Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2014

There’s a theory I’ve been toying with recently.  It sounds a bit cynical … and maybe it is … but I wonder about it anyhow.

How many churches exist primarily to pay their pastor’s salary?

You ask, “Jim, isn’t that backwards?  Don’t pastors exist to serve their churches?”

Yes, I believe that’s the way it should be … but in thousands of cases, that’s not how things really work.

Let me explain my thinking.

According to church growth experts, only 15-20% of all churches in America are growing numerically … which means that 80-85% of churches are either stagnant or declining.

In my experience, churches that:

*are growing have an outreach-oriented vision … are willing to take risks … make tough decisions … and preach God’s Word with authenticity and conviction.

*aren’t growing exist primarily for themselves … refuse to take risks … punt on tough decisions … and preach God’s Word so that nobody is offended.

Since at least 80% of all churches are stagnant or declining, isn’t it safe to assume that 80% of all pastors lead stagnant or declining churches as well?

If Jesus is truly God incarnate … the Savior and Lord of All … Giver of the Spirit … and the Prince of Peace … then why are so many churches not doing well?

In my view … especially among small and medium-sized churches … too many churches exist primarily to pay their pastor.

Let me give you an example.

Pastor Joe was called to Fellowship Church five years ago.  Everyone likes Joe’s personality, family, and preaching.  In fact, Joe has made many friends throughout the congregation.

But during Joe’s tenure, the church has gone from an average Sunday attendance of 165 down to 115 … and to be honest, nobody really cares.

Why not?

Because Joe loves the congregation, and they love Joe … and as long as the church can pay Joe and keep him around, everyone feels fine.

Joe doesn’t want to do anything to upset this lovefest.  His wife seems content.  His kids like their friends and community.  And Joe’s position feels secure.

He earns a decent salary … along with benefits and retirement … and he has no plans to go anywhere.

But if Fellowship Church is really going to grow, Joe needs to reverse the trend by engaging in activities like these:

*He needs to reinvent himself as a pastor … by visiting growing churches … attending leadership conferences … finding a mentor and/or coach … and even going back to school.

*He needs to start preaching that people are lost without Christ … that hell really exists … and that Fellowship’s people need to share their faith with their networks.

*He needs to lead the congregation in creating a vision that specializes in reaching lost people for Christ.

*He needs to recruit and train several new board and staff members … and make sure that several current leaders (who are holding the church back) step down for good.

*He needs to create a climate where risk-taking is expected … even if there are occasional failures … because most churches that play it safe don’t grow.

Whenever Joe gets tempted to create growth plans, he can envision the following … because he’s seen it happen to other pastors:

*several leaders might leave the church (and take their friends with them).

*some of Joe’s friends might leave as well.

*Joe might have to endure increased criticism … frequent misunderstandings … and uncomfortable board meetings.

*a faction might even arise and demand Joe’s resignation for disturbing congregational peace.

*congregational giving might plunge to a level where the church can’t afford to pay Joe anymore.

Consciously or unconsciously, Joe weighs the costs.  Even though attendance and giving have been steadily decreasing, everyone seems happy with Joe … and Joe is happy he can provide for his family.

But if Joe really takes the steps necessary to see his church go forward, Joe’s job … and security … and retirement … might all be on the line.

So Joe puts in his time … pastors his people … teaches on Sundays … and plays it safe … and his church continues to decline.

How do I know so much about pastors like Joe?

For my first 9 years as a pastor, I was Joe.  My ministry was boring … few lives were changed … and I played it safe … but I was dying inside … and my church was dying, too.

Until I heard a series of tapes by Bill Hybels that changed my life and ministry forever.

With God’s help, I reinvented myself as a pastor … focused on the Great Commission … changed my preaching … hired needed staff … and took risks.

In fact, I put everything on the line for the gospel.

Was it easy?  No.

But I felt alive … and my church came alive.

I let God worry about my salary and retirement … and He never let me down.

Remember what happened to the steward who buried his single talent in the ground?

