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Archive for September, 2013

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 …

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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!

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The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks last night to clinch the National League Western Division championship.

I grew up a Dodger fan but switched loyalties when my son was old enough to follow baseball.  We lived in an area where we could watch the Giants play.

As a Giants’ fan, I have some strong opinions about the Dodgers.  I especially have strong feelings about Dodger players celebrating in the pool beyond the right field fence in Phoenix last night.

But I choose to keep those feelings to myself.

I almost posted them on Facebook today, but decided to congratulate the Blue Crew instead.  I almost commented on a Yahoo story written about the pool incident, but chose to pull back.

Several times during the course of a week, somebody makes a comment on Facebook, or expresses strong feelings in an online article, and I want to share my two cents worth.

On occasion, I do just that, especially if I have the opportunity to speak out for biblical morality or against Christian persecution.

But you have no idea how many times I write a comment but then choose not to publish it … or how many times I want to write something but tell myself:

“Stay out of it!”

While Jesus was speaking to a crowd one time, a man called out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).

Jesus did not follow up with a question.  He did not ask the man to come forward.  In fact, we don’t know how Jesus felt about the issue because He replied:

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

In essence, Jesus was saying, “You can’t pull me into your conflict.  I’m staying out of this one.”

Jesus was much wiser than we are sometimes.

Imagine that a friend of yours calls tonight and says that their marriage is on the rocks.  After listening to their pain, you ask a few questions for clarification.

Should you automatically take the side of your friend?  What if you know their spouse?

You weren’t asked to be a marriage counselor or a divorce attorney.  Your friend is asking for your support and probably your prayers.

But if they try and pull you over to their side, do your best to resist … at least until you’ve heard the other side and know the larger picture.

In the same way, I’m saddened by all the conflict in churches today … especially when Christians – who should know better – quickly side with their friends against their pastor.

What if their friends are wrong?

What if their friends obtained information secondhand?

What if their friends are exaggerating the issues?

What if their friends are part of a faction that is trying to take over the church?

What if their friends don’t really know what’s going on?

When you don’t know all the facts … even if your friends try and convince you to take their side … I encourage you to follow Jesus’ example and say:

“I’m going to stay out of it!”

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This is the 299th article I’ve written on my blog.  I’m also less than 500 views away from reaching 50,000 total.

If you’re a regular reader, thank you!  If you’re just visiting, I invite you to return.

If you have any ideas for my 300th article, please share them in the comments section.  Thanks!

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You’re sitting in church one Sunday morning.  At the end of your pastor’s message, he sadly states that he has an announcement to make.

He’s resigning as pastor of your church.

Listen carefully.  If the pastor doesn’t mention what his next job is – or if he’s retiring – chances are that he was forced to resign, either by the church board or by a powerful faction in the church.

But why?

Is it because the attendance and finances have been sliding downward?

Possibly.

Is it because he’s secretly guilty of moral failure?

Could be.

Is it because the board believes your church needs a new pastor for its next phase?

Maybe.

But if you could trace the problem back to its source … in far too many cases … you would discover a startling fact.

The pastor said or did something that ticked off just one person in your church.

It could be a board member … or a staff member … or a key leader … or the wife of someone prominent in your congregation.

But no matter how hard you try, you might never be able to find out who that person is … or what they’re really angry about.

Why not?

Because that person will do their best to cover their tracks.

Why not just say, “The pastor personally offended me, so I want him to leave our fellowship?”

But how does that last phrase sound?  Petty?  Unspiritual?  Selfish?

Yes on all counts.

So the offended party (called Mr. Perpetrator throughout this article) will not tell others that the pastor has personally offended them.  That would make Mr. Perpetrator look bad.

Instead, Mr. Perpetrator will start doing three things:

First, he starts to build a case against the pastor.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s preaching: “The pastor isn’t feeding us … he doesn’t preach enough against sin … he isn’t relevant … he’s not biblical enough … he’s too intellectual … he preaches too long.”

Of course, the pastor’s preaching was good enough for several – if not many – years, but now it’s bad because Mr. Perpetrator doesn’t want to hear the pastor’s preaching because he’s angry with the pastor.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s leadership: “I don’t like our direction … the pastor needs to emphasize prayer more … we could be taking in more money … and I know others who agree with me.”

Of course, you’ll never learn the names of those who agree with him because they’re probably his family members and good friends.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s personality: “The pastor is too loud … he’s not sensitive enough … he seems moody … he’s far too quiet … he needs to be more aggressive.”

Of course, when the pastor starts to sense that Mr. Perpetrator is against him, the pastor will act differently around him than around his supporters.

