Archive for February, 2014

38 1/2 years.  That’s how long my wife Kim and I have been married.

We “went together” for two years before we got hitched.  I was 21, she was 20.  Sounds pretty young, doesn’t it?

During our more than four decades together, we’ve had our share of conflicts.

For starters, we come from very different families.  My family tends to be private, cautious, and conscientious.  Kim’s family tends to be public and risk-taking, with a no-holds-barred attitude.

On Myers-Briggs, we’re exact opposites: I’m an ISTJ, while she’s an ENFP.

Before we got married, I was a spender and she was a saver.  After we got married, I became the saver, she became the spender.

And when it comes to sleep … I don’t sleep all that well, while Kim can sleep anytime, anywhere.

In spite of our differences, Kim and I have learned how to resolve the inevitable conflicts in our relationship.

Let me share with you four things (among many) that we’ve learned:

First, marital conflicts need to happen.

I once heard the famous evangelist Luis Palau say that if two married partners agree on everything, one of them is mentally challenged.

It’s exciting to be with people who are different.  It’s boring to be with people who are clones of yourself.

There was a time in our marriage when I’d come home from work and Kim had completely redecorated the living room … without consulting me.

I learned that she has a high need to be creative, while I want everything to be functional.  We had some pretty good go-rounds about her decorating decisions years ago, but we’ve identified the issues and learned how to discuss and negotiate our differences since then.

When you and your spouse disagree about an issue – even if you strongly disagree – quietly tell yourself, “This is the price I pay for living with someone I love.”

That attitude will help you work toward reconciliation.

Second, stay calm when you’re arguing.

Why do people yell and scream when they’re arguing with someone?  Because they’re frustrated that the other person isn’t hearing them.

But raising your voice ten decibels only increases the anxiety in your relationship … and when anxiety is high, so is conflict.

Sometimes your points are more powerful when you use a softer approach.

When my wife and I have a strong disagreement – and we still do on occasion – I don’t want the neighbors hearing our conversation … but I do want to hear what my wife has to say.

So I place my hand above my head and slowly bring it down as if to say, “Please use a calmer voice.”

Am I being controlling?  I don’t think so.  I want to hear my wife’s points, but I can’t discern them if the volume is too high.

Think about this: parents insist that their children “use a quiet voice” when they’re upset about something.  Shouldn’t dads and moms set an example?

We haven’t mastered this skill yet, but we’re getting better at it.

Third, focus on understanding your partner’s viewpoint.

More than 20 years ago, Kim and I had a backlog of issues to resolve, and we just weren’t getting it done.

So we set aside some time and set up a “Peace Conference.”

Kim could discuss any issue on her mind … for two minutes.  Then it was my job to tell her what she’d just told me.

When she assured me that I understood her, we both shared back and forth – using the two minute rule – until we came to a resolution.

Then we wrote the decision down … and it was my turn to initiate an issue.

The two minute rule gave us structure and injected fairness into our discussions.  We calmed down, knowing that we’d both get turns to share as long as we both showed we understood the other.

Years ago, when I wasn’t quite understanding what Kim wanted from me, I’d ask her, “If I could say/do this over again, how would you like me to handle it?”

Then I’d listen … ask questions … and do all I could to comply with her wishes.

You haven’t understood your partner until you can put into words what they want from you.

Finally, avoid going to bed angry.

Ephesians 4:26 encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath.  What wise counsel!

In his book Sleep: It Does a Family Good, Dr. Archibald Hart cites research from his daughter Sharon indicating that “80 percent of wives cannot get to sleep after an argument.  They need to talk a problem through and arrive at some resolution before they can turn it off.”

But according to the same study, “80 percent of husbands are incapable of talking through a difference without getting angry and withdrawing.”

Dr. Hart shares three principles to prevent arguments at bedtime:

1. Never open up a topic that is likely to be contentious just before you go to bed.

2. If you find yourself in an argument or heated discussion about any topic, call a truce as soon as possible.

3. If you do not have good argument skills, Dr. Hart recommends reading Dr. Sharon (Hart) May’s book How to Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen.

In the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra usually have their arguments when?  Right before bedtime!