He walked away with that one talent … but displeased his Master … who expects that His managers will invest and multiply their talents for His cause.

When churches exist for pastors, they stagnate and decline.

When pastors exist to advance and expand Christ’s kingdom, churches grow and prosper.

Let me conclude with a poem that describes the ministries of all too many church leaders.  Dr. Curtis Mitchell from Biola College claimed it was found on a tombstone:

Here lie the bones of Nancy Jones

For her life held no terrors

She lived an old maid, she died an old maid

No runs, no hits, no errors

Read Full Post »

Have you ever had someone come up to you and tell you how upset they’ve been with you because you once wronged them?

One afternoon when I was in college, I was walking toward my car when someone called out my name.  I turned around to see a young woman I had known for several years at church.

She wanted me to know that she had been upset with me for a long time because she liked me and I hadn’t reciprocated the way she wished.

She asked me to forgive her for all the animosity she held toward me.  I told her I forgave her … she felt much better … but I don’t ever remember seeing her again.

Did I need to know how angry she had been with me?

I bring this up because some Christians carry grudges for months … if not years … against other Christians … especially against their pastors.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

At least four principles about grudge-holding arise out of this text:

First, we all feel angry when we sense we’ve been violated.

It’s not a sin to feel anger.  For example, I instinctively feel angry when another driver tailgates my vehicle on the freeway.

Years ago, I didn’t always handle such situations with maturity … but I’ve learned how to control my anger much better … although I still have my moments.

Although our anger antenna isn’t infallible, that initial dose of anger may be God’s way of saying, “You’ve just been violated.  Don’t make it worse.”

There’s nothing sinful about feeling angry … Paul says so himself … but we shouldn’t nurse our anger.

We need to learn how to release it as soon as possible … and most of us acquire this skill as we mature.

Second, we need to resolve our anger as soon as possible.  

Many years ago, I said something in a sermon that ticked off a particular woman.  After the service, she and her husband vented to another couple, and they immediately left the church.

Why involve that couple when the woman was upset with me?

She eventually did speak with me about the issue, but by that time, the couple was long gone.

Most church conflicts and forced pastoral terminations occur because people spread their personal animosity toward their pastor to others.

Why?

Because they lack the courage to speak with their pastor themselves, they search for allies, hoping that (a) someone else will carry their offense, and (b) someone else will deal with the pastor so they won’t have to.

But this kind of thinking is counterproductive.

If you’re angry with your pastor, then (a) speak to him directly, or (b) forgive him privately … and let it go.

Third, deal with offenses as they arise.

In his book Love in Hard Places, theologian D. A. Carson tells about the time a Christian friend told Carson that he wanted a private word with him because Carson had offended him.

So the two of them arranged a meeting, and Carson’s friend related an incident that had happened twenty-one years earlier.  Carson and his friend were having a theological discussion and his friend quoted a few words from an author who had written in French.  Because Carson grew up speaking French, Carson repeated the French words after his friend because he was unconsciously correcting his pronunciation.

Carson’s friend didn’t say anything at the time, but several decades later, he told Carson, “I want you to know, Don, that I have not spoken another word of French from that day to this.”  Carson apologized for offending his friend, but upon later reflection, Carson felt “there was something profoundly evil about nurturing a resentment of this order for twenty-one years.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

I once had a staff member come to me and share a list of purported offenses I had committed against him.  The list went on and on.  Finally, I stopped him and asked, “So what you’re telling me is that you’ve hated me all this time?”  His reply: “Until recently.”

Here I was … meeting with him regularly … assuming everything was all right between us … trusting him as a ministry colleague … but all the while, he had been collecting grievances against me.

After he dumped his load on me, he felt better, but I plunged into depression.  I started to wonder, “How many other people in this church feel the same way about me?”

Paul’s admonition is to resolve your anger before the sun goes down … to address the issue at your first opportunity … to repair your relationship as soon as possible … but not to wait 17 months, as that staff member did.