How long does this case-building phase last?

I once heard a Christian psychiatrist – who had counseled hundreds of pastors and their wives who had been forced to leave a church – say that it takes Mr. Perpetrator about a year to gain the required number of supporters – usually only 7 to 10.

By using false accusations, and repeating them over and over again, that one year time frame can quickly be condensed.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

Second, he begins gathering a list of the pastor’s offenses.

If the pastor is guilty of a major offense like heresy, doing something illegal (like embezzling funds), or sexual immorality, church leaders have all the ammunition they need for termination.

But according to Alan Klaas (quoted in Gary Pinion’s book Crushed: The Perilous Side of Ministry), when a pastor is forced to leave a church, only 7% of the time is it due to his personal misconduct.

So 93% of the time, a pastor doesn’t resign because he’s done something morally or spiritually impeachable.

No, he resigns because of The List.

Mr. Perpetrator sends out feelers and begins to compile a list of grievances that people have against the pastor.  Anything goes.

And once the list is compiled and put on paper, the pastor will be arrested, tried, judged, and sentenced without his knowledge … or without being able to mount any kind of a defense … and the congregation has no idea this is happening.

A former pastor recently told me why he left his last ministry.  The small list of charges included the fact that two years before … at a social event … the pastor walked by a woman and bumped her accidentally.

For two years, nobody said anything to the pastor about this alleged offense.  For two years.

But when Mr. Perpetrator wanted to get rid of the pastor, this petty act was turned into a charge.

The pastor didn’t know anything about this incident and couldn’t recall it happening.  He had no idea he had offended this woman.

And when the charge was made, the pastor asked if he could present a defense … but it was already too late.  Mr. Perpetrator just went on to the next petty charge.

This scenario is replicated in church after church.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

Finally, he recommends that the pastor be dismissed.

The recommendation nearly always has to go to the governing board of the church: the deacons, the elders, the church council … whatever it’s called.

So Mr. Perpetrator chooses his moment carefully.

He makes his recommendation when he’s positive he has enough board support … or when the pastor catches wind of the plot … or right before the new budget goes to a vote … or when the pastor is on vacation.

If Mr. Perpetrator does his job, he almost always wins board support.

(I will never understand this, but it’s true.  Board members rarely stand up for their pastor even if they know he’s innocent.  If I was a board member, I’d make the plot public and force the board to resign.  Politics aside, I’d rather stand beside a spiritual pastor than an unspiritual board.)

Why does he win support?  Because nearly every time in church life, personal friendships trump biblical principles.

The board then assigns someone to draw up a letter of resignation.  Board members discuss how much, if any, severance to give the pastor.

Since he’s already gone in their mind, they usually vote to give him as little as possible, regardless of the needs of his family.

Then they choose when they’ll inform the pastor of their decision and whether he’ll ever get to preach again in that church.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

I recently shared a meal with a pastor who went through this experience.  One minute, he was the senior pastor of a church.  Then the board called him into a meeting, and 15 minutes later, he had been fired … and wasn’t allowed to bring a final message.  He and his wife … through choked tears … were only permitted to say goodbye to the church they loved.

That’s all the congregation saw.  The pastor and his wife … crying … and saying goodbye.

So the congregation focuses on the pastor … and his motives for leaving … and what he might have done wrong … and why he chose to abandon them.

The church family has no idea that Mr. Perpetrator has been building a case against their pastor … collecting grievances against him … and finally recommending his dismissal.

And to make sure that no one ever finds out, Mr. Perpetrator retreats to the shadows … lays low … and acts completely innocent.

Just like a ten-year-old kid.  Who, me?

But if Mr. Perpetrator was really a man, he would have sat down with the pastor – if and when the pastor first offended him – and worked things out with him.

Just like an authentic, spiritually mature man.

But because they can’t see inside the heart of Mr. Perpetrator, few people will ever know what he did and how he did it … except one.

As Hebrews 10:31 reminds us:

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

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When I was in seminary, my pastor told me, “I feel sorry for people in your generation who become pastors.  You’re going to have to face a lot of issues that many of us pastors never had to face.”

After 36 years in church ministry, I’m pretty sure that I’ll never pastor again.  Even though I have the requisite training, experience, skills, and knowledge, I don’t know if my emotions could handle the rigors of pastoring anymore.

Why is pastoring so rough?

First, pastors always have to be “on.”

A pastor has to be careful with every email he writes … every phone call he makes … every joke he tells … and every conversation he has.  If he lets his guard down for one minute, he may say or do something stupid … and some people will use that against him in the future.