For the first several years of our marriage, Kim and I tried to observe Ephesians 4:26 by staying up late – sometimes after midnight – to resolve issues.

Now that our wonderful children live on their own, we have much more time to keep current with each other’s needs and views.

I’ll write more on this issue another time.

How do you resolve conflicts in your marriage?

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Have you ever had somebody recount a laundry list of your faults?

I’ve had this happen to me … and it’s devastating.

Political candidates from both parties use laundry lists against their opponents during election season.

Spouses pull out laundry lists when they’re frustrated with each other.

Employers compile laundry lists when they’re ready to let an employee go.

But most of the time, laundry lists aren’t just unjust … they’re downright evil.

Why do I say this?

This morning, I read Mark 15:2-4 in The Message:

Pilate asked him, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?”  He answered, “If you say so.”  The high priests let loose a barrage of accusations. 

Pilate asked again, “Aren’t you going to answer anything?  That’s quite a list of accusations.”  Still, he said nothing.

When pastors are under attack, their opponents compile lists of their “offenses,” just like the Jewish leaders did with Jesus.

Let me make four observations about such lists:

First, laundry lists are usually desperate attempts to end a relationship.

During my second pastorate, a group of seniors did not like the changes that the board and I were making – especially concerning music.

Since they didn’t want to leave the church, they sat in a room and compiled a list of all my faults – including those of my wife and children, too.

Then they presented their list to two board members, as if to say, “Look at this list!  He needs to go!”

That’s what the high priests did to Jesus.

The list compilers don’t want to talk things out … or negotiate … or reconcile in any way.

They want the object of their scorn to be (a) defeated, (b) removed, or (c) executed.

There’s just one problem:

Second, laundry lists rarely contain any impeachable offenses.

Heresy is an impeachable offense for a pastor.  So is sexual immorality … and felonious behavior … and even slothfulness.

If someone’s opponents have evidence of an impeachable offense, they don’t need a laundry list.

They only need the laundry list when they don’t have an impeachable offense … which tells us something.

If a pastor preaches that Jesus isn’t God … or he’s caught in a motel with his pants down … who cares if he once became upset at a staff meeting?

When the seniors created their laundry list against me, one of their charges was that I didn’t make the wife of the church drummer lengthen her dresses … as if that was my role.

And all their “charges” were that trivial … which is why the board defended me and the seniors eventually left the church.

Third, laundry lists are simply unfair.

I know someone who once worked for a major Christian organization.  One day, his supervisor told him that he was doing 13 things wrong.

How could my friend possibly make changes in 13 areas at once?

He couldn’t … and was dismissed soon afterward.

That’s lazy … even angry … supervision.

Most people can’t emotionally handle having someone point out more than one offense at the same time … much less 13 … and that goes for children, husbands, and pastors.

(And students: remember when your teacher gave you back your term paper and it was full of red marks?)

The biblical principle is to bring up offenses as they arise.  Ephesians 4:26-27 says:

“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.”

If I’m angry with you for something you did, but I hoard your offense rather than speak to you about it, whose fault is that?


And if you continue to commit offenses, but I never say or do anything about them, whose fault is that ?


And if I come to you one day … and bitterly hurl your offenses at you … and you don’t take it kindly … whose fault is that?


Christians would have far less conflict in their homes, workplaces, and churches if we’d just take Ephesians 4:26-27 to heart.

And when we don’t, guess who gains a foothold in our lives?


Finally, laundry lists tend to indict their creators.

In Mark’s account, Jesus wasn’t guilty of any wrongdoing, while His enemies sought to cover up their plotting by trumping up charges.

The list makers intended to throw the spotlight onto a person they despised, but instead, they were revealed as being hypercritical, petty, and vindictive.

Their “barrage of accusations” really stood as an implicit confession:

“We don’t like Jesus one bit.  We don’t like His popularity … or His love for sinners … or His novel interpretations of Scripture … or His refusal to obey us … or the authority He’s been acquiring.”

And on and on and on.

Their laundry list was really about one thing: they hated Jesus.

And most of the time, those who use such lists expose their own hatred.

A church leader once came to me with a laundry list of accusations.  When he was done, I asked him, “So what you’re saying is that you’ve hated me all this time?”

He coyly admitted as much.