That incident still bothers me to this day.

Finally, unresolved anger gives Satan church entry.

Let’s assume that Satan assigns a demon to every local church.  It’s that demon’s charter to use whatever means are necessary to destroy that church.

So that demon begins to probe the hearts of church leaders … trying to find those who are bitter … especially against their pastor.

And when the demon finds such an individual, he coaxes that person to tell others about his or her anger.

I have a pastor friend who served a church for several years, but nothing he was trying was working.

People began making charges against the pastor … only they didn’t tell the pastor directly.

So a consultant was called to the church to investigate.

One of the few charges against the pastor involved a tiny incident that had happened two years before at a church event.

When the incident was brought to the pastor’s attention, he couldn’t recall it at all.

If I had been the consultant, I would have thrown out the charge at that point.  A minor incident from two years before shouldn’t have any bearing on a pastor’s present status.

But it did … and was a contributing factor that led to the pastor’s eventual removal.

But evidently no one said to the accuser, “How could you nurse that grudge for so long?”

There should be a statute of limitations on the offenses Christians commit against each other.

For example, in my state, the statute of limitations for:

*general assault or battery is two years.

*medical malpractice or fraud is three years.

*breach of a written contract is four years.

The less serious an offense, the shorter the statute of limitations should last.  The more serious an offense, the longer the statute of limitations should last.

And yet when it comes to pastors, small incidents have a way of being magnified into spiritual and moral felonies … and this does not honor God or grow churches.

If you still nurse a grudge toward a pastor from your past, I encourage you to do one of two things:

*Either forgive the pastor unilaterally and let the incident go, or …

*Contact the pastor directly and try to reconcile your relationship.

Why do you think so many Christians nurse grudges against their pastors?

Read Full Post »

What’s the Number One Sin among churchgoers today?

Missing your quiet time?

Failing to attend worship services?

Neglecting to tithe?

Let me offer a candidate: complaining.

While re-reading the Book of Exodus, I’ve been struck by the never-ending parade of griping, whining, and grumbling that the Israelites did.

*They complained when Pharaoh’s slave drivers made Israel gather straw to make bricks (Exodus 5:19-21).

*They complained right before God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12).

*They complained when they came to Marah and the waters were bitter (Exodus 15:22-24).

*They complained in the Desert of Sin because they didn’t have any food (Exodus 16:1-3).

*They complained at Rephidim because they had no water (Exodus 17:1-3).

And that doesn’t count all the complaining they did in the Book of Numbers … chapter after chapter of angry, discontented, ungrateful people.

And God hates complaining.

Why?

Let me offer three reasons:

First, complaining demonstrates a lack of faith in God.

Even though God:

*delivered Israel from the Egyptians, Israel still wanted to return there.

*purified the waters at Marah, the people later complained they lacked food.

*gave them food, they then claimed they didn’t have water.

God listened to their cries and continually met their needs, but they didn’t learn anything, constantly blaming God every time life didn’t go perfectly.

Sound familiar?

The Lord recently surprised me with something I’ve been praying for a long time.

Yet barely a week later, I find myself upset that the Lord hasn’t immediately solved another problem.

I need to remember: since the Lord solved that first issue in His time and way, He’ll solve this current issue as well.

That’s true in our personal lives, as well as in our church lives.

Second, complaining denigrates God and the leaders He’s chosen.

Just one month this side of Egypt, we’re told, “… the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 16:2).

After telling Israel that God would provide food for them, Moses and Aaron said:

“… the Lord … has heard your grumbling against him” (verse 7).

They then ask, “Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”

Then Moses concludes in verse 8, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Translation: grumbling against God’s leaders is really grumbling against God.

Moses and Aaron weren’t perfect; they made mistakes.

But they were God’s chosen leaders … and God identified Himself with them.

How many times have you complained about your pastor … or a staff member … or the church board?

If God chose them … fallible as they are … then isn’t grumbling against them really complaining against God?