While Christians are fond of saying that we’re “not perfect, just forgiven,” most people expect their pastor to be perfect … and pastors instinctively absorb that expectation.

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who had once been verbally attacked.  He shared some of the complaints against him.  You would not believe how petty they were.  Nobody could stand that kind of scrutiny.

Pastors don’t just have to be “on” when they’re in the pulpit.  They have to be “on” when they’re in the men’s room at church … when they’re driving out of the church parking lot … when they’re answering the phone at home on a Saturday night … and when they’re attending a social event anywhere.

In fact, pastors get so used to being “on” that at times, it’s difficult for them to hit the “off” switch and just relax … and without knowing it, they can easily burn out.

I once heard Chuck Swindoll tell a roomful of pastors that churches that require their pastors to be out too many nights eventually lose them.  And yet, when I was a pastor, evenings were the only time when I could meet with a small group … meet with the programming/worship team … attend board meetings … attend men’s ministry meetings … and on and on.  While I wasn’t driven, I felt like I was shirking my responsibilities if I wasn’t working at least three nights a week.

What’s the solution?  Let your pastor be a person before he’s anything else.  Realize that he has his limits … that he gets weary and tired and frustrated … and no matter how energetic he seems, he can’t always be “on.”

Of course, neither can you.

Second, pastors have few confidants.

During my first pastorate, I was asked to be a guest speaker several times in other venues, and they all went well.  Eventually, I was asked to speak for a district men’s rally … kind of a big deal.

It just so happened that our daughter Sarah decided to enter the world that morning.  I remember working on my talk while trying to assist my wife in the hospital.

When I got up to speak to those 80 men … I couldn’t speak.  I had a great talk prepared, but I had trouble delivering it.  Looking back, it was probably “stage fright.”

I bombed so badly that nobody asked me to do guest speaking for years.

When I went home that evening – my wife was in the hospital – I needed to talk to somebody about what happened to me.  I was in bad shape emotionally.

But who could I contact?

*I couldn’t be vulnerable with anyone from church because they wouldn’t have understood.

*I couldn’t speak with my wife because she was dealing with her own pain.

*I couldn’t call a Christian counselor because I didn’t know any.

*I couldn’t call most of my old friends because they wouldn’t have understood, either.

I finally called a friend who was a pastor, and he gave me lots of time … as he always has.

But this is a recurring problem for pastors.  When a pastor has a major problem, who can he confide in?

The solution?  Most pastors need a pastor … and preferably several pastors … because there are times when a pastor needs someone to listen to him … to accept him … to understand him … and to assure him that no matter how he feels today, he’ll eventually feel better.

And if the pastor makes his wife his only pastor, she may not be able to handle the strain.

Third, pastors are never done working.

There’s always one more person to call … one more parishioner in the hospital to visit … one more letter to write … and one more sermon to review.

And if you’re a perfectionist, things can take twice as long … and you feel guilty about the work you haven’t finished.

The smaller the church, the more access that churchgoers expect to have with their pastor.  Some want the pastor to be their personal buddy.

The larger the church, the longer that TO DO list gets.  Growth can become a monster.

During my last pastorate, I took Fridays off.  But invariably, I didn’t finish my message … or my outline … until almost noon that day, even though I worked on my message at home all day on Thursdays.  My wife would say, “Just finish!  You need to stop!”  But sometimes I needed another story … or to research one last thing … or I felt I could make a point a little better … and I couldn’t stop until I felt good about that message.

Some members do expect their pastor to work superhuman hours.  Every time they drive by the church, they expect to see the pastor’s car there … and if they don’t, they assume the pastor is goofing off somewhere.

Some pastors internalize the ridiculous expectations of these critics and tell themselves, “I may not be the best preacher or leader, but maybe I can prove my worth by overworking.”

I once heard Christian author/counselor Norm Wright say that anybody who works more than 60 hours a week is crazy.  By that measure, many pastors are certifiably insane.

Solution?  The church board needs to tell the pastor, “Here’s what we expect you to do … and not to do.  And if we see you exceeding your limits, we’re going to love you enough to call you on it and insist that you take care of yourself.”

Sometimes I was aching for even one board member to tell me that.

Finally, pastors are haunted by their critics.

I’m currently watching a series of DVDs presented by two experienced church consultants.

One of them told his class, “I don’t know that I’d like to pastor a church again.”  After pastoring three churches in his younger days, he went on to become a seminary professor.

The second consultant stated, “The meanest people I ever met didn’t hold a candle to people I’ve met in the church.”  He said that the attacks of church members against pastors often become personal, nasty, and mean.