Do you know how it feels to work alongside someone that hates you … especially in a church?

It’s absolutely devastating.

If he had just spoken with me when his feelings first started surfacing, maybe we could have worked things out.

But when he harbored anger … without my knowledge … it ate him alive … and he poured it all out on me.

Then he felt better … and I felt like harming myself.

That relationship ended, as do most relationships where one person nails the target of their wrath with a laundry list of their faults.

If you want to get along with your family and friends, deal with issues as they arise … or take your pain to God in prayer.

Because once you toss a “barrage of accusations” at someone, it won’t be long before somebody gets crucified.

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When a pastor is dismissed or involuntarily resigns from a church without having another job, it is customary in the Christian community to give that pastor a severance package.  This is especially important if the pastor would like to stay and serve at the church but has been asked to leave by official church leaders.

Why give a terminated pastor a severance package?

1.   It usually takes at least a year for a pastor to find another ministry.  Because there are fewer church openings than ever today, finding a ministry job is a job.  A severance package allows the pastor to pursue his divine calling, which is why the Lutheran Missouri Synod passed a resolution in 1998 to give forced-out pastors a severance of one full year’s salary.

2.   Most pastors lack the required training and skills to land a secular job that pays them a livable wage.  Many secular jobs require a lengthy certification process – including further education, which costs money – and even if a pastor completes the requirements, there is no guarantee that anyone will hire him.  In addition, many secular employers are fearful that an ex-pastor may spend time trying to convert other employees or customers rather than doing his job.  Because of their divine call to ministry, pastors are often unsuited for other professions.

3.   Since pastors do not pay into unemployment, they are not eligible to receive it.   A severance package – which includes salary plus medical insurance – provides the pastor the best possible bridge to his next position.

4.   After a pastor resigns, he still has to meet his financial obligations.  He has to pay his mortgage, property taxes, and utilities; car payments and auto insurance; food and gasoline bills; and medical insurance for his family, among other payments.  When church leaders want a pastor to resign, but are unwilling to give him a severance agreement, the leaders seem to be engaging in retribution rather than moving toward reconciliation.

5.   The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes anywhere from one to three years.  When pastors leave a church abruptly, it devastates them mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, often sending them into depression.  A severance package allows the pastor to pull away from ministry and promotes the healing process.

6.   Many parties carefully watch a church to see how they treat their pastor when he leaves, including: (a) church young people who are thinking about going into ministry; (b) new believers inside the church, who often have a strong connection to their pastor; (c) unbelievers in the community, especially the friends or relatives of church members; (d) the pastor’s supporters, many of whom will leave the church if they discover their pastor has been mistreated; and (e) prospective pastors, many of whom will turn down a church that mistreated the previous pastor.   When a church grants their pastor a severance package, it’s a tangible way of saying, “In spite of our differences, we want to assist you with this transition so that God can heal and bless both you and our church.”

7.   A good rule-of thumb is that the pastor should receive at least one month’s salary for every year of his tenure.  The absolute minimum length of the severance package should be six months, especially if the pastor was asked to resign.  If the pastor has been dismissed after more than six years of service, he should receive a severance package of at least one year.

Common Questions:

*What if our church can’t afford to pay the pastor a severance agreement?

Unless your pastor is guilty of a major offense (like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), do everything you can to work things out so the pastor can stay and enjoy a fruitful ministry.  Bring in a mediator, church consultant, or conflict manager/interventionist to negotiate your differences.  Sometimes church leaders seek to dismiss their pastor prematurely without ever working through issues with him directly.  If you truly believe that the pastor needs to leave, then trust God to provide the funds when you need them.

*What if the pastor seems to have disqualified himself from ministry by his misbehavior?

If your pastor has a family, make sure that they are cared for financially.  Whatever the pastor has done to merit dismissal, his family members are likely not responsible.  And be careful of declaring a pastor who is innocent of a major offense as being “disqualified from ministry” as justification for not giving him a severance agreement.

*How should we pay the severance?

You can pay the pastor just like you’ve been paying him all along: either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.  If you don’t already use direct deposit, this would be a good time to start.  Some churches may choose to pay the pastor a lump sum up-front, or pay him half the money up-front and half at another time.