Isn’t whining a way of saying, “If God assigned me to lead this church, then I’d do a much better job?”

For example, think about what you’ve said about your pastor recently.

Does your attitude and language indicate that you support his leadership … or that you’re sabotaging it?

Finally, complaining usually becomes infectious.

Congregational consultant Peter Steinke claims that complaining operates as an unchecked virus in a church.

Churchgoers complain in the parking lot after worship … at restaurants with friends … via phone calls and emails and text messages during the week … and even while the pastor is preaching.

Discernment and critical thinking are good things, and believers need to be able to evaluate what’s happening in their church.

But Steinke says that when someone at church comes to you and starts to gripe about a leader, the complaining virus is seeking a host cell.

If you listen to the complainer and agree with their issue, the complaining virus enters your spirit … replicates itself … and then gets passed on to others.

Ever hear someone say, “There’s a cancer in our church?”

The cancer spreads because professing Christians listen to and absorb complaints that they have no business hearing.

Why not?

Because the complaints are often about church leaders … and the leaders have no idea what people are saying about them.

This is how conflicts start in churches … and there’s only way to stop them.

What has been your experience with complaining churchgoers?

Read Full Post »

What’s the Number One Sin among churchgoers today?

Missing your quiet time?

Failing to attend worship services?

Neglecting to tithe?

Let me offer a candidate: complaining.

While re-reading the Book of Exodus, I’ve been struck by the never-ending parade of griping, whining, and grumbling that the Israelites did.

*They complained when Pharaoh’s slave drivers made Israel gather straw to make bricks (Exodus 5:19-21).

*They complained right before God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12).

*They complained when they came to Marah and the waters were bitter (Exodus 15:22-24).

*They complained in the Desert of Sin because they didn’t have any food (Exodus 16:1-3).

*They complained at Rephidim because they had no water (Exodus 17:1-3).

And that doesn’t count all the complaining they did in the Book of Numbers … chapter after chapter of angry, discontented, ungrateful people.

And God hates complaining.

Why?

Let me offer three reasons:

First, complaining demonstrates a lack of faith in God.

Even though God:

*delivered Israel from the Egyptians, Israel still wanted to return there.

*purified the waters at Marah, the people later complained they lacked food.

*gave them food, they then claimed they didn’t have water.

God listened to their cries and continually met their needs, but they didn’t learn anything, constantly blaming God every time life didn’t go perfectly.

Sound familiar?

The Lord recently surprised me with something I’ve been praying for a long time.

Yet barely a week later, I find myself upset that the Lord hasn’t immediately solved another problem.

I need to remember: since the Lord solved that first issue in His time and way, He’ll solve this current issue as well.

That’s true in our personal lives, as well as in our church lives.

Second, complaining denigrates God and the leaders He’s chosen.

Just one month this side of Egypt, we’re told, “… the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 16:2).

After telling Israel that God would provide food for them, Moses and Aaron said:

“… the Lord … has heard your grumbling against him” (verse 7).

They then ask, “Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”

Then Moses concludes in verse 8, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Translation: grumbling against God’s leaders is really grumbling against God.

Moses and Aaron weren’t perfect; they made mistakes.

But they were God’s chosen leaders … and God identified Himself with them.

How many times have you complained about your pastor … or a staff member … or the church board?

If God chose them … fallible as they are … then isn’t grumbling against them really complaining against God?

Isn’t whining a way of saying, “If God assigned me to lead this church, then I’d do a much better job?”

For example, think about what you’ve said about your pastor recently.

Does your attitude and language indicate that you support his leadership … or that you’re sabotaging it?

Finally, complaining usually becomes infectious.

Congregational consultant Peter Steinke claims that complaining operates as an unchecked virus in a church.

Churchgoers complain in the parking lot after worship … at restaurants with friends … via phone calls and emails and text messages during the week … and even while the pastor is preaching.

Discernment and critical thinking are good things, and believers need to be able to evaluate what’s happening in their church.

But Steinke says that when someone at church comes to you and starts to gripe about a leader, the complaining virus is seeking a host cell.

