Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2015

There was a murder inside our local McDonald’s three weeks ago.

A woman shot and killed a man – allegedly her boyfriend – inside the restaurant.

Whatever he did or didn’t do, he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered in public.

This is all we know:

http://myvalleynews.com/local/victim-in-mcdonalds-shooting-identified-as-murrieta-man/

My wife was eating at a nearby restaurant with a friend and saw all the commotion as she was leaving.

I worked two years at a McDonald’s in my late teens, so I can imagine how management handled matters after the police let the witnesses leave later that evening.

It’s possible that:

*Employees were instructed not to talk about the incident with any current or future customers.

*The employees who were working that night were traumatized and offered counseling.

*Some employees heard about the incident later and quit on the spot.

*Those who were inside McDonald’s when the killing occurred won’t want to return for a long time.  And customers like me might choose not to patronize that particular McDonald’s just because of the nightmarish memory attached to it.  (“Wow, somebody actually died right here on this floor.”)

*After the crime scene was thoroughly investigated, all evidence of the murder was scrubbed clean so McDonald’s could open the following morning.

I have a book buried in a box in my storage area called How to Murder a Minister, and although few pastors are ever blown away (I do have a few articles where that has actually happened), many pastors lose their jobs … careers … and reputations when they’re dismissed, even if they did nothing wrong.

There are some disturbing parallels between this incident and the way that many church boards handle matters after they have unjustly forced out their pastor.

Let me reiterate that some pastors deserve to be terminated because they are guilty of a major offense like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.  But as I’ve written many times, only 7% of the pastors who are terminated are guilty of sinful conduct.  45% of the time, a pastor’s termination is due to a faction in the church.

So what I write below has to do with those situations where a church board either fires a pastor or forces him to resign for political reasons, not for moral or spiritual reasons:

*Presuming that the board does address the pastor’s departure in public, they will mention it once and resolve never to mention it again.  Their attitude is, “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

That attitude might work for fringe attendees, but the closer to the core people are, the more they want to know “what’s really going on.”  And if membership means anything at all, church members should be told a lot more than they usually are.

*There are people in every church who know the board members personally and may have been fed advance or inside information.  (Certainly this applies to the spouses of many board members.)

But there are also others who had no knowledge of any