It doesn’t take many critics to bother a pastor.  It only takes one.

In his biography Moon River and Me, the late singer Andy Williams recounts a conversation he once had with comedian Bill Cosby.  Cosby was performing in a venue where everyone seemed to love his act … except one guy in the front row who wouldn’t laugh at anything Cosby said.  Williams encouraged Cosby to forget about that individual, but Cosby said that he couldn’t.

I know the feeling all too well.

I’ve been criticized for growing a beard (30 years ago) … for not making my toddler son sit through church services … for wearing a suit … for not wearing a suit … for using the word “guts” in a sermon … for letting drums into the church … for letting women into leadership positions … for not being profound … for being too deep … for not preaching John 3:16 every Sunday (I’m not kidding) … for not giving altar calls (even though they’re never found in Scripture) … for not being Chuck Smith or Chuck Swindoll … for not leading forcefully enough … for leading too strongly … and on and on and on.

Give me five minutes, and I can recall ten more criticisms … because like most pastors, I remember the complaints far more than the compliments.

And although pastors learn to shrug off many criticisms, the cumulative effect begins to wear them down after a while.  They start being guarded … isolating themselves … staying away from people … and barking at those who do criticize them … even if they mean well.

Solution?  Test the criticisms with a trusted confidant.

Last winter, my wife and I flew back east and visited a church that was considering me as an interim pastor.  Much of our time went well, and we met some wonderful people there … but some people did and said things that were insensitive, and on the drive back to the airport, we decided we couldn’t do church ministry anymore.

The latest statistics are that 70% of seminary graduates are quitting ministry before their fifth-year anniversary.  It’s rare to hear anymore about a pastor who has completed 30 or 40 years of ministry.

If you’re a church leader or a church goer, pray for your pastor … and let him know that.  Encourage your pastor … verbally and in writing.  Accept your pastor … for his weaknesses and his strengths.

And remember: public ministry can be so difficult that Jesus only did it for 3 years.

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There’s an old saying among pastors that the person from the search team that picks up the pastor from the airport will be among the first individuals to turn against him.

That saying certainly proved true in my first pastorate.

The person who met me at the airport was also chairman of the deacons.  (I’ll call him Dave.)  The board – which functioned as the search team – made their way through a pile of resumes.

Mine was the final one.

I was 27 and Dave was 74.  At first, our 47-year age difference didn’t seem to matter.  We went to ballgames together.  We visited the rescue mission regularly.  I visited him and his sick wife on multiple occasions.

At first, I could do no wrong in his eyes.  Dave loved me as a person.  He was proud to call me his pastor.

But several years later, I couldn’t do anything right … and Dave attacked me with every bullet in his arsenal.

Why does this deifying/crucifying dynamic occur in churches?  Let me offer a few ideas.

First, the candidating process can never fully reveal a pastor’s character or values.

When I first met the deacons, I emphasized what we had in common.  We agreed doctrinally.

Looking back, that was about it.

We didn’t agree on the use of music during worship … or leader qualifications … or the use of Christian liberty … or how to reach younger couples for Christ.

And that was my charter: to reach younger couples.

To be charitable, the board was legalistic … and rigid … and resisted innovation.

But we didn’t discuss those issues.  As I recall, we spent our time together discussing theology and practical ministry matters.

This is just my theory, but I believe that pastoral candidates and search teams assume that they agree on any issues they haven’t yet discussed.

But the truth is that we didn’t agree on most issues.

I knew who they were because I knew lots of Christians just like them … but I don’t think they knew who I was because they didn’t know many pastors my age.

My wife and I were scrutinized for about 30 hours when we first visited that church … and that wasn’t nearly enough time for the leaders to know me.

So when I came to the church, they knew Public Jim … and only came to know Private Jim over time.

But when this happens … as it does in every church … there are always people who are convinced that the pastor fooled them … and want him gone for that reason.

But that’s not really the case.  They just didn’t have enough time with the pastor to know him personally … and pastors, like most people, are complex individuals.

Second, some people become surprised when the pastor doesn’t agree with them on certain matters.

Dave wanted me to give altar calls at both services on Sundays.  I resisted.  (I wrote my Master’s thesis on the altar call.)

Fred – a second board member – was a closet charismatic.  We didn’t agree on the role of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Bruce – a third board member and former pastor – became angry with me if I stated a theological truth in language he wasn’t used to.

And John – the final board member – perused the notes in his Scofield Bible whenever I taught.  (He literally had his head down during most of the sermon.)

Both Bruce and John became visibly angry with me at different times during the midweek Bible study.  Bruce got up one time, walked out of the room, and slammed the door.  John became red-faced another time when I mentioned that God sometimes hides His face from us.

Dave didn’t like any innovations … Fred would never tell me when he was upset … Bruce was angry all the time … and John was as rigid a legalist as I have ever met.

I inherited a group of leaders who had fired their previous pastor.  These were not easy people to please.  It was just a matter of time before they came after me.

Third, we disagreed on how to reach people for Christ.

I came to the church in 1981.  I wanted to bring the worship services into the 1980s, but they wanted their services to go back to the 1950s.

Dave was the song leader – and he waved his hands as he led.  The piano player was a prima donna who loved to show off her abilities.

They sang “Victory in Jesus” about once every two weeks.

And before my first Sunday night service, a guest “musician” showed up unannounced and played – I am not kidding – the musical saw.

I was sick inside.  But they loved it.

And they loved it every time he came … unannounced … and sang the same songs and told the same stories.

I was sensitive enough not to criticize the way they did things.  But every time I tried something new, I’d get criticized for it.

One time, we served a flat loaf of bread for communion.  Dave came to me the next week and claimed that many people told him it was “unsanitary.”

Because I was a young pastor, I was successful at reaching some younger families.  But when the groups achieved parity, the pioneers started complaining that the younger people didn’t attend all three services … dressed too casually … liked weird music … and on and on.

Like most churches, those leaders didn’t want to reach people for Jesus.  They wanted to live in a Christian cocoon to keep the world out instead of penetrating the world for Christ.

And I was the one who most threatened their cocoon.

Finally, many churchgoers aren’t used to a strong pastor.

I believe that most Christians want a pastor who is (a) strong in the pulpit, but (b) weak in private.

If you can preach well, you’ll be deified.

But you better be flexible in private as well or you’ll be crucified.

The people liked my preaching.  An older woman – a former missionary – used to stop me at the door and tell me that my preaching was “clear.”  Even John once told me that I was the best preacher in the whole area.  (While that was nice to hear, I knew it wasn’t true.)

But I was a man of conviction in private.

One time, two board members came to my house on a Saturday night.  I climbed into their car so they could confront me with some issues.  They made their case.  I refused to budge … and I’d handle things the same way today.

I’m a theologian.  Name a church issue, and I’ll give you biblical and theological reasons why I hold the position I do.

If I can flex, I will.  But if you ask me to do something that violates my conscience, I won’t do it.

On several occasions, board members asked me to do things I could not do.  I could tell they weren’t happy with me when I refused.

In fact, Fred and his wife quietly left the church.  He did the right thing.

And just as we were ready to become polarized, a sister church invited us to merge with them … and three of my board members wanted me to be the new pastor.

But after the merger, they all left.

John and his wife left abruptly and never returned.

Dave made multiple charges against me to the new church board.  (The real issue was that Dave was too old to lead worship music anymore.)  The board backed me to the hilt, which caused Dave to leave the church angrily.  The next time I saw him, Dave was lying in a coffin … but his wife did ask that I conduct his funeral.

And then there was Bruce.  In his late sixties, Bruce wanted to get back into pastoral ministry, but as a double divorcee, nobody showed any interest in him.  He finally assisted in leading his Bible class out of the church.  I think he hoped he would become the pastor of the renegade group … but they wanted somebody else.

To their credit, Fred and John left the church relatively peacefully.  They may have been disillusioned with their pastor, but they didn’t attack me as they left.

But Dave and Bruce left loudly and insinuated that I should be removed … but they both left instead because they knew they lacked the support to push me out.

We find a great example of the deify/crucify phenomenon in Acts 14.

Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra and healed a man who was lame from birth.  The crowd declared that the Dynamic Duo were really gods: Barnabas was Zeus, while Paul was Hermes.

Paul and Barnabas rightly resisted being worshiped, stating, “We too are only men, human like you.”  And then they pointed the crowd upward to God Himself.

But the crowd still tried to deify them.  Dr. Luke writes, “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them” (Acts 14:18).

But how quickly things can change.

In the very next verse, we’re told that some Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra “and won the crowd over.”  And then they stoned Paul outside the city and left him for dead.

One moment, the crowd acted like God’s leaders were divine.  The next moment, they wanted one of them dead.

I cannot understand the mindset of Christians – especially leaders – who choose to gang up against a pastor who is innocent of biblically impeachable offenses.

Like Fred and John, it’s better to leave a church than it is to try and push out a pastor.

To what extent have you witnessed this deifying/crucifying dynamic in churches?

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