Today marks another milestone for this blog: my 300th article. By the end of the day, I should reach 50,000 total views as well.
If this is your first visit, or we’re old friends, thanks for reading. And rest assured: there are enough topics floating through my brain for at least 300 more articles!
As I sometimes do, I thought I’d share my views today in the form of a story …
Pastor Ryan was frustrated. The church he led – Redeemer Community Church – was not going well, at least in his mind. Attendance was down 5% for the year … giving was down 7% … and several key families had recently left the church.
For the past 4 years, Redeemer Community had grown steadily under Pastor Ryan’s leadership. But the church seemed to have hit a wall, and Ryan wanted to knock that wall down.
Ryan was especially impatient with the elders, the church’s governing board … and at the last board meeting, he let them know how he felt in no uncertain terms. Ryan was a bit surprised by how angry he became, and he was sure that the board members were equally surprised by his sudden outburst. Ordinarily, Ryan would have contacted each of them and apologized, but for some reason, he put the idea out of his head.
Fortunately, Jack, the chairman of the elders, was a mature believer both spiritually and emotionally. While Jack did debrief with several board members after the meeting, he didn’t overreact to Ryan’s outburst. Jack figured that Ryan acted out of character because something else was bothering him. Rather than reprimand him publicly at the next meeting, Jack decided to take a different approach.
So Jack invited Ryan out to breakfast. After they engaged in small talk, Jack said to Ryan, “I was concerned about the emotions you expressed at our last board meeting. You didn’t seem like yourself. I want you to know that I love and respect you as both my pastor and my friend. So I’d like to ask you … is everything all right?”
Ryan appreciated the invitation to share. He was embarrassed about the way he had expressed himself at the board meeting. So the first thing he did was apologize for his outburst.
Jack let Ryan know that he forgave him and that he wouldn’t bring up the matter again. Ryan then asked Jack, “What would be the best way for me to apologize to the other board members?”
Jack suggested that Ryan bring up the matter right before the board prayed at the next meeting. Jack assured Ryan that the others valued him as pastor and were more concerned for his welfare than that Ryan had somehow offended them.
Ryan felt relieved. He had been worrying that the board might severely reprimand him for his outburst … or even discuss firing him. But Jack’s attitude made him feel like a new man.
Jack told his pastor, “You have done so much good since you’ve been here. The church has grown. People have come to Christ. I’ve seen spiritual breakthroughs in people’s lives, and you’re largely responsible for that. I believe your best days in this church are ahead of you.” Ryan felt a surge of energy flow through his spirit. How he longed to hear someone … anyone … affirm his ministry.
Jack continued, “But Ryan, I need to tell you that several elders were a bit shaken by your outburst the other night. We don’t want to work for you, and we don’t want you to work for us. I want us to work together. The way you acted made me wonder if you want us to work for you. Am I seeing things right?”
Ryan said, “No, Jack, I don’t want the board to work for me. I sincerely want to work with the elders. Because I meet with the elders only monthly, sometimes I forget my place.”
Jack responded, “It’s good to hear you say that. We’re not here to hamstring you. We’re here to work alongside you … to be your cheerleaders and protectors … and to help you get things done at our church.”
Ryan said, “Thanks, Jack … that means a lot to me.”
And then Jack asked a question that Ryan had been hoping somebody would ask him: “How are you doing … really?”
Ryan started to cry and asked, “Do you know how long it’s been since someone asked me that?” Ryan felt that people only valued him as a pastor. He longed for someone to value him as a person.
Ryan began, “The downturn in attendance and giving has created some fear in me. I’m afraid that the board or a group in the church is going to blame me for those numbers and that I’m going to be fired. I really don’t know if my fears are rational or irrational. Can you help me out?”
Jack assured Ryan, “I don’t judge a pastor’s ministry solely by numbers. While we’d all like to see attendance and giving steadily increasing, I’ve been around long enough to know that every church has seasons where things aren’t quite jelling. Personally, I don’t think our music is really reaching the majority of our congregation and that we may need a new worship director. I also think that you need to finish your study in 2 Chronicles on Sundays because while that book might interest you, most people mentally checked out long ago. And I think our small group ministry needs some tweaking. But those are all solvable problems. If you’re willing to discuss them at the next meeting, I can assure you the rest of the board will be receptive.”
Ryan couldn’t believe how supportive Jack was. He then asked Jack, “Would it be all right if I told you something else?”
Jack countered, “Of course, Ryan. Your personal well-being directly impacts the well-being of our church family.”
Ryan searched for the right words and said, “I’m struggling with exhaustion right now. I don’t want to hear people’s problems. In fact, sometimes I don’t want to be around people at all. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, but I’ve been afraid that if I tell the board, no one will understand and I’ll be subject to removal.” Ryan nervously waited for Jack’s response.
Jack wasn’t fazed. He said, “Ryan, I can tell that you’re not yourself. I think you need to take some time off. I don’t know what’s wrong with you or how much time you’ll need, but let me offer several thoughts.” Ryan listened attentively.
Jack said, “First, I think you need to see a Christian counselor, at least for several sessions. Whatever your insurance doesn’t pay, the church will pick up. After all, if the way you’re feeling is church-related, then it may be an occupational hazard. We want to invest in your long-term mental and emotional health. Then once we have a diagnosis from the counselor, we’ll know how to proceed. If you’re suffering from stress, maybe you just need two or three weeks away. If you’re suffering from burnout, the recuperation period may be longer, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I do know this: only a healthy pastor can lead a healthy church.”
Ryan couldn’t believe his ears. He had been living under the impression that if he ever shared how he really felt with the “board chairman” … or any board member … that they would take steps to dismiss him. But Jack seemed to understand that Ryan was a human being … a fallible human being … and that knowledge began to heal Ryan on the inside.
Pastor Ryan apologized to the elders at the next meeting. They instantly forgave him and even hugged him, being quite aware of their own weaknesses. When Ryan became frustrated at one point in the meeting, he calmed his spirit, stated honestly but kindly how he felt, and the board understood and heard his view.
Ryan visited a Christian counselor, who told Ryan that he was in the beginning stages of burnout. The counselor recommended that Ryan take 4-6 weeks off and work on some issues in his life. Jack and the board assured Ryan of their support and that his job would be waiting for him when he returned.
Ryan returned from his time away with a renewed desire to serve a church that reflected the gospel in the way they treated their pastor. Yes, Ryan was human. No, he could never be perfect. But the gospel message isn’t for non-humans or infallible people. It’s for those who admit that they need God’s grace. And having once received it, they’re eager to pass that grace onto others. Too often, pastors preach grace but experience law from their church and its leaders. But when pastors receive grace, they extend grace … and when they extend grace, they receive even more grace.
Having experienced God’s grace from his own church family, Pastor Ryan slowly began to feel more energized. He led better … preached better … and made better decisions. The church came out of their temporary slump and continued to grow in numbers … and in grace.
All because the church board dealt with their pastor graciously rather than harshly.
May their tribe increase!