If you listen to the complainer and agree with their issue, the complaining virus enters your spirit … replicates itself … and then gets passed on to others.

Ever hear someone say, “There’s a cancer in our church?”

The cancer spreads because professing Christians listen to and absorb complaints that they have no business hearing.

Why not?

Because the complaints are often about church leaders … and the leaders have no idea what people are saying about them.

What should churchgoers do instead?

That’s the subject of my next article!

What has been your experience with complaining churchgoers?

Read Full Post »

Not long ago, a pastor told me that a key leader in his church was angry with him.

When I asked the pastor why, he replied that he had refused to marry that leader’s daughter because her fiancée was not a professing believer.

The leader’s attitude seemed to be, “I help pay your salary and volunteer my time around here, so my daughter is entitled to be married in my home church by my pastor.”

The pastor’s attitude seemed to be, “I promised to obey the Word of God at my ordination, and since Scripture forbids the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever, I cannot in good conscience perform that wedding.”

I’ve had church members say to me, “Come on, pastor, can’t you be flexible in this case?  It would really mean a lot to our family.”

I understand that sentiment completely … but the answer still has to be “no.”

But when a pastor doesn’t do something that a prominent member wants him to do, conflict can easily break out.

Pastors are asked to do many things they simply cannot do, either because God’s Word condemns a practice, or because their conscience won’t permit them to do it.

For example, in the churches I’ve pastored, I’ve been asked to:

*Publicly support home schooling while condemning the public school system.

*Stop preaching on any topic that’s even remotely political.

*Give weekly altar calls.

*Forbid the youth from attending Christian rock concerts.

*Go back to singing the old hymns.

*Wear a suit every Sunday (long after I ditched the suit altogether).

*Insist that my two-year-old son sit in the morning worship service.

*Tell people at a funeral that their deceased loved one was in heaven when I didn’t know his/her spiritual condition.

In each of the above cases, I said “no.”

I’m sure that when I refused, I upset some people … but had I said, “Yes,” I would have upset even more.

And more than anything … especially on the preaching issue … I would have upset the Lord.

Most … if not all … pastors believe that they work primarily for the Lord.

So when a board member says to a pastor, “I insist you do this,” the pastor’s attitude may come off as, “I work for the Lord, not for you.”

That board member then interprets the pastor’s attitude as one of non-cooperation … or even defiance … and the board as a whole may start to think, “We can’t control this guy … and he seems insubordinate.  Let’s get rid of him.”

I believe that this independent/control dichotomy is one of the main reasons why there is so much friction between pastors and board members today.

The board forgets that their pastor has been called to ministry by Almighty God … and that call has been confirmed by God’s people through the process of ordination.

Ordination does not confer infallibility (nor insensitivity) on a pastor … but it does mean that the pastor’s call to lead and preach has been recognized by his home congregation.

My friend Charles Wickman, founder of the Pastor-in-Residence program and author of the book Pastors at Risk, told me on several occasions that he believes that every local church should celebrate the anniversary of their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis.   It’s a way of reminding the congregation, “This man isn’t ours to control.  This is God’s man.”

Yes, pastors need to be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the board, the staff, and the congregation … and sometimes, they aren’t.

For example, on one occasion, the elders of my church were evaluating my preaching at a retreat.  The quietest board member told me, “I don’t like it when you elevate your favorite baseball team at the expense of my favorite team.”

He was right …  I did that several times a year.

Since it wasn’t a big deal, I stopped.

But when a board member once told me that I couldn’t raise money … I was not a happy camper … and justifiably so.

While this topic needs further exploration, let me ask you:

Do you know how and when your pastor was called into ministry?

Before you insist that he follow your dictates, find out … and you just might learn why he acts the way he does.

Read Full Post »

My wife and I were enjoying a fine dining experience at In-N-Out Burger the other night when I overheard a conversation at the table next to us.