*What might happen if we choose not to pay a severance?

When you give your pastor a severance package, he may have enough money to move from your community, minimizing the chance that he will interfere in your church’s future plans.  If you don’t give him a severance package, he may not have the funds to move, and he may choose to start a new church in your community – and people from your church may constitute his initial mission field.

But more than anything, Jesus’ Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) applies here: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

*What are some of the stipulations church leaders can put into the severance agreement?

You can ask the pastor (a) not to sue the church; (b) not to start a new church within a certain mile radius; (c) not to disclose the terms of the severance agreement.

*When should the severance agreement be presented to the pastor: before or after his resignation?

If you plan to dismiss the pastor according to church bylaws, then present him with a written severance agreement as soon after you’ve met with him as possible.  The pastor should be permitted to take a few days and ask his attorney to review the document before he signs it.  If you plan on asking the pastor for his resignation, then he may ask for the outline of a severance agreement in writing first.  It is customary for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous severance package.

*Should we ask the congregation to approve or ratify the severance package?

If you ask the church to vote on the severance agreement, you will almost always foster congregational division.  Members will tend to vote on whether or not they like the pastor rather than the merits of the severance package.  It’s better for the official board to negotiate the package with the pastor directly and then announce an outline of the agreement with the congregation at a later time.  I’ve heard about church boards that “kick the can” to the congregation in hopes that they will vote it down.  In my mind, such behavior is despicable and unworthy of a Christian congregation.

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There are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand.  For example:

Why is one baseball pitcher paid more than $30 million per season?

Why did they have to kill off Matthew on Downton Abbey?

And why does anyone pay attention to Miley Cyrus?

There are also areas of the Christian church I don’t understand:

Why are so many Christians afraid to stand up for their faith?

Why are most churches unprepared for guests?

Why don’t pastors preach on controversial issues anymore?

We can talk about those issues another time.

However, I have five questions that center around conflict in churches – especially involving pastors – that continue to puzzle me:

First, why do so many Christians resort to lying to get rid of their pastor?

When a pastor is innocent of any major offense (like heresy, immorality, or felonious behavior), but a group in the church wants to push him out, why do they lie to get their way?

And why do so many gullible Christians believe the lies without checking their veracity?

And why do churchgoers believe the liars and proceed to shun their pastor?

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

I hear stories all the time from pastors whose forced resignations were preceded by one lie after the other.

Why do we permit this in the body of Christ?

Can’t figure it out.

Second, why is a forced-out pastor considered “damaged goods?”

In our day, if a pastor is forced to resign from a church, the chances that he can find another church ministry are poor.

Why do search teams make blanket judgments about such pastors without doing a little more homework?

Why does the Church that espouses grace for sinners withhold that same grace from pastors who have been battered and bullied?

I know men with sparkling credentials … who have grown churches … who are excellent speakers … who have proven their stability by leading the same church for 20 years … who have given their lives to the ministry … who can’t get a search team member to even return an email.

If Peter denied that he knew Christ in our day, would God’s people let him back into ministry?

Many pastors are forced out of their positions because they chose to obey the Lord rather than the board.

Shouldn’t we celebrate these men as heroes rather than ban them from church ministry for life?

Can’t figure it out.

Third, why don’t more denominational leaders stand behind pastors under attack?

When I became a pastor, I was told that my district minister was “a pastor to pastors.”

So I shared with him some concerns I had about my church.

That was a big mistake … because he later used what I shared against me.

If you’re a pastor under attack, and you’re looking for someone to confide in, think twice about trusting your regional minister.


Because they are usually more interested in keeping the church – and its money – in the denomination than standing for what’s right.

If you’re a pastor, and you’re under fire inside your church, and you’re thinking about asking your district executive for help, ask him this one question first:

To what extent will you stand behind me in this conflict?

If you get a wishy-washy political answer … which is likely … RUN!

Before I draw a parallel with Pontius Pilate … why don’t more denominational leaders stand up for their pastors?

Can’t figure it out.

Fourth, why aren’t more Christian leaders doing something about the problem of forced terminations?

In my book Church Coup, I quoted researcher Marcus Tanner from Texas Tech University about the increase in clergy terminations.

Tanner stated, “Everybody knows this is happening, but nobody wants to talk about it.  The vast majority of denominations across the country are doing absolutely nothing.”

If 1,500 to 1,800 pastors are leaving church ministry every month – with most of them forced out – then why are good people sitting around and permitting this evil to happen?

And don’t give me this “autonomy of the local church” stuff.  That’s just an excuse for Christian fear and dysfunction.

If pastors are being abused and battered and lied about, why are most Christian leaders silent?

Can’t figure it out.

Finally, why are congregations so blind when it comes to Satan’s influence?

Satan uses two primary tactics to destroy pastors and churches: deception and destruction.

Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and the father of lies … and was a murderer from the beginning.

Deception and destruction … two words that are easy to remember.

Anytime that lies are being spread through a church … Satan is involved.

Anytime that someone is trying to destroy a pastor … Satan is involved.

And yet, when Christians are in the midst of a conflict involving their pastor, some attribute the chaos and consternation to anyone and everyone except the evil one.

Why are believers so easily fooled?

Paul wrote about Satan in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “For we are not unaware of his schemes.”

But during a conflict, most Christians seem spiritually deaf and blind.

Can’t figure it out.

It’s high time that Christians took the time to study and practice what the Bible has to say about church conflict.

Or else Jesus’ church is going to have an increasing number of questions that it can’t answer.

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Last week, I received a personal email from the director of a Christian organization who invited me to check out a blog article he had written and a YouTube video interview he had given.

His issue?

He claimed that Rick Warren was “THE poster child global predatory pastor” and “THE MOST DANGEROUS PASTOR IN THE WORLD.”

So I read his article and listened to his entire video, jotting thoughts down along the way.

What did I learn?

That Rick Warren might be a 33rd Degree Mason and a member of the Illuminati … that he teaches “the tyranny of tithing” … that he doesn’t preach “Christ crucified” … and that because he prayed at President Obama’s inauguration, Warren is somehow linked to the elimination of the black race.

I kid you not.

And this “director” doesn’t have one good thing to say about Rick Warren … not one.

Let me try and answer each of these charges and then share why I think they’re being made.

First, is Rick Warren really a Mason? 

When I was in seminary, my church history professor – Dr. Christian – made a statement I’ve never forgotten: “You can be a Christian and be a Mason, but you can’t be a good Christian and a good Mason.”

Why not?

Because both the church and the lodge demand total commitment – and because they believe mutually exclusive things.

In the interest of full disclosure, my son works at (not for) Saddleback Church.  He’s had his picture taken with Pastor Rick … twice.

And my son says that Pastor Rick is rarely at church because he’s always traveling to some other part of the country or world.

How in the world would Pastor Rick have the time and energy to be both a Mason and a Christian pastor?

After muttering the claim on the video, the discernment ministry expert admitted that he didn’t have the documentation to prove that Warren really was a Mason.

But if you want to be taken seriously, why even mutter the claim if you can’t prove it?

Second, does Rick Warren teach tithing?

Yes.  And so do thousands and thousands of other pastors.  They honestly believe that the tithe in the Old Testament is assumed in the New Testament and point to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:23 as proof.

But by what stretch of the imagination is keeping an Old Testament command tyranny?  Isn’t keeping God’s law supposed to be liberating?  Didn’t Jesus come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it?

I taught tithing, and I’ve practiced it for decades in my own life.  What’s wrong with that?

Why single Warren out for teaching tithing when so many others have done so?  It’s okay to disagree, but to call it tyranny?

Good grief.

Third, does Warren preach “Christ crucified?”

The charge against Warren is that he has garbled the gospel message by not consistently preaching that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead … and that he doesn’t tell people to repent of their sins.

This reminds me of a woman who once heard me preach on two consecutive Sundays.  She wrote a note on her response card claiming that she wasn’t coming back to the church because I didn’t preach on John 3:16.

The following Sunday, that woman wasn’t present, but I did preach on John 3:16 … for the first time in years … but for some reason, I didn’t receive her note until the following day.

How ironic.

Can we put this “there’s only one way to preach the gospel” controversy to bed forever?

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are arrested and imprisoned in Philippi.  About midnight, a violent earthquake occurs, and the jailer – assuming his prisoners had escaped – attempts to kill himself.  Paul stops him, and the jailer asks Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Paul replies in verse 31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”  (If his household believes, they will be saved as well.)  The next verse tells us, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house,” probably expanding upon their “believe” statement.

But do you know how many times I’ve heard preachers and evangelists tell people, “All you have to do to be saved is to believe in the Lord Jesus as Paul states in verse 31?”

Paul doesn’t mention Christ crucified … or the resurrection … or heaven or hell … or repentance … or judgment … or God’s law.

Guess what?  Resurrection and repentance aren’t found in John 3:16, either … and Jesus said the thief on the cross was saved by simply saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

If using specific “code words” was vital to preaching the gospel, then Dr. Luke should have made sure that he used the right words every time he mentioned the gospel message in Actsbut he doesn’t.

He uses a variety of expressions to keep his book interesting … and many preachers do the same thing … including Rick Warren.

Finally, did Rick Warren sin by praying at Barack Obama’s inauguration?

Here’s how the argument is made on the videotape:

Warren blessed Obama at the inauguration … and Obama promotes Planned Parenthood … and their founder advocated the elimination of the black race … so, by implication, Rick Warren supports the elimination of the black race.

This is the kind of linkage that I grew up with as a fundamentalist:

If you’re in high school … and you go to a dance … you’ll get turned on … have sex after the dance … and get someone pregnant … SO DON’T GO TO THE DANCE.

How about this one instead?

If you listen to Christian kooks … and read their books … you’ll start sounding like a babbling idiot … pull away from your church … and sit in a corner sucking your thumb … SO DON’T LISTEN TO CHRSTIAN KOOKS.

But if you know anything about reasoning, you know there are huge jumps in logic between each step and that one step doesn’t logically follow the next.

Why are there so many Warren bashers out there today?

I have never met Rick Warren.  I’ve read his books … and I follow him on Twitter … but I don’t know the man at all.

But I like him.

Last weekend, I watched him preach (using the Saddleback Roku app) on transforming your mind.  The message was great.

It was biblical … interesting … relevant … practical … passionate … challenging … and convicting.

Do you know how hard it is to preach like that?

Rick Warren is an evangelist at heart, not a seminary professor.  Like Paul, he seeks “to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

He’s not like John the Baptist: living in isolation … leading an ultra-disciplined life … condemning sins sternly … and having a small group of followers.

He’s much more like Jesus: socializing with all kinds of people … enjoying life to the full … condemning the religious more than the irreligious … and gaining a large following.

And like many Christian leaders, if he’s asked to do something … and he thinks he’ll have a chance to represent Christ … he’ll say “yes” as often as possible … preaching the word “in season and out of season.”

Why does Rick Warren attract so much harsh criticism?

Because God has wildly blessed his ministry over the past 34 years … and God hasn’t blessed most other ministries in the same way.

And this makes “Christian discernment experts” and many pastors wildly jealous.

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:18 that even if certain people preach Christ “out of envy and rivalry” or “in love” … “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.”

Is Rick Warren perfect?


Has he made mistakes?

He’s the first one to admit that he has … and he’s disappointed me a few times … but so have most Christian leaders at one time or another.

But has God used him mightily?

Yes … and God only uses imperfect people.

In listening to all the Warren-bashing, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Let’s pray for Pastor Rick.”

So let’s pray for Pastor Rick … that God gives him many more years of service … and let’s pray for the Christian discernment experts … that they’ll focus on somebody really dangerous.

Any suggestions?

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Sometimes I just don’t understand God … and maybe it’s a good thing I don’t.

Because if God shared some of His powers with me for a day – a frightening thought – I’d start zapping certain people.

Several politicians blatantly lie to the American people on television?

Zap … one of them has a heart attack on camera.

A Hollywood producer makes a film touting the virtues of perverted sex?

Zap … the cast and crew come down with a mysterious illness, killing half of them.

A board member begins spreading false rumors designed to force his pastor’s resignation?

Zap … he can’t speak for six months.

It’s long been my opinion that if God meted out a little instant divine judgment here and there, far more people would obey His commands … and take Him more seriously.

The Lord certainly did this sort of thing in both Testaments … both to unbelievers and believers:

*When Lot’s wife hesitated to fully obey the Lord, she was buried under an avalanche of salt.

*When Korah and his buddies rebelled against Moses, the earth opened up and they fell to their deaths.

*When Achan stole forbidden plunder from Ai, he was instantly executed.

*When Zechariah failed to believe Gabriel’s announcement of John’s birth, Zechariah was struck dumb until his son was born.

*When Ananias and Sapphira claimed to have given the entire proceeds of their property sale to the Lord – but kept back some income for themselves – God struck them both dead.

*When King Herod Agrippa heard the crowd yell, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man,” Luke writes, “Immediately because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

In Scripture, God doesn’t zap every sinner … or every sin … or else everybody but Jesus would have died.

No, He zaps people on rare occasions … and we don’t know His criteria … but everybody standing nearby goes, “Uh oh, I better do what God says from now on!”

Couldn’t we use just a little bit of that today?

I have a theory that an increasing number of people don’t believe in God because they see little or no evidence of His judgment on sin.

*They see musical celebrities engaging in simulated sex on stage … and getting away with it.

*They watch televangelists distort Scripture and harm people’s lives … and nothing happens.

*They hear about priests who take advantage of young boys … and they’re transferred to other parishes.

So many people in our day keep pushing the envelope … and walking toward degradation … all the while defying God by inwardly saying, “God, if You’re really there, You’ve got to punish that behavior!”

But there’s no punishment … and no zapping … just silence.

So many people conclude, “God must not exist … or if He does, He’s certainly powerless.”

Let’s be honest:

*I don’t mind if God zaps big sins … as long as He lays off my little ones.

*And it’s okay if God zaps people I don’t know … just so He lays off people I do know.

*And I don’t care if God zaps people for specific sins … just so He doesn’t zap me for mine.

*And it’s all right if God zaps unbelievers instantly … just so He gives believers plenty of time to repent.

But then we read 1 Peter 4:17-18:

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'”

Many of us assume that when judgment does break out on our world, God will zap unbelievers first, and partially protect believers.  Certainly Revelation 6-19 lends credence to this argument.

But Peter’s words indicate that when God does shift into “judgment mode,” He may very well start with His own people first … and we’re in no hurry for that to occur.

I heard this statement years ago: “God’s judgment may be slow, but it’s sure.”

For the most part, I agree with that sentiment.  God doesn’t deal with most sins instantly … even though He will deal with them eventually.

But I’m still baffled … and sometimes disappointed … that He doesn’t deal with everyone’s sins more quickly.

Yes, I understand that He’s not willing for any to perish, and for all to come to repentance.

But if He meted out a little justice on television, or took out a few key politicians while caucusing … and the judgments could directly be tied back to Him … wouldn’t more people believe in Him?

Maybe … or maybe not … and that’s why it’s good that I’m not God.

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The most-read article on this blog is called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”  It’s been viewed 3 times more than any other article, indicating that many church leaders seek help with this problem.

Right now, I’m working on an e-book targeted for church decision makers – especially church boards – that are thinking about removing their pastor from office.  Tentatively, the first chapter is about why pastors are special … a consideration most decision makers block from their minds when they want to remove their shepherd.  Here is an excerpt from that initial chapter in draft form.  Feel free to comment.  


I know a lot about pastors, far more than I know about people in any other profession.  My grandfather was a pastor.  My dad was a pastor.  My father-in-law and step-father were pastors.  (They were both missionaries, too.)  In seminary, I got to know professors who had dedicated their lives to training pastors, as well as fellow students who sensed God’s call to ministry.  In my own life, I’ve held eight church positions over thirty-six years, and today I work with pastors from various denominations in a non-profit ministry.  I like pastors.

But as a church decision maker, it’s possible that your experience with pastors has been limited.  Maybe the only pastors you’ve known are the ones that have served your present church.  Or maybe this is your first assignment as a church decision maker and you’ve been a bit surprised by what really goes on behind-the-scenes.

Let me share with you several truths about pastors that you need to keep on your frontal lobes as you consider removing your pastor from office:

First, your pastor has been called by God to ministry. 

