when crises come.  They’re invested.

Church leaders who are miserly givers are the ones who bail on their church and their pastor when things go south.  They’re not invested.

I can tell you from personal experience: it’s better never to let non-givers into leadership.

And if that reduces the size of the church staff and governing board, so be it.

Because every healthy, growing church is led by generous, obedient leaders.

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Rick Warren tweeted the following a couple nights ago: “God sometimes removes a person from your life for your protection.  Don’t run after them.”

I can certainly envision scenarios where Rick’s advice is warranted.

We’ve all had toxic co-workers leave our workplace and ask if they could keep in touch with us … but after exchanging email addresses, we never write.

And we’ve all had neighbors that we waved goodbye to as they left the neighborhood … while thanking God they’re out of our lives.

But what about fellow Christians?  Is it ever appropriate to burn bridges with another believer?

Rick’s tweet doesn’t distinguish between unbelievers/believers.  I’m not sure what kind of person he had in mind, but I believe his counsel is sound.

And yet some of us … especially those of us who are sensitive … wish we could get along with everybody.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re glad.

In my first pastorate, a board member continually became angry about some things I did or said.  One time, he walked out of a class I was teaching and slammed the door.  Another time, he called me at home to criticize me for something innocuous I had written in the church newsletter.  He could be a teddy bear or a momma bear … and I never knew which he’d be.

Since he was 34 years older than me, I tried placating him, but it never worked … for long.

And then one day, he was directly involved in leading 20 people out of our church … hoping he’d become their new pastor.

When he left, I didn’t run after him.  I never saw him again until I attended his funeral several years later.

And I never felt bad that our relationship was over.

Because with him and his crew out of the way, our church was free to take ministry risks we couldn’t have taken had he been around.

God removed him from my life … first when he left the church, and finally when he died.

And I felt a great sense of relief.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re sad.

I once had a friend who was a pastor in a nearby church.  We got along so well that we began having breakfast together every week.  I felt like I could tell him anything.

Through a series of circumstances, we both ended up as candidates for the same church job.  I didn’t want the job, but it was offered to me, forcing him to take a church position hundreds of miles away.

No matter how much I protested that it wasn’t a setup, he became convinced that the process wasn’t fair and that I should have found another ministry like he did.

While this incident happened 30 years ago, it still hurts to think about it.

The more we invest our lives in specific individuals, the more hopeful we become that our friendship will last forever.

But most friendships last only for a season … until one of us leaves a job, or moves away, or becomes interested in other things.

I never burned my bridges with my friend.  I hope we run into each other someday.

But God allowed that rift for some inexplicable reason … just like He let Paul and Barnabas sail away from each other in Acts 15.

Rick Warren is usually an upbeat, joyful person.  I’ve heard him speak many times, and although he can be serious, he rarely expresses sorrow.

But the only time I’ve seen him cry is when he started talking about the people who have left his church.

And when people leave a church, most pastors view their departure as a personal failure.

Sometimes God removes people from our lives … and we’re mad.

Sometimes we pastors drive people away from our church without knowing it.

In my rookie pastorate, I became incensed at some teaching I was hearing on the radio from a married couple.  One time, I named the heretics, quoted them – and then refuted them.

But because a deacon and his wife loved their teaching, they left the church soon afterwards.

From that experience, I learned to refute teaching without necessarily naming the teachers.

It’s one thing for God to remove people from our lives.

It’s another thing for us to burn the bridges ourselves.

Another time, a family who had been with the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our church.  The wife eventually wanted to begin a ministry to JWs.  I was excited.

And then the family suddenly stopped coming to church.

One night, I went by their place and knocked on their door.  The husband emerged but didn’t want to talk to us.

They had left … for good.  I grieved their exodus for 2 weeks.

I later found out that a troubled woman had misrepresented our ministry to this family and that’s why they left.

And that angered me.

The truth is that we’ve all burned relational bridges with people over the years.

We burn bridges passively when we fail to call or email or visit someone we once knew well.

We burn bridges actively when we cut them off without their knowledge.  (Ever “unfriend” someone on Facebook?)

While it’s hard to make new friends if I hang onto all my old friends, there’s nothing better than hanging out with old friends.

Several months ago, my wife and I enjoyed dinner with my oldest friend and his wife.  We met when we were 10 years old.  I still remember the time and place.

He remembered incidents I had long forgotten … and I recalled people’s names he could no longer place.

We’ve been friends for 49 years.  I want to hang on to his friendship!

But I know others whom I once treasured.  Maybe they eventually moved away … or I did … and the friendship slowly fizzled.

And if we tried to resurrect our relationship, it might not be worth the effort.

We might say that time and distance burned our relational bridge.

18 years ago, I attended the 40th anniversary of the church where I first joined a church staff … and later met my wife.

It was a glorious night … seeing people I hadn’t seen for 20+ years.  We reminisced and laughed and cried.  I didn’t want to leave.

But after I did, I’ve hardly seen any of those people since.

That’s what heaven is for.

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After visiting 50 or so churches over the past several years, I have come to a startling conclusion:

You’ll find the same problem people in every church … they just have different faces and names.

If you stay in the same church for years, you may not understand this phenomenon, but it’s all too real … and would make a great doctoral study!

Let me share five kinds of people you’ll find in every church … three this time, two next time:

First, you’ll find the Protestant Pope.  No puffs of white smoke emerged from the church chimney when this person assumed leadership.  No cardinals dressed in red voted him into office.

But every Protestant church seems to have its own unelected, unofficial lay Pope.

This person once sensed God calling him into ministry.  He may have gone to Bible school or seminary.  Many of these popes are proudly self-taught.

But while they may know Scripture and theology … and the history of their particular church … this does not mean they know how everything at their church should be done.

But boy, do they have an opinion on matters … along with a handful of followers who genuflect at their every utterance.

There are benevolent popes … like the one who encouraged me as a seminarian and gave me cassettes of Christian speakers along with assorted books.

And there are dictatorial popes … like the one who led his Sunday School class out of the church to form a new church … hoping he would become its pastor.  (Didn’t fly.)

While it’s usually wise for the lead pastor to form a relationship with this local church pontiff, pastors tend to be wary of popes … and with good reason.

Who is the unelected Pope at your church?

Second, you’ll find the saboteur.  This person delights in wrecking the plans of a church’s top leaders.

I’ve been watching 43-year-old episodes of the TV show Mission Impossible recently.  (Productive values aside … a lot of their sets look like they’re from the back buildings at the Paramount lot … the show could be fun.)

The missions that Jim Phelps and his team always accepted usually had to do with sabotaging the plans of some third world dictator.  They were to steal a notebook … stage a small coup … capture a list … usually right under the nose of the bad guys.

The MIF team were saboteurs … but they did it to preserve freedom.

However, a local church saboteur seeks to enslave churchgoers.

Their mission … and they always accept it … is to thwart the plans of the lead pastor in any way possible.

Many years ago, the leaders at my church all agreed on a course of action.  I asked a staffer to complete an assignment by a certain deadline.

This person not only failed to carry out the assignment … they collaborated with someone else to sabotage the whole project.

They didn’t agree with the project … and neither did their small group of friends … so they resisted in a passive-aggressive fashion.  (Someone also needs to do a doctoral study on the use of passive-aggressiveness among Christians.)

Saboteurs can be former pastors … or staff members … or office managers … or a pastor’s predecessors.

Or board members.

Saboteurs usually don’t have ideas of their own for growing a ministry … they just seek to slow or stop the pastor’s ideas.

It’s one thing to tell a pastor, “I’m not convinced this is the best way to handle this situation.  Here’s my idea.”

It’s another thing to feign support while in the pastor’s presence and then seek to undermine his God-given vision in the church parking lot.

Who are the saboteurs in your church?

Third, you’ll find Mr. Businessman.  This person either runs their own business or has attained a prominent position in their own company.

This person is convinced that the church needs to be run like a secular business … where decisions are made quickly, unproductive leaders are removed, and money is the bottom line.

And for Mr. Businessman, the church is all about money.

If lives are changed, but the church is falling behind the budget, Mr. Businessman deems the church … and the pastor … a failure.

If the budget is being reached, but little at church is happening, Mr. Businessman views the church as a qualified success.

I’ve searched the New Testament in vain for even one church whose value system was based on this business approach.

Years ago, Christian leader Fred Smith said that a church is not a business … but it shouldn’t be run like a bad business.  I agree.

I thank God for all the godly and wise businesspeople I’ve met in my 36 years of church ministry.  I admired their expertise and their knowledge of high finance.

But the best business leaders I’ve worked with (a) put God first in their lives, (b) apply Scripture to their own lives, (c) are generous givers, (d) support their pastor, and (e) know that money is a tool … not a god.

The worst business leaders I’ve worked with (a) put money first, (b) refuse to support their pastor, (c) give little to the ministry, (d) fail to apply Scripture to life, and (e) put God 3rd or 6th or 8th in their lives, not first.

Who is Mr. Businessman at your church?

Before I compose my next article … I’m open to taking nominations online.

What kind of problem people will you find in every church?

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If a church is seeking to hire a new pastor, how old should he be?

Based on what I’m seeing in the Christian community these days, most churches are looking to hire pastors who are 35-50 years of age.  In fact, I recently saw an ad where a church stated they preferred candidates ages 30 to 50.  (Isn’t it illegal to advertise the age you’re seeking?)

This trend is understandable.  Someone in that 20-year age span probably:

*has started a family.

*has completed his education.

*is in good health and possesses loads of energy.

*knows technology and social media.

*can reach younger families.

*understands popular culture and its language.

*intends to stay for many years.

I was ordained at age 26 and became a solo pastor at age 27.  Although my pastor felt I was ready to lead a church, I wanted to wait until I was 30.

In retrospect, I wish I’d become an associate pastor for 2-3 years before becoming a pastor.  The jump from youth pastor to pastor is quite a leap.

From ages 27-35, I got beat up … a lot.  Every other Monday, I wanted to resign.  Maybe this is why 70% of seminary grads quit the ministry 5 years after leaving school.  Church ministry is hard work … and can be soul-damaging.

But the best years of my ministry started when I was 35 … unlike most athletes, who are washed up by that age.

However, once a pastor passes 50 years of age … some would say 55 … it’s very difficult to be hired by a church.  Why?

*The pastor’s kids may have grown up and left home … and some churches want a pastor with kids.

*A pastor 50+ is probably slowing down and lacks the energy of his youth.

*An unspoken concern is that an older pastor may become chronically ill or even die due to ministry stress.  (I knew a church where the pastor had a heart attack and it took him 9 months to recover.)

*There may be concerns that an older pastor won’t be able to relate to youth or younger families.

*And the perception is that an older pastor may be set in his ways.

However, I believe that many churches could benefit from hiring older pastors … those 50 and up.  Examples:

*My mother’s church in Arizona hired a pastor who was 58.  The church has grown significantly, having just remodeled their worship center.

*A long-time friend and college classmate – who is in his late 50s – was recently hired as pastor of a church in New England.

*Another friend and seminary classmate became a pastor in his fifties … he’s almost 60 now … and the church he leads is growing like crazy.

*The pastor of the church we attended in Arizona … one of America’s best churches … is in his sixties.

*A pastor whose church I visited in Arizona leads a church for seniors … and he’s having the time of his life!

In fact, many pastors enjoy their best years after age 50.

What are the benefits of hiring an older pastor?

*He knows his God-given calling, temperament, and giftedness and so is more secure with himself.  Many younger pastors struggle for years trying to figure these things out … and some never do.

*He knows that he doesn’t have the energy to do everything … a temptation most younger pastors have … so he chooses to share the ministry with other gifted staff and leaders.

*He has a 20-30 year history of knowing what works and doesn’t work in church ministry … so he can focus on what works instead.

*He may not need to be paid as much as a younger pastor.  (He may not need as big a home, but he does need medical insurance!)

*He isn’t shocked by the misbehavior of Christians … has been through most life experiences … and has developed a compassionate heart.

*He isn’t as anxious or impatient as many younger pastors are … and these traits have a calming effect on the entire church.

Contrary to popular perception, many older pastors do use social media … and keep up with the culture well … and love all forms of music (rock included) … and are very healthy … and would be willing to make ministry commitments of 5-10 years.  In fact, I’ve been told that some churches prefer to hire an older, “bridge” pastor for 5-7 years before hiring someone younger.

Hiring a pastor … just like anyone else … all comes down to fit.

In many situations, a younger pastor works best.

But for other scenarios, an older pastor might be optimal.

Why should a church consider an older pastor?

I’d love to hear your reasons!

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What’s the role of a governing board in relation to its pastor?

Is their job to:

*Support the pastor’s agenda for their church?

*Keep the pastor from making stupid mistakes?

*Prevent the pastor from instituting significant change?

*Substitute their agenda for his?

Personally, I believe a governing board should work in concert with their pastor to discern God’s agenda for their church.

While the pastor may be the one who articulates the dream, once the entire board has discussed and prayed about it, those leaders should back their pastor to the hilt … even if their friends threaten to leave.

At least, that’s what I believe … but it didn’t take me long to discover that mine can be a minority position.

When I first became a pastor, I was 27 years old.  The deacon board chairman was 74 … and the other two deacons were both 60+.

The chairman – who was also named Jim – loved baseball.  We used to travel together on BART to watch the Oakland A’s.  We talked for hours about all kinds of things related to church life.

One day, Jim came to me very upset.  His older sister – who led the deaconesses – was a member of a fraternal organization for women.  (I know that last sentence sounds contradictory, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.)

Jim’s sister was actively recruiting women to join her lodge … and using the women’s missionary meetings to do so.

In addition, Jim’s nephew … his sister’s son … was the head usher, and he was giving the lodge handshake to every man who came to church … trying to discover who else might be a lodger.

Jim felt that his sister and nephew were more committed to their lodge than the church and that their involvement was keeping them from growing spiritually.  (They both knew next to nothing about Scripture.)

In seminary, my Church History teacher said that you could be both a Christian and a lodge member, but you couldn’t be a good Christian and a good lodge member at the same time.

So I offered to do some research on the lodge.  I found some literature on the topic – this was pre-Internet – and secured a tape by an expert in the field.

One night, with Jim’s support, I presented the materials to the entire board … which had added a younger member by this time.

During the ensuing three hours, I was very careful about my presentation.  We weren’t trying to make anyone leave the lodge …no witch hunts allowed … we just didn’t want anyone from our church to recruit people for their lodge.

And we all agreed on this decision.

Shortly afterward, a woman I thought was spiritually mature (I’ll call her Rita) informed me that she had begun attending lodge meetings because of the influence of Jim’s sister.  This was exactly the kind of thing both Jim and I were concerned about.

I shared some concerns with her that I had about the lodge.  She had no idea.

Before I knew it, the board wanted to meet with me … and they were pretty upset with their rookie pastor.

Why?  Because when Jim’s sister and nephew heard about my comments to Rita, they demanded that I apologize to them … or they threatened to leave the church.

The board had two choices at this point.

They could either back their pastor or demand that I apologize.

Guess what they decided?

They demanded that I apologize.

I refused.

Why?  Because I was carrying out the directive of the deacons.  We had researched the issue together.  We had discussed it together.  We made a decision together.

But when their friends threatened to leave, the entire board collapsed on me.

I ended up visiting the home of Jim’s sister and nephew, along with a deacon.  I listened to their pain and tried to make them understand my/our concerns.

They lacked the theological foundation to understand my viewpoint.  It was like talking to a couple of cats.

That experience took a toll on me.

I broke out in hives all over my chest due to the stress of the situation.

I no longer trusted the board.  We had made a decision together but they all wilted on me.  How could I ever trust them again?

When I asked for my lodge materials back, one of the deacons refused, claiming the materials had caused enough trouble.

My family went on a scheduled vacation.  When I returned, I wondered if I’d still have a job … and the board wondered if they’d still have a pastor.

Several weeks later, the leader of a sister church five miles away called and invited our church to initiate merger talks with them.

Two months later, our churches formally merged … and the church I came to as a rookie pastor no longer existed.

I have often wondered if God closed the church down because the deacons chose friendships over faithfulness.

Fortunately, I’ve only been betrayed by a church board twice … and the story of the second betrayal won’t be in blog form.

It will be in book form.

The overall lesson from this story is this: when a pastor and a board agree on a decision, both parties need to support each other in public.

On rare occasions, the pastor or a board member can revisit an issue … inside a board meeting.

But when a board backs the pastor’s detractors rather than their pastor, they shouldn’t be surprised if the pastor either resigns or starts looking for a new ministry.

It just occurred to me that all four of those board members eventually left that new church separately and angrily.

I sure wasn’t going to chase them down.

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