An elderly gentleman … after using the terms “church” and “split” … told his assembled friends, “We are not going to get tangled up in church anymore.”

There was a time when I would have thought, “That man and his wife will not be able to grow spiritually outside the realm of a local church.”  And there is undoubtedly some truth in that thinking.

But I’m hearing of more and more people who are walking away from church … not for doctrinal reasons … but because there are just too many conflicts.

One Christian friend told me that he and his wife really liked their pastor … but one day, their pastor resigned and disappeared.

So the church called a new pastor.  My friend’s wife especially liked him.  But after he was there a short while, a bully forced the pastor to resign.

At that point, my friend and his wife said, “We’ve had enough of this.  We’re not going to invest our lives in church anymore.”

They still love and follow Jesus, but they’ve tossed in the towel on the institutional church … at least for now.

Another Christian friend told me that he had attended five churches over the past few years.  And in every church, a major conflict eventually broke out – almost always involving the pastor – and my friend decided that he couldn’t take it anymore.

So he no longer attends a local church.

When I was a pastor, sometimes newcomers would tell me, “We’ve just come from a church that suffered a horrific conflict.  We’re a bit shell-shocked right now, so we want to take time to heal before we volunteer to do anything.”

At the time, I didn’t completely understand.

But after being in the middle of a major conflict several years ago, now I do.  Going through a conflict can make a believer more guarded … less trusting … and even paranoid.

I’m all for winning unbelievers to Christ.  But while we’re seeking to bring the lost into our churches, how conscious are we that conflicts are driving the found out of our churches?

Several weeks ago, I met a Christian leader who travels the world presenting the gospel.  When I mentioned to him that American churches are rife with conflict, he responded matter-of-factly, “It’s not just America.  It’s a problem all over the world.”

How can we reduce and resolve conflicts in churches?

Let me offer four quick solutions:

First, pastors need to teach the biblical way to resolve conflicts at least annually.

If the pastor doesn’t do it, it won’t happen.  If it’s not done annually, people will forget.  As a pastor, I used to plan a brief “unity” series every November … right before our church’s annual meetings.  Whenever this is done, it should be viewed as essential.

Second, pastors need to model biblical peacemaking.

Most pastors try and cultivate an image of perfection … even when it comes to relationships.  But when pastors act like they’re always right … which they aren’t … they don’t model biblical confession and forgiveness.  I used to admit to my children when I messed up, hoping to demonstrate humility and reconciliation for them.  Pastors need to model healthy interpersonal behavior as well.

Third, church leaders need to address potential conflicts sooner rather than later.

Whenever a church suffers a pastoral termination … or a church split … the signs of discontent were usually present beforehand.  Let’s learn to read the signs and resolve issues before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:25-27) or it’s like giving the devil the keys to our church.

Finally, bullying in church must be exposed and outlawed.

There are people in every church who use intimidation to get their way.  They threaten to leave the church … take others with them … withhold their giving … and throw the church into chaos unless church is done their way.  Bullies use threats and make demands.  Spiritual people share their concerns and abide by the decisions of their leaders … or leave quietly.

And most churchgoers are unaware of this behavior because it happens behind the scenes … and because bullies usually charm their followers in public.

This behavior in our churches must stop.  We need to realize that bullying has consequences … including the damaging of people’s souls.

Many years ago, I attended a major league baseball game with a friend (who happened to be chairman of the church board).

We took the local rapid transit train toward home, when suddenly, a nasty fight broke out in one of the cars between two men … one a fan of the local team, the other a Yankee fan.

These guys were determined to hurt each other.  They were hitting each other … hard.  Knives and guns could have emerged next.

Know what happened?

Everybody ran into adjoining cars … as far away as they could … so they wouldn’t be injured.

When pastors and church boards fight … when staff members are disloyal to their pastor … when a faction rises up to remove the pastor … most people run.

They don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

And they don’t want to watch people they love hurt one another.

Let’s create ways to prevent conflicts in churches so that God always wins and Satan always loses.

How can we do this better?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: