Archive for July, 2015

This Sunday marks 40 years since my wife Kim and I were married.  And by today’s standards, it was a very old-fashioned wedding.

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I was 21, she was 20.  We dated for 20 months … were engaged for four … and then got married at the church where I had met Kim two years earlier.

The wedding cost $500, and Kim paid for it herself.  (Her mother later reimbursed Kim half that amount.)  Somewhere around 400 people came to witness our vows on a miserably hot day.

Jim and Kim's Wedding Day

As church custodian, I arrived at my usual time of 8:00 am that Saturday to clean the church … then proceeded to lock my keys in my car … and had to call my laughing mother to get them out.

After I cleaned the church for five hours, I went home … put on my tux … and arrived in time for photos.

Kim’s father … our pastor … conducted the ceremony … making us kneel for more than 30 minutes while he talked about God, Abraham and Bonhoeffer.

Jim's Wedding Party

After the ceremony, some friends rifled through our wedding cards, took out the cash, and slipped it to me for our honeymoon.

We drove my mother’s car to Yosemite … mine never would have made it … and stayed in a cabin for several nights.

We rented a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Ana for $195 a month.  Kim made $1.65 working at a preschool, while I started seminary and worked at church as an ecclesiastical engineer.

People sometimes ask us the secret of our marital longevity.  My reply is always the same: “I married the right person.”

In fact, let me share with you five reasons why I know that I married the right person:

First, Kim is an emotionally strong woman.

San Diego means a lot to us.  It’s where we went for our first date … and our tenth anniversary.

We had a great time on our tenth … then drove back home to Silicon Valley where Kim entered the hospital for exploratory surgery the next day.

Kim had undergone some tests and been told that she had a mass in her abdomen.  After just ten years together, I feared I might lose her.

Thank God, she didn’t have a mass, but she did have a hysterectomy, and after giving birth to Ryan and Sarah, that was all God permitted us to have.

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But I remember how courageous Kim was during the entire time … and how her faith in God kept her sane.

During our last ministry, Kim was in and out of hospitals constantly.  She always handled herself well, assuring me that she’d be okay.

Sometimes I’m stronger than she is, and sometimes she’s stronger than me … but she has a resolve … a determination … that we can handle anything as long as we hold onto God and each other.

I love that about her.

Second, Kim is far more adventuresome than I am.

From ages 10 through 15, Kim went to boarding school in India and Pakistan while her parents served as medical missionaries in Saudi Arabia.  She only saw her parents a few months every year and had to learn to adjust to other cultures in primitive surroundings.


When I met her three years after she came home to the States, she talked all the time about how much she loved the Middle East.  In fact, she really wanted to be a missionary.

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But then she met me … and I’ve never been in her league as far as adventure.

In 1992, Kim and I began talking about saving enough money to visit Europe for our twentieth anniversary three years later.  But the church I served as pastor was struggling financially, and we agreed to give sacrificially for the church to survive.

So I told Kim, “Look, based on our finances, I don’t see how we can go to Europe.”  Kim responded, “If you don’t go, I’m going by myself.”

Somehow, we scraped together enough money to visit the Continent, and found ourselves on a mountain peak in Switzerland the morning of our twentieth anniversary.

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We’ve flown overseas many times since then, and due to my dislike for flying, I probably never would have gone … except for my wife, who became accustomed to flying all over the world when she was ten years old.

On our only trip to Hawaii many years ago, she insisted on hang gliding over the ocean and then being dropped into the water … while I was holding onto the boat for dear life.


I love that about her.

Third, Kim is a fun-loving party planner.

The weekend I was going to turn forty, Kim told me to clear out my calendar.  I had no idea what she was up to.

Thursday night, we went to a movie and to dinner … and then spent the night in a hotel.

Friday morning, we went to the San Jose airport where we met our two kids.  Then we flew to Orange County, where we met my sister Jan … and went to Disneyland for the day.

That night, we drove to my brother’s house in San Bernardino, where all my old friends showed up for a surprise party.

On Saturday, after flying home to San Jose, Kim planned another surprise party for me at church.

Over the years, Kim has used her skills in party-planning to gather large crowds for events.

When she worked for a large child care company in San Jose, they held a dance every year … one year, as the event neared, they hadn’t sold near enough tickets.

Kim volunteered to distribute them.  The goal wasn’t to make money, but to fill the auditorium downtown with people who would watch those kids dance.

When the curtain opened, the place was packed.  Kim had done something nearly impossible … turned a disaster into a roaring success.

She later used those skills to draw large crowds for community events at our church … and she thought BIG … a little too big for some people, who felt that the purpose of those events should be to make money.

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But her goal was to turn out a crowd so they could discover where our hidden church was located … invite people to attend … and hope that we could reach them for Christ … and she had a blast doing it.

In fact, she loves to say, “Church should be fun.”

I love that about her.

Fourth, Kim loves to reach people for Christ.

Kim was the full-time outreach director at our last church for nearly nine years.  Her work must have reached someone’s ears, because one year, she was asked to be the keynote speaker for outreach at the Bay Area Sunday School Convention.

Since I was leading several workshops of my own, I was only able to attend one of Kim’s … but her presentation blew me away.

The room was standing room only.  Kim knew her topic so well that she mesmerized the people in that room … and motivated them to do outreach in their own churches.

In addition:

*She put together ways for our church to reach its community … and built bridges with the local Chamber of Commerce.

*She visited Moldova four years in a row on mission trips … leading teams from our church the last three years.

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*She met a pastor from Kenya named Peter online.  She corresponded with him for nine months … then took a girlfriend from church and flew to Kenya to meet Peter.  She trained Peter in various aspects of ministry … trained other pastors as well … taught them how to reach out … and brought Peter to our church in the Bay Area.

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Today, Peter leads a thriving church in Nairobi, and as a bishop, he oversees 28 other pastors.  After we left our last church, Kim connected with a church in Atlanta … flew to Kenya … and trained two pastors from that church … and they now work closely with Peter to reach people in Kenya for Jesus.

*She raised $43,000 for a well in Peter’s village in less than three months.  She flew to Kenya with a team from our church to dedicate the well … and spent the day with the Vice President of Kenya.


Although many Christian leaders are uncomfortable with women in leadership, Kim has always served voluntarily under my direction and done it all with grace and sensitivity.

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I love that about her.

Finally, Kim knows how to get things done.

Three years ago, I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be trained to be an interim pastor.  It seemed like the only ministry option available to me at my age.

While I was there, the director of the ministry asked me if I’d be willing to go to New Hampshire to help out a church that was losing its pastor.  I instantly said, “Yes.”

Kim and I drove across the country where I served as interim pastor for only three months.  (The church called a pastor the second week we were there.)  Then we drove back to Southern California … without a new assignment.

My director mentioned several possible assignments in places as varied as Louisiana … South Dakota … Chicago … and upstate New York … but nothing materialized … and we were running out of time.

Finally, the director matched me up with a church in New York, and Kim and I flew there for an extended weekend … hoping and praying that things would work out.

But they didn’t, and as we were driving back to LaGuardia Airport, our future looked bleak.

With a burst of inspiration, Kim suddenly said, “I know what we can do.  I can start a preschool in our house.”

Within a few weeks, we rented a larger house in a better location … Kim sent in her application to the state … we began acquiring play equipment and tables and supplies … and on August 5, 2013, we launched Little Explorers Preschool.


The school has gone very well.  Kim directs, teaches, works with parents, and manages two employees, while I do the finances, marketing, cleaning, and more.

Kim and Children for Marketing

We work long hours, but enjoy having nights and weekends free … especially to drive through the mountains to see our two grandsons in Orange County.

IMG_5365IMG_5327At Corner Bakery in Irvine Celebrating Kim's 60th Birthday

Is ours a perfect marriage?  No.  We’re both strong-willed individuals.  We are both expressive and opinionated.  I can be stubborn, and Kim can be feisty … so at least life together is never dull!

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I love that about her.

I am glad that God gave me Kim because:

*She is hilarious.  She makes me laugh … constantly.  She recently posted a photo online promoting the preschool and wrote, “The children never cease to be bored.”  I laughed my head off … and when I pointed out what that phrase meant, she didn’t get it … so I laughed some more.

*She is appreciative.  When I do even the most mundane tasks, she thanks me.  When I do something surprising, she is grateful.  Her lack of entitlement makes serving her a joy.

*She never nags me.  She might remind me of something I promised to do, but she’ll tell me once and trust that I’ll come through.

*She has always supported my love for sports.  Although she’s gone to many games with me, she’s happy for me to watch baseball, football, and basketball as much as I want … and has never complained about it.

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*She and I can talk for hours and never run out of things to discuss.  That’s always a sign that you married the right person.

*She loves the Lord.  I tell her that on our first date, I fell in love with her heart … and to this day, that love has grown larger and stronger.

Even though we are exact opposites as far as our personalities go, we enjoy a deep, abiding love that has only grown stronger with time.

I don’t like it when people say, “I have the greatest wife in the world.”  The statement may be emotionally understandable, but it’s ultimately illogical … and is a way of saying, “My woman is better than yours.”

I’d rather say, “I married the right person for me” … and by God’s grace, I did.

Happy 40th anniversary, Sweetheart!

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Whenever a pastor is forced out of his position, there are usually two stories as to what happened.

There’s the public version … designed to placate the pastor’s supporters and congregation.

Then there’s the real version … smothered beneath a pile of rhetoric and obfuscation.

In most cases, a pastor is accountable to some kind of governing board, whether they’re called elders, deacons, a council, a vision team … whatever.

When a pastor is dismissed, that board wants to say as little as possible to the church as a whole.

In some cases, they don’t want to make the pastor look bad … but in many cases, they don’t want to make themselves look bad.

So they try and smooth matters over by using phrases in public like, “We just felt it was time” or “We’re going in a different direction” or “If you knew what we know about the pastor, you’d have asked for his resignation, too.”

But so often, nobody ever mentions the real reasons why an innocent pastor was permanently exiled … so let me take a shot at it:

First, the pastor was gaining too much power.

This is especially true in small or rural churches where a family and their cohorts have run things for decades.

A new pastor is called to the church.  He attracts lots of newcomers … who start serving in various ministries.

Some become leaders … and their allegiance is to the pastor … not to the board or even the church.

Feeling their power slipping away, the old timers resist the pastor’s leadership … resent his success … and finally decide, “He has to go.”  (Of course, this is the same scenario that happened with Jesus and the Sanhedrin.)

Most of the time, the pastor’s detractors won’t even breathe what’s in their hearts to the pastor or his supporters.  To criticize a pastor for bringing in new people looks petty … vindictive … and unspiritual.

This scenario often occurs when a church grows too fast too soon … or the pastor makes too many changes early in his ministry … but it can happen at any time during a pastor’s tenure.

And once the pastor has disappeared, the governing board is back in control … and get to choose any interims as well as the next pastor.

Second, the pastor was perceived as being too stubborn.

When I was in high school, I hung out with a group of friends who were all … and still are … great guys.  They didn’t drink (around me, anyway) … didn’t take drugs … and didn’t cause trouble.

One Friday night after a football game, they wanted to drive by the home of a song leader they liked … honk a car horn … and yell.  (It’s as close as they were ever going to get to her.)  It was fine with me if they did it … I just thought it was stupid.  So I asked to be taken home first.

Because I didn’t want to go with them, was I being stubborn or acting out of some kind of conviction?

I mention this because people … even board members … sometimes bring pastors stupid proposals … and if the pastor doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” he’s branded as being controlling … stiff-necked … and stubborn.

For twenty years, I wanted my ministry in churches to be characterized by four values: theological accuracy … moral integrity … methodological flexibility … and an outreach orientation.

I tried to be flexible with people’s suggestions and ideas as long as we didn’t sacrifice those values.  But if somebody wanted me to bend on integrity … or stop caring about spiritually lost people … I simply wasn’t going to do it … and if I paid for my convictions by being terminated … so be it.

For example, most pastors believe they can only marry two Christians … not a Christian to a non-Christian.  And if the daughter of the board chairman wants to marry an unbeliever … and the pastor refuses to perform their ceremony … his refusal may be termed “stubbornness” rather than “a biblical and personal conviction.”

I honestly think that many members of the church staff and board don’t understand how strongly most pastors hold their convictions … so maybe pastors need to do a better job of explaining in public why they believe what they do … even if people don’t understand or like what he’s saying.

But when a stubborn pastor meets a stubborn board … the pastor is usually the one who takes a hike.

Third, the pastor personally offended someone who wouldn’t forgive him.

If we could see into the hearts of God’s people, this reason just might emerge as Number One.

Being human and flawed, pastors sin against people at times.

I’d like to think that when a pastor is aware of his sin against someone, he seeks that person out … apologizes to them … receives verbal forgiveness … and their relationship continues unabated.

But there are two common scenarios where these steps are circumvented … or discarded altogether:

*The pastor has said or done something that offends someone … but the pastor doesn’t know anything about it.

The pastor could have said something that offended someone from the pulpit … or in a private conversation … or in a church communique … but the person offended never talks to the pastor about it.

But rather than forgive him unilaterally … or talk with the pastor personally … this individual starts finding fault with the pastor on many levels … completely hiding what their real motivation is.

How can the pastor ever make such an offense right?  He can’t.

*The pastor finds out that he hurt someone and apologizes for his actions … but the person offended either won’t forgive him or … more likely … says he or she forgives him but really doesn’t.

How can the pastor make that situation right?  Once again … he can’t.

The real offense in this scenario is not that the pastor said or did something wrong … it’s that the person the pastor hurt refuses to forgive him from the heart … because they view his offense as unforgivable.

Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Many Christians believe that the “bitter root” refers to a believer who is angry with someone else and won’t forgive them … but in context, it seems to refer to a Christian who is so bitter against another believer that their anger spreads inside the congregation and poisons many.

If true, how ironic that a congregation that preaches forgiveness to sinners might expel their pastor because a single person refused to forgive him!

But sadly, the pastor might never discover the real reason for his departure.

Fourth, the pastor offended a group that threatened, “Either he goes or we go.”

I remember reading about a prominent megachurch pastor who angered some long-time families in his congregation.

The pastor was trying to make changes to their worship services.  He went through the proper channels … the staff, the official board, worship team personnel … but there was one group he didn’t consult: those with old money.

They weren’t in positions of official power anymore, but when they heard about the pastor’s proposed changes, they went berserk because in their eyes, they were important … and he should have run everything by them.

(This story reminds me of the truism: small churches have small problems … while big churches have big problems.)

Due to the criticisms leveled against him, this megachurch pastor … someone I knew many years ago … resigned his ministry after 14 successful years.

The conflict made the local newspaper, which is where I read about the charges made by the people with old money.

If those making this ultimatum are good friends with members of the official board … if they hold important leadership positions … if they are wealthy and/or generous donors … then more often than not, this tactic will work … and the board will send the pastor packing.

But chances are poor that the pastor will ever hear anything about it.

Finally, the pastor was hit with an allegation that he couldn’t address in public.

One pastor told me that an older woman in his congregation threatened to make some charges against him and circulate them throughout the church.

The pastor knew that the charges were false, but he also knew that if they got out, some people would automatically believe them and insist that he resign … or threaten to leave themselves … so he quit instead.

I love Christ’s church, but I can’t stand this kind of lying.  I just hate it.

This is not who Jesus is … nor who Jesus wants His people to be … and it’s exactly what Satan wants: to make a spiritual leader quit based on deception and destruction.

Once a false accusation hits the ecclesiastical grapevine, a pastor is toast unless the church/board provides him with a quick and credible way of defending himself in public.

And sadly, most churches lack such a mechanism.

If I was a member of a church board, I would not let my pastor be driven out of the church based on a lie … even if I thought his best days were behind him.

In fact, I’d do the following things:

*track down the source of the false charge

*confront the person making the allegation and ask them to repent … and ask them to leave the church if they didn’t

*ask the pastor to respond to the allegation in public as soon as possible

*support the pastor’s version of events in public

*teach the church that Christians never use the devil’s tactics to do God’s work

How could I as a spiritual leader allow Satan to have free reign in Christ’s church?

Power struggles … pastoral convictions … bitter parishioners … group threats … and false allegations … these are among the real reasons why pastors are terminated in our day.

But I believe there’s one more reason that I haven’t yet mentioned that towers above them all … and I promise to write a separate article about it soon.

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Thirty years ago, Marshall Shelley – then associate editor of Leadership Journal – published his classic work Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church.

Until that time, there were very few books on pastor-church conflict that really told the truth.  Shelley’s book weaved real-life encounters with “church dragons” along with timeless insights and broke new ground.

In one section, Shelley listed five kinds of dragons that ministers encounter: the busybody … the sniper … the bookkeeper … the merchant of muck … and the legalist.

Based on my experience … and the experiences of other pastors … I’d like to share my own list of five kinds of churchgoers who create conflict for pastors (although I could mention many more):

First, there’s the Backstage Passer.

Just as some fans are always trying to gain backstage passes to see their favorite band after a concert, so too some churchgoers are constantly trying to “go backstage” and gain inside information about their pastor and church.

These individuals want to know what last week’s attendance was … how it compared to last month/last year … whether or not donations have been meeting the budget … and all manner of statistical realities.

To gain this information, this person may assume a position of trust … try and get a key to the church office … make friends with the office manager … and hang around the church office … especially when nobody is around.

And if they’re able to gain office access, they’ll rifle through as much data as they can, and use that information as needed … leaking some of it to their friends and associates at opportune times.

And if a pastor comes under attack, this person will supply numerical evidence that the church isn’t growing … donations are shrinking … and the pastor needs to go.

For some reason, these individuals want to know everything that is going on at the church.  They especially thrive in smaller churches that need volunteers.  Sometimes the BP and the office manager even combine forces to get rid of the pastor.

Tip: When a pastor detects that he has a Backstage Passer on his hands, he needs to calmly but deliberately take steps to deny this person the very access they desire because that information is rarely used for good.

Second, there’s the Self-Taught Bible Teacher.

During my first pastorate in Silicon Valley, a deacon … I’ll call him Joe … viewed himself as an expert in biblical knowledge.

Whenever I taught … Sunday mornings/evenings, midweek Bible study … I saw the top of his head far more than his face.

What was Joe doing?  Immersing himself in his Scofield Bible.

Rather than listen to his pastor, he’d sit there and read Scofield’s notes on the passage I was discussing … then do cross-reference work throughout the sermon.

In his mind, Joe couldn’t learn anything from me … or anyone else, for that matter … because he was self-taught.

One Wednesday night, another deacon asked me this question: “Why do my prayers sometimes seem like they’re bouncing off the ceiling rather than reaching God?”

I had just been reading the Minor Prophets during my quiet time, and I mentioned that sometimes God hides His face from His people which, of course, He does.

But Joe became unglued.  His face turned red … the veins popped out of his neck … and he quoted Jeremiah 33:3 as if to say, “That ends the matter … and you’re wrong!”

I’d only been a pastor for a few months, and I was already dealing with a volatile board member.

After that night, I located my father’s old Scofield Bible and read all of his notes before I taught so I could preempt any more of Joe’s rantings.

Tip: Be careful about arguing with a STBT.  State your position … listen to theirs … thank them for speaking with you directly … and let God straighten them out.  But pastors need to realize that they are usually threats to the STBT.

Third, there’s the Denominational Loyalist.

I’ve been a big fan of Amazon.com for years.  In fact, I probably buy 90% of my personal items from them.  (Oh, how I wish I’d invested in their stock when they started … it went to almost $550 dollars a share today!)

Anyway, I order from Amazon because they serve me far better than the brick-and-mortar stores do … especially Walmart, where I often have to deal with grumpy checkers and long lines.

I am happy to participate in an organization that serves me well and offers something of value in return … but that has not been my experience with denominations.

The local district wants their pastors to do at least four things:

*show up to periodic meetings.

*donate generously to district coffers.

*publicize district events.

*sit on district committees.

I did everything I was asked by my district for 12 years.  I went to regional and national meetings … contributed financially … promoted events … sat on several committees … and attended 11 consecutive men’s retreats.

And in the end, I concluded that most of it was a colossal waste of time because district stuff diverted time and focus away from my real ministry … and never added anything substantial to our church.

In fact, our church was far better served by a particular Christian organization that provided us with materials … counsel … conferences … with an expertise at a much higher level than our district could ever provide.

But there were 8 people (out of 500) in my last ministry who were denominational loyalists.  Several had attended the denomination’s college … been involved in district events over the years … and wanted me to love the denomination as much as they did.

They didn’t hassle me to my face.  They criticized me behind my back.  And they felt I shouldn’t pastor the church unless I felt the same way about the denomination as they did.

Tip: If you’re in a denomination that provides valuable services to pastors and churches alike, then by all means, get involved.  But if you’re with a group that expects your loyalty, time, energy, and donations … and doesn’t provide anything of value in return … then why bother?  Which biblical command are you violating if you ignore them?

Fourth, there’s the Shadow Pastor.

This is the person who thinks they can lead the church better than their pastor can.

It could be an associate pastor … the board chairman … the church treasurer … or a layman without a formal leadership position.

But this person seizes power … intimidates others … and builds a following right underneath the pastor’s nose.

And when the pastor says or does something that the Shadow Pastor doesn’t like … they spring into action.

A while back, I was contacted by a pastor who was struggling with a female SP.  This woman headed up a committee in the church and had summoned the pastor to a meeting that night … only her committee had no jurisdiction over the pastor’s employment.

As I recall, she had run out several previous pastors, even though she lacked the authority to do so.

Most churches have at least one Shadow Pastor … sometimes more.  These people have convinced themselves … and others … that they know exactly what the church needs to thrive … but nothing can happen unless they are in charge … and unless the pastor becomes a figurehead.

These churchgoers cause more conflict that all the rest of the conflict causers combined.

Tip: The pastor needs to be the undisputed leader of the church.  If he surrenders that leadership to someone else, he needs to leave the church or the SP will make his life … and church … a living hell.  God didn’t call the Shadow Pastor to be the church’s leader … he called the current pastor.

Fifth, there’s the Rightist.

This is the person who insists there is only one way to do things at church … their way.

A pastor will find rightists inside the staff … board … finance team … seniors group … and other key parts of the church.

The rightist is far better at criticizing things than doing things well themselves.  In fact, they live to offer petty flak.

And they rarely … if ever … offer compliments or express appreciation.

If the rightist is in the business world … and many rightists are … they often assume that the way they do things at work is the way the church should do things as well.

Maybe yes … maybe no.

The rightist isn’t concerned about productivity, but methodology … and they’d rather do things their way and not get any results than watch the pastor do things his way and prosper.

If I could, I’d pack up all the rightists in the church and send them away to visit various megachurches over the next six weeks so they could see firsthand that there are many ways to do things in a congregation … not just theirs.

Tip: The rightist usually has attended just one or two churches over the course of his/her lifetime.  This person needs to be exposed to multiple ways of carrying out ministry so they can broaden their mindset.  If a pastor can identify the rightists … and send them out on church field trips (maybe during the summer) … maybe he can enjoy a few weeks of quiet when they’re gone!

What kind of churchgoers have you seen create conflict for pastors?

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Several years ago, I visited a large church where the attendance had been plunging.

A key leader told me that the average Sunday morning attendance had once been 1300 but was now 650 … and yet the same pastor was still there.

The church had declined by 50% over the past few years.

Should that pastor have been allowed to stay … or should he have been let go when the church declined by 10% … or 20% … or 35%?

This makes me wonder: at what point should the pastor of a church that’s steadily shrinking be terminated?

This question makes two assumptions:

*that the pastor of a church is ultimately (not totally) responsible for its success or failure, and …

*that there is a point at which church leaders need to dismiss the pastor to preserve their church.

I confess that I don’t have a ready answer for this question … yet … but I plan on consulting with experts over the next few months to see if I can find a consensus.

In the meantime, let me offer a few observations on this topic:

First, many declines occur because a pastor is experiencing burnout.

When a pastor is stressed out, his body becomes unhealthy because he’s overwhelmed by all the demands upon him.

When a pastor is burned out, his emotions become unhealthy because his caring mechanisms are fried.

You can recover from being stressed out by renegotiating your job description … taking better care of your body … doing more things you enjoy … and taking time off.

You can recover from burnout only by taking extended time off … but even then, it’s usually delaying the inevitable.

One well-known pastor feared he was nearing burnout, so he took more than six months off.  When he returned, he served for a short while and then retired.

Time off will cure distress, but it usually won’t cure burnout.  As Dr. Archibald Hart says, burnout is often the beginning of the end of a ministry.

The burned-out pastor lacks internal motivation.  He can only accomplish minimal tasks, like preaching … attending staff and board meetings … and keeping basic appointments.

He also can’t handle people’s problems like he once did.  They deplete him of badly needed energy.  It’s not that he doesn’t care … he does.  It’s that he’s cared about people’s problems so long that they’ve worn him down … a condition Dr. Hart terms “compassion fatigue.”

But here’s the killer: the burned out pastor doesn’t want to see people.  He just wants to hide from them.  He can’t greet people on Sunday … can’t relate effectively to church leaders anymore … and becomes unpredictable.

And if people don’t feel their pastor cares about them anymore, some may stop attending.

For a church to grow, the pastor needs to be in top shape spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  And when he’s emotionally drained, he’ll need months off to recover … and even then, there’s no guarantee that he’ll return healed.

Here’s the tipoff: if a pastor once led the church to growth … but that same church is now in steep decline … he may be burned out without knowing it. 

There’s only one way to tell: the pastor has to visit a Christian counselor … take some assessments … and receive a diagnosis from that counselor.

I don’t think that Christians should condemn pastors who have experienced burnout.  Sometimes the cause of the burnout is inside that pastor … but other times, it’s found in the way the church functions.  Because the pastor burned out trying to serve the Lord, I believe that the church should pick up the tab for his counseling and treat him with dignity and respect.

And if church leaders decide they can’t wait for the pastor to recover, they should let him take some time to look for a new job … and offer him a generous severance package.

But too many pastors fear that if they are diagnosed with burnout, they will be terminated immediately … so they stay in hopes they will recover … which ensures that the church will continue to decline numerically.

Second, many declines occur because the pastor has to control everything.

I recently attended a church where the pastor announced that there was going to be a barbecue … and that he was going to be cooking the hamburgers.

That might be okay in a church of 25 that’s full of invalids, but this is a church of several thousand.

That pastor may be trying to send the message, “Since my whole ministry is about service, I am not above getting greasy for my congregation.”

But he may also be sending this message: “I’m the only person around here who really knows how to cook good hamburgers.”

I believe that a pastor needs to be “in touch” with every ministry in the church.  He needs to know what’s going on with the children’s ministry … the young couples … the seniors … and the music.  In fact, people expect this.

But many pastors end up sending this message instead: “I know how to do everything at this church, and I can do things better than anyone else.  In fact, if I could just clone myself many times over, this church would grow into the stratosphere.”

Control freak pastors can usually grow a church up to a certain point, and then things start to go south.

The pastor doesn’t trust others … and they can sense it.  He doesn’t believe others are competent … and they feel rejected.

And when the church begins to decline, the pastor doubles down and tries to control things even more … leading to further decline.

Can control freak pastors change?  Maybe … but they have to unlearn some habits first … and learn how to turn over responsibility to others … even if those others aren’t as gifted as their pastor.

And if a pastor doesn’t see the problem … or refuses to change … church leaders need to request his resignation and find somebody who will trust the congregation.

Third, many declines occur because the pastor has no plan to turn things around.

Nearly a year ago, I attended BridgeBuilder training with Dr. Peter Steinke in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I can still hear Dr. Steinke sharing some case studies with the dozen of us in attendance.  He said that many times when he consults with a church in conflict, he keeps asking the same question:

“What’s the plan?”

The pastor has to know the plan … and communicate that plan to the board, staff, and congregation … or the church may start to drift and fall into decline.

If a pastor’s primary gifting is shepherding, he’ll usually find himself in a small church … and be very content.

If a pastor’s primary gifting is teaching, he’ll usually find himself in a medium to large church setting.

If a pastor’s primary gifting is leadership, he’ll usually find himself in a large church or a megachurch.

Some pastors who are great teachers and shepherds can only take a church so far.  They may have learned some leadership skills, but God never gave them leadership gifts.  They may need to step aside so that someone with leadership gifts can take the church to the next level.

However, there are many ways to create a plan for growth:

*the pastor can attend a turnaround conference (preferably with key staff and church leaders)

*the pastor/board can hire a church consultant

*the pastor can solicit ideas from the congregation and key leaders and create a plan that starts from the bottom up

*the pastor can lead the charge to add an additional worship service

*the pastor can find a coach/mentor who will help him improve his skills and boldness

But without a plan … that everybody knows … the church will continue to drift and decline.

And if a pastor can’t … or won’t … create that plan … I believe he needs to go.

Finally, many declines are not the pastor’s fault … but he may need to leave anyway.

Back in the late 1990s, I pastored a church in Silicon Valley.  It was a very exciting, cutting edge church, and in many ways, we were ahead of our time technologically.

But on Mother’s Day in 1997, the owner of the building we were renting told us that he wasn’t going to let us renew our lease.  (This was around the time of the dotcom boom and he could make more money renting to someone other than a church.)

The only building we could find to rent was the cafeteria at Homestead High School in Cupertino (where Steve Jobs from Apple went) … five miles from our previous building.

When we made the move, we lost 1/3 of our people … those who lived in the opposite direction from our previous meeting place … overnight.

That was the end for me.

Nobody asked me to leave.  I just knew it was time.  It took us several years to find and assimilate those people that left … and it would take us several more years to regain the same amount of people.

And I lacked the drive and energy to do that.

The best chance the church had to grow again was for me to leave … and for the church to call a pastor with fresh energy and vision.


I once attended a conference at a very visible megachurch.  Their attendance had declined by 2,000 per Sunday one year, and they took some steps to turn things around … with the same pastor at the helm.

And since he’s an incredibly gifted leader, they did turn things around.

But I remember having lunch with another megachurch pastor a few years ago.  He told me that when the attendance begins to decline at a church, that pastor needs to leave because the same person who presides over the decline usually can’t turn things around … so he negotiated a separation agreement and resigned.

Two questions for you:

First, how often can a pastor who presides over an attendance decline stay and turn things around?

Second, what’s the magic number (if any) for dismissal: 10% decline … 20% … 50% … or what?

Several months later, I consulted with some top Christian leaders and received their views on this topic.  Here’s that article:



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One Sunday morning many months ago, I received a phone call from a layman who attended a church in another state.  He had read the following blog article discussing whether pastors should preach on controversial issues and he wanted to talk.


He told me how distressed he was that his pastor didn’t preach on anything controversial and wondered what, if anything, could be done about this problem.

We proceeded to have an impassioned discussion about the reluctance of most pastors to talk about the moral and social issues of our day.

Since the decision to affirm gay marriage in all fifty states by the Supreme Court in late June, I’ve been wondering why so many evangelical pastors have been reluctant to say much … if anything … about this issue.

Weeks ago, I wrote my mentor and asked him if he knew anyone I could speak with about why so few pastors talk about anything controversial anymore.

He directed me to a veteran pastor and former Christian university professor.  When we had lunch several days ago, I shared with him some reasons why I felt pastors were silent, and he told me, “You have an article right there.”

So … why don’t most pastors preach on controversial issues?

Let me give you six primary reasons:

First, most pastors are feelers rather than thinkers.

As I mentioned in my book Church Coup, Dr. Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation states that on the Myers-Briggs test, 77% of all pastors are feelers, while only 23% are thinkers.

This does not mean that feeling pastors don’t think, nor that thinking pastors don’t feel.

But this statistic indicates that nearly four out of every five pastors are governed more by their feelings than their reasoning.  I would think this applies not only to their leadership and shepherding duties, but also to their preaching.

Here is an example of a scenario that I faced all the time when I was preparing a sermon:

Let’s say that I’m scheduled to preach on the eighth commandment this Sunday, “You shall not steal.”

As I’m preparing my message, I remember that a man in the church was caught embezzling funds at his work … an “investor” cheated another man in the church out of several thousand dollars … and a high school kid was arrested for shoplifting.

While I certainly don’t want to preach at those individuals … and given the announced topic, they might not show up that Sunday anyway … do I pull my verbal punches because I might say something that causes them pain?

My guess is that the “feeler” pastor will pull his punches.  The “thinker” pastor will prepare and preach as if those guilty of theft won’t even show up.

I’m more of a thinker than a feeler … more prophetic than personal … and even though the faces of the “thieves” would flash before my mind during sermon preparation, those faces wouldn’t stop me from saying what I believed God wanted me to say.

But those faces would affect the “feeler” pastor.

Second, most pastors lack the time or motivation to properly research a controversial issue.

I once heard that one of America’s great Bible teachers spent only 6 to 8 hours preparing each sermon.

Rick Warren promised the people of Saddleback in their early days that he would spend a minimum of 15 hours per week in sermon preparation.

We were taught in seminary that a pastor should spend 20 minutes in preparation for every minute in the pulpit.  That’s a minimum of 12 hours of preparation for a typical 35-minute message.  (Some homiletics professors say that a pastor should spend one hour in preparation for each minute in the pulpit, but that seems hopelessly unrealistic to me.)

In my case, I spent an average of 15 hours on every sermon I preached.

But 4 issues each required more than 20 hours of study: abortion, atheism, evolution, and gay marriage.

I studied my brains out for those messages because I needed to:

*know what I was talking about.

*familiarize myself with the various views.

*think through and refine my own position.

*present my material in a biblical and interesting manner.

*address any objections and questions that people might have after the message.

On those rare occasions when I scheduled a sermon on a major issue, I tried to clear my calendar ahead of time so I could devote my best thinking to that message.

Most pastors just won’t … or can’t … do that.

Third, most pastors would rather address spiritual topics than cultural ones.

Last year, I visited a megachurch close to my house.

The pastor was preaching through Ephesians and came to chapter 5, verse 18, which says:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

The first thing the pastor said was, “Now I’m not going to talk about alcohol.”

Alarms started going off in my brain.  I might even have said, “What?????” out loud.

If you’re a pastor, you have to talk about alcohol in this verse because Paul’s whole point contrasts alcohol with the Spirit’s filling.  Alcohol is a depressant … the Spirit is a stimulant.  Alcohol abuse leads to wastefulness … the Spirit leads to productivity … and so on.

I sensed this pastor was comfortable talking about the Spirit, but uncomfortable talking about alcohol.

But the passage clearly says “don’t get drunk” … not “you can’t ever drink anything.”

When the pastor came to the end of the chapter … where Paul compares the union of Jesus and His church to a marriage between a husband and wife … the pastor punted on the whole issue of gay marriage as well.

This is pietism, pure and simple … the spiritual view that all that matters in my life is my relationship with God and my relationships with God’s people.

But what about what’s happening out in the culture?

Many years ago, I gave a message on a culturally sensitive issue, and a man at my church … who was an electrician … thanked me profusely for that talk.  He said that now he could speak intelligently with his fellow electricians about that issue.

To me, that’s a major part of what Ephesians 4:12 means by “to prepare [equip] God’s people for works of service” … and I don’t think that service only applies to the four walls of the local church.

In fact, when a believer tries to share his faith in the marketplace, it’s common for an unbeliever to bring up the existence of God … the authority of Scripture … and the latest cultural issue.

If God’s people know how to answer people intelligently (1 Peter 3:15), they’ll be better evangelists.

Fourth, many pastors are afraid they will turn off potential converts by discussing hot topics.

Several years ago, I attended an Easter service where the pastor … who was preaching on Christ’s resurrection … twice criticized the practice of abortion.

That seemed odd to me … especially since there’s nothing in any of those resurrection texts about killing a fetus.

My concern was, “Of all Sundays in the year when you want to focus on Christ alone, this is the one!”  His comments turned me off … and, in the words of Neil Diamond, “I’m a believer.”

I once knew a veteran pastor who espoused this “drop in” technique.  He believed in discussing a hot issue for just a sentence or two … and then moving on to the main issue.

But for me, I’d rather devote an entire message to a controversial issue and “make a case” for the biblical/Christian position.

I would never just spring such a topic on a congregation.  Instead, I’d announce it ahead of time, so that those who didn’t want to hear that message could plan not to attend.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was relearning how to preach, I noticed that Bill Hybels … pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, the nation’s largest church at the time … never shied away from anything controversial.

In fact, he did a series called “Our Modern Moral Trifecta,” bringing separate messages on abortion, racism, and homosexuality.

Hybels is primarily an evangelist … by his own admission … but wow, did he ever hit those topics hard … and his church was reaching unbelievers in droves!

I believe that every area of a Christian’s life should be lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ: your home life … your work life … your financial life … your citizenship … your sex life … your leisure time … your church participation … everything.

If that’s true, then shouldn’t a pastor be willing to preach about anything and everything as well?

As my friend Dr. Donald Shoemaker says, “Preaching that avoids what is timely is unworthy preaching.”

Fifth, many pastors are afraid they will hurt or offend people in their congregations.

Here’s how this thinking goes:

“I don’t want to preach that homosexual behavior is wrong because I’m sure there are some gay people in my congregation and I don’t want to condemn their behavior and turn them off to Christ.”

“I don’t want to preach against adultery because I know people in this church who have had affairs and talking about the issue will only bring them pain.”

My first reaction to this kind of explanation is, “Then why didn’t you become a therapist instead of a preacher?”

I recently heard a Jewish commentator on the radio chastise evangelical pastors for not talking about anything controversial, and I thought to myself, “Christians leaders are farming out these issues to Bill O’Reilly … Rush Limbaugh … Sean Hannity … and Michael Medved because we refuse to address them.”

I believe a pastor has to do two things with any controversial issue that is clearly mentioned in Scripture:

*He has to say, “This is where the Bible comes down on this issue.  Let me tell you what this means … why God said this … and how doing this will help you in your life.”

I believe it’s helpful for unbelievers to hear a pastor talk about sanctification … how to lead a holy life … so he or she knows what God expects of them if they do come to faith in Christ.

Paul loved to preach the gospel … as he did in Romans 1-11 … but then he talked about how to live a Christian life in chapters 12-16.

We can’t do one or the other: we need to do both.

*A pastor also has to say, “If you’ve crossed the line on this issue, and you’ve confessed your sin to God, He will forgive you … each and every time.  But you may also have to repent by changing your behavior.  We’re here to help, and here’s the help we provide.”

If a pastor just rips on people who have violated God’s Word, I agree … that’s counterproductive and harmful preaching.

A pastor also needs to tell people how to be liberated from their sins … and if you do that, you can preach on anything.

Finally, many pastors don’t believe that a sermon is the best place to address issues of controversy.

This was the view of the late Robert Schuller.  For years, he taught that controversial issues should be addressed in a classroom setting so there could be adequate discussion of all sides.

It’s interesting to me that Blll Hybels’ mentor was Schuller … but that Hybels deviated from Schuller’s practice on this.

It’s also interesting to me that the only time I ever heard Schuller preach in person at the Crystal Cathedral … in February 2000 … he preached on “You shall not commit adultery” … and he hit a grand slam with that message.  In fact, it’s probably the best sermon I’ve ever heard on that topic.

So even Schuller … the non-controversial television evangelist … couldn’t always shirk the tough issues!

Here are five brief ways that pastors can wisely address controversial issues in their churches:

*Preach on the ones you feel strongly about.  I’ve preached on abortion once in 36 years of preaching.  While I abhor the practice, it’s not something that has touched my life personally.  But once I preached on the issue, my position became the position of my church, and if anyone asked where we stood, either I or the other leaders could tell them.

*Invite guest speakers to address specific issues.  When I pastored in the San Francisco Bay Area, I invited Dr. Philip Johnson from the University of California at Berkeley to speak on a Sunday.  His specialty was law and logic, which he used to decimate macroevolution in many of his books.  Or if a pastor doesn’t feel comfortable addressing abortion, he could invite a speaker from the local Christian pregnancy center to address his congregation.

*Allow for people to ask you questions in public after you preach.  This was the regular practice of Dr. R. T. Kendall from Westminster Chapel in London.  When he was done preaching, he arranged for microphones to be set up in the aisles, and people would come and make comments or ask questions after the sermon.  I love this approach and wanted to incorporate it in my last ministry, but we could never work out the logistics.  But I think people would learn a lot more from a post-sermon dialogue than they would from an exclusively pastoral monologue.

*Create a small group devoted to discussing hot topics.  I once led a group where we discussed a different issue every week from a biblical viewpoint.   It could be capital punishment one week … Arminianism and Calvinism the next week … and gun control the following week.  I led the discussion, but let group members select the topics.  This kind of group isn’t for everybody, but it provides a much-needed outlet for people who want to delve into issues with more depth.

*The pastor teaches a midweek class on various issues every summer.  For years, I taught a class on Tuesday nights during the summer on hot topics.  The class was usually well-attended … people got to make comments and ask questions … and I even divided people up into smaller groups for more focused discussion.  If there’s a Bible school or seminary professor in your church who could do this instead of the pastor, that’s fine … but I think it’s important to offer these kinds of classes on a regular basis.

I realize this article has been a bit long, but I wanted to deliver my soul on this topic.  Thanks so much for reading!

What are your thoughts on this subject?

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Pastor Mark still couldn’t believe it was really happening.

After twelve years of ministry as senior pastor of Mercy Church, Mark felt pressured to resign.

Many people concluded that Mark quit because he couldn’t get along with the board.  That certainly seemed to be the case over the last few days of his tenure, but the truth was known only by a handful.

It wasn’t initially the church board that did in Mark … it was the associate pastor.

And the scenario I’m about to describe has become increasingly common.

Two years before Mark was forced to leave, he hired an associate pastor named Greg.

The church spent thousands of dollars moving Greg and his family to their community, and someone in the church let Greg rent their second house for a greatly reduced amount.

Greg was hired to do the things that Mark didn’t do well … or didn’t have time to do … and his five overall duties were all spelled out in his written job description.

Greg was responsible for running the small group ministry … overseeing the youth ministry … incorporating newcomers into the church … leading the men’s ministry … and starting several community outreach projects.

Right after Greg’s hiring, he began making plans for each of the five areas.  And over the next eight months, he recruited leaders for those ministries … helped them find volunteers … did some training … and reported everything back to Mark.

So far, so good.

But as time went on, Greg’s ministries didn’t flourish … and three were on life support.

Greg was increasingly unhappy.


*Greg’s wife told him that he was a much better preacher and leader than Mark … and that he should request and receive a significant raise in the new budget.  When he received a small cost-of-living raise after his first year, he sulked.

*Greg had also made some friends in the church … some of whom told him, “You should be pastor instead of Mark!”  And Greg believed them.

*Greg gradually lost interest in small groups, incorporating newcomers, and community projects.  In all honesty, he didn’t know what to do … chose not to tell Mark the truth … and faked his way along.

*Rather than doing what he was hired for, Greg spent his time goofing around online … talking on the phone with old friends … running errands for his family … and planning a mission trip that hadn’t been authorized.

Meanwhile, Mark was getting reports that the small group ministry was on life support … that only a few guests had returned for a second visit since Greg’s debut … and that the two community projects he started had both died.

Mark called Greg into his office one day and asked him for an honest progress report on each ministry.

Greg fudged … and bluffed … and lied.

Mark was justifiably upset.  The church had invested a lot of time and money in Greg, and he didn’t seem to be working out.  Mark told Greg, “If your performance doesn’t improve, we’re going to have to reevaluate our relationship.”

Greg went home and told his wife what Mark had said … and she hit the roof … and the telephone.

What she should have said was, “Greg, are you working a full week?  Are you giving God and His people your best?  Are you doing what Mark wants you to do?”

But she told him instead, “You are twice the leader Mark will ever be!  You should be the pastor of Mercy Church!  What does Mark know?  I’ve lost all respect for him.”

Greg was visibly upset … afraid for his job … and even his career.

He decided to contact a board member named Phil who had invited him out to lunch twice before.

The two of them met at Chili’s … where Greg told Phil:

“I don’t feel fulfilled right now at Mercy.”

“I’m not sleeping well … eating right … or able to focus on my ministry duties because I’m so upset with Mark.”

“I feel I’ve done a great job at Mercy, but Mark doesn’t agree, and he may be close to firing me.”

“My wife is upset, too, and she’s becoming a basket case.”

“I just want to serve the Lord without interference.”

The entire future of Mercy Church will be determined by what Phil does next.

He should tell Greg, “I’m sorry things aren’t working out, but Mark is your boss, and I support him fully.  Unless Mark is guilty of a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, criminal behavior, verbal abuse), I’m not going to tell him how to run the staff.  You either need to do what Mark wants you to do or look for another job.”

But all too many board members reply, “Oh, Greg, I’m so sorry that Mark has hurt you.  That’s terrible!  Let me take your concerns to a couple other board members.  We’ll see what we can do to help you.”

Without realizing it, many board members end up sabotaging their pastor’s ministry by:

*siding with the complaining staff member.

*failing to inform the senior pastor of the staff member’s complaint.

*taking responsibility for the staff member’s feelings.

*telling other board members about the complaint.

*neglecting to tell the staff member to shape up or ship out.

Here is what happens all too often:

Phil contacts two other board members and passes on Greg’s complaints.  They listen to Phil … contact Greg and listen to him … never ask Mark for his side … conclude that “we must keep Greg” … and undermine Mark’s authority as staff supervisor.

And once Greg’s complaints are out in the open and unresolved … Phil spreads Greg’s complaints to other board members … some of whom take Greg’s side and add their own complaints against Pastor Mark.

This process can flourish underground for several months until:

*the complaining virus has spread throughout the board … to board member’s wives … and to several key leaders.

*the board reaches critical mass that Mark is a bad guy who has to go.

*the board makes this decision between board meetings … and without Mark’s knowledge.

When the board finally decides to speak with Mark about his tensions with Greg, the pastor:

*claims he isn’t aware of any tensions with Greg.

*feels that everything has been blown out of proportion.

*tells the board they have usurped his authority as staff supervisor.

*feels betrayed by a board that seemed completely loyal to him … until Greg showed up.

*doesn’t realize that the board has already sided with Greg over against their pastor.

Two weeks later, when Pastor Mark stands in front of the congregation and reads his letter of resignation, he probably won’t mention that Greg betrayed him … as did the entire church board.

He’ll trade that resignation letter for a separation package … and ask himself every day for months, “What in the world did I do wrong?”

Under this scenario, the answer is a pronounced, “Pastor, you did nothing wrong … except put too much trust in your associate and board members.”

The real culprits?

*A lazy and rebellious associate pastor.

*His jealous and bitter wife.

*A board member who allowed himself to be triangled (accept responsibility) for a problem that wasn’t his to resolve.

*Several other board members who foolishly sided with their new associate rather than their experienced and proven senior pastor.  (The senior pastor had served the church faithfully and productively for years, unlike the associate.)

*A church system that rewards slothfulness and disloyalty.

In some cases, the board then turns around and asks the associate pastor to become either the interim pastor or to throw his hat into the ring to become senior pastor … and sometimes, that’s exactly what happens.

I once interviewed a pastor who had experienced this exact scenario.

One day, he was leading a megachurch.

The next Sunday, he was out … and his associate became senior pastor.

Why does this happen?

Because the church board … in their anxious, confused state … forget three basic principles:

*God has called the senior pastor to be staff supervisor … not the church board.

*God has called the associate pastor to serve under the senior pastor … not the church board.

*God has called the senior pastor to be accountable to the church board … not the associate pastor.

It all seems so simple on paper, does it not?

Then why don’t some church leaders carry this out in practice?

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During my junior year in gym class, I was assigned to a three-man basketball team along with a guy named Ted.

Ted only knew one thing to do with a basketball: shoot.

If I stole a pass … or got a rebound … or took the ball out of bounds … I would pass the ball to Ted and he’d shoot.  It didn’t matter if I was wide open, or if I beat my man breaking to the basket.

Ted never saw me.

To Ted, the basketball was large, and his teammates were tiny.

It was demoralizing playing with Ted the Ball Hog.  If my friend Steve had been on my team, we would have had a blast passing the ball back and forth … pick-and-rolls, alley oops, no-look passes.

But playing with Ted wasn’t any fun … and I had to do it for nine long weeks.

There are a lot of pastors who are just like Ted.

They run their churches by themselves.  They don’t even notice others around them.  They preach all the sermons … select all the leaders … make all the decisions … and demotivate people in the process.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels say that the pastors of large, growing churches have one special skill: they quickly put together ministry teams … give them a charter … and turn them loose.

But thousands of pastors can’t do that.

Why are so many pastors control freaks?

First, pastors are hyper-anxious that things go perfectly at their churches.

There is a direct correlation between being anxious and needing to be in control.

The more anxious you are, the more you’ll insist that the ministry have zero mistakes.

The less anxious you are, the more you’ll do your best and then relax.

I have a “gift” that I wish I didn’t have.

When I was a pastor, and I first walked into the worship center on Sunday morning, I could tell within five seconds if something was wrong inside the room.

If a chair was crooked … if there was trash lying around … if the communion elements weren’t perfectly straight … I felt that it was my duty to quickly and quietly take care of things.

That’s how many pastors manage their churches.

They remain anxious until attendance is up … the giving is meeting budget … every leadership slot is filled … and every problem has been solved.

Which means they are always anxious … and feel like they need to control everything.

But anxiety-ridden pastors are ultimately counterproductive.

Second, pastors feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for their ministries.

Paul told the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:28:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Watch the flock … and shepherd the church … because the Spirit of God has selected you as a leader … and Jesus died for His people.

What a solemn duty!

Maybe this is why many pastors assume responsibility for every service … every leader … every ministry … and every unresolved problem in their churches.

And at times, that responsibility feels absolutely overwhelming.

If a leader falls into sin … if a couple announces they’re divorcing … if a small group implodes … many pastors say to themselves, “I should have seen that coming.  I should have prevented that from happening.”

And if they can’t prevent a problem, they’ll create a plan to minimize the damage.

It’s been nearly six years since my last day as a pastor.

I don’t miss the responsibility one bit.  It’s too much for any one person.

But the more responsible a pastor feels about his church, the more control he’ll wield over it.

Third, pastors try to avoid replicating bad experiences from their past.

I once hired a staff member who claimed on his resume that he was just a few units short of earning his degree.  The church board asked him to finish his degree if we hired him, and he agreed.

A year later, through a series of circumstances, I discovered from the registrar at his college that this staff member lied about his education on his resume.

I felt stupid that I hired him.

A navy chaplain was attending our church at the time, and when I mentioned the situation to him, he encouraged me to ask every future job applicant to supply a transcript of their completed classes directly from each school they’d attended.

Because we’ve been burned in the past … by Christians, no less … many pastors add extra requirements when they hire staff … select board members … allow people to teach … or approve people to handle money.

Sometimes these extra requirements feel like unnecessary control, but pastors want to minimize the chance they’ll make a mistake that might harm the ministry … a mistake that their critics will blame them for.

But these added steps often seem like additional control.

Fourth, pastors view themselves as professionals … and most others as amateurs.

Because they’ve been called to ministry … attended Bible college and/or seminary … and have more experience serving in churches than 90% of the people who attend their congregations … many pastors see themselves as professionals who know everything about church life.

They know the right style of music during worship … the right colors to paint the youth room … the right way to share Christ with an unbeliever … and the right way to raise money.

And even when someone more gifted comes along, a pastor may still insist that his way is the right way.

I have been through two church building programs as a pastor.  I learned a lot going through those experiences … but that doesn’t mean that I know everything about constructing facilities.

I don’t.

In fact, some of my construction ideas were dumb … but some were extremely helpful, too.

During my last pastorate, our church built a new worship center.  I chose the initial building team, and gave them my ideas, and stayed in touch with the leader, but I let the team make their own decisions.

Most of them were wise … a handful unwise … but it wasn’t my church: it was our church.

When a pastor becomes a control freak:

*It becomes harder and harder to recruit volunteers.

*Existing volunteers feel uncertain … disempowered … and demotivated.

*Some volunteers will suddenly quit and leave the church because they feel unvalued.

*The pastor sends the message, “I am the body of Christ.”

*The church will shrink numerically.

During my first ten years of church ministry, the churches I led did not do well … largely because I exercised too much control over everything.

During my next twenty years of ministry, though, the churches I led did very well … largely because I learned to select good leaders … give them a charter … grant them both authority and responsibility … and trust them to do the job.

I’d love to play three-man basketball again, especially with teammates who would pass the ball around until one of us was open for a good shot.

But I refuse to play with someone like Ted who hogs the ball and doesn’t value his teammates.

Churchgoers don’t want to work with a pastor like Ted, either.

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My wife and I once lived in an apartment located directly behind a prominent church in our community.  My theology professor from seminary attended there, as did several friends.

One weekend, I had a Sunday off from my own church, so my wife and I decided to visit the church behind our place – and I’ve never forgotten what happened.

The service began with the pastor standing up to announce a change in church scheduling.  He sounded hesitant … defensive … and even scared … and his announcement went on for twenty minutes.

I was so shocked by how long his announcement went that I can’t remember anything else about that service.

So it didn’t surprise me when I later learned that church was undergoing severe conflict … and that the pastor’s days were numbered.

When a church is experiencing major conflict:

*everyone can feel the tension.  More than any service I’ve ever attended, you could cut the tension that morning with a knife.  I never found out what the exact issues were.  Maybe it was the pastor’s lack of leadership … or his remoteness … or the fact that he wanted to superimpose the culture of his previous church on this one.  Whatever it was, we could feel there was trouble afoot.

*people just want relief.  Most churchgoers don’t like conflict and just want it to vanish, and they’ll do almost anything to gain relief … even to the point of doing unchristian things.

*the pastor will usually be blamed … either for starting the conflict … allowing it to continue … or not resolving issues quickly.  I don’t know what role that pastor had in making that announcement … whether it was his idea or whether it came from the church board … but he became identified with the scheduling issue in many people’s minds.

*outreach will be affected.  Nobody greeted my wife and me as we entered the worship center … and nobody greeted us as we exited, either.  I remember telling my wife, “The people in this congregation feel relationally and emotionally cold.”  Even though we lived behind the church, we never returned.

By contrast, here’s what Acts 9:31 says about the progress of the early church:

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. 

This is one of five summary statements about the early church in the Book of Acts.  It’s such a positive and joyful observation that when I preached through Acts many years ago, I devoted an entire sermon to this single verse.

And what is most remarkable is that the church of Jesus Christ was at peace in three different locales: Judea,  Galilee, and Samaria.  That’s like a district minister saying, “We have one hundred churches in our territory, and every one of them is relationally healthy.”  Happens rarely, if ever.

How can a church enjoy such a time of peace?

*The church must unite around Christ’s Great Commission.  A church’s priority has to be community and global outreach: “making disciples of all nations.”  Nothing unites a church more than focusing on Jesus’ final words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20.  When a church focuses on efficiency … finances … fellowship … social justice … or some other agenda rather than outreach … that church has started to die.  It’s no accident that this church “grew in numbers” … and those people didn’t come from other churches!  They were all new converts.

*The church must be led by authentic leaders.  These leaders … composed of pastors, staff members, and board members … must give priority to the Great Commission in their own lives.  Whenever a church isn’t growing, it’s usually attributable to two things: the pastor isn’t preaching the Great Commission … and the pastor and leaders aren’t living it out.  When they are, they’ll have so many stories to tell that their passion will become contagious throughout the congregation.

*The leaders must fear God more than their critics.  I love the last phrase of Acts 9:31: “living in the fear of the Lord.”  The leaders always did what God wanted them to do.  They did what was right, even when they were criticized by state or religious officials.  Jesus was their Head … not any government or ruler … and they were His body.  I see some Christian churches caving to cultural pressures right now, and when they do, they usually shrink in numbers.  The early church didn’t live in fear of the culture … they lived in fear of their God.

*The congregation must be empowered by God’s Spirit.  When I was a rookie staff member, I sometimes engaged in ministry in my own strength … and things almost never worked.  I learned the hard way that to be effective, I had to be filled with God’s Spirit, asking God for His power and relying upon Him for any results.  When we give ourselves completely to the Lord, we sense His smile, and we’re “encouraged by the Holy Spirit” as a byproduct.

*The believers quickly resolved their conflicts with each other.  They did not let the sun go down while they were still angry with somebody (Ephesians 4:26).  They learned to talk with anyone who had hurt them … before they went to bed … so they could live and serve in harmony.  They knew that only a church at peace can grow in numbers … and they wanted as many people to come to Christ as possible.

I once had the privilege of leading a church like this, and for several years, it was the closest thing to heaven on earth that I have ever experienced.

Is your church enjoying a time of peace?

If not, what can you do to bring greater peace to your congregation?

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