Through a convergence of events that He orchestrated, God selected your pastor – out of thousands of individuals – to serve Him in church ministry.  The call may have come all at once like a bolt of lightning, or it may have come upon your pastor gradually over time.  But your pastor did not call himself to ministry – God called him.

My Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Charles Feinberg, used to tell prospective pastors, “If you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it.”   Why did he say that?   Because the best pastors are the ones who know that God has called them and don’t quit when things get rough.  Many seminary students have no idea what it’s like to be a pastor, and if they really knew what it takes, the majority would probably drop out.  The hours are long.  The pay isn’t great.  The emergencies never stop – and neither does the criticism.  Especially the criticism.

Many years ago, a man who was a bit odd asked if we could meet for lunch.  He didn’t come to church very often.  He wasn’t a member.   To my knowledge, he had never volunteered for any ministry.   He didn’t have any friends at church.  But during our lunch together, he tried to tell me how to preach.   I had a style that I had developed over more than thirty years, and this occasional attendee was going to tell me how to teach God’s Word?  He could barely put two sentences together.

Not every person who claims that God has called him or her to ministry has really been called.  The call must be confirmed through a process called ordination, which is done by a candidate’s local church.  Although there is no one way to become ordained, the process usually involves the candidate writing out his conversion experience and call to ministry, along with a summary of his biblical beliefs. Then the ordination council – usually composed of pastors from other churches as well as laymen from the candidate’s congregation – examines the candidate, posing questions designed to test his knowledge of Scripture and theology.

When the time of examination is concluded, the candidate is dismissed, and members of the council deliberate as to whether or not the candidate should be ordained.  If the council recommends ordination, the ordination ceremony takes place a few days later – usually in front of the entire congregation – where the pastor takes ordination vows and his call to ministry is officially recognized by those who know him best.

How much do you know about your pastor’s call to ministry?  Do you know when and where he was ordained?  Do you know the name of the church that ordained him?

My friend Charles Wickman, who was a pastor for many years, was fond of saying that a church should celebrate their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis as a way of saying, “Our pastor is God’s man for this church.”   When was the last time your church celebrated your pastor’s call to ministry?

This does not mean that you can never remove your pastor from office.  But it does mean that you need to tread lightly if you seek to remove him.   God had His hand on your pastor at one time.   Could that still be the case?

Second, your pastor was assigned by God to your particular church.

While God calls individuals to church ministry in general – which is recognized through ordination – He calls specific pastors to specific churches … recognized through an investigative process often known as candidating.

When a search team from your church initially contacted your pastor, many people were obviously impressed by him.  The search team and pastor probably traded emails, phone calls, and written documents, maybe leading to an interview via Skype.  Then the pastor was invited to visit your campus and meet members of the search team, and if they were sufficiently pleased, your pastor later preached before the congregation and did a question-and-answer session before the entire congregation, the church board, and other relevant groups.

If the search team and governing board received positive feedback about the candidate, then your congregation probably took a vote and invited the candidate to become your pastor.   After such a lengthy investigative process, many people in your church undoubtedly concluded that God had called your pastor to your church.

There’s also a sense in which your church hired your pastor, and any employee who is hired can also be fired.  But when pastors talk about leaving their home and moving their family to serve a new congregation, they invariably tell people that God called them to that church.  I’ve observed that whenever a pastor initially comes to a church, many people refer to the pastor’s call, but if the pastor later finds himself in hot water with church leaders, the language changes. People start dropping the term “call” and start saying that the pastor was “hired” instead.  When leaders stop referring to the pastor’s call, they imply that God wasn’t involved in bringing your pastor to your church and that your leaders were the real reason he came.  But this doesn’t change the fact that at one time, the leaders and congregation of your church believed that your current pastor was God’s man for your people.

Ask yourself: if God clearly wanted him to come here, what evidence do we have now that God wants him to leave?  Regardless of how you currently feel about your pastor, please do not factor God out of your discussions and deliberations.  Just as church leaders sought God’s will when your pastor first came, so too church leaders need to seek God’s will if your pastor’s time at your church is drawing to a close.


If you were a church decision maker, and you were contemplating forcing your pastor to resign, how much weight would the above arguments have on you?  Let me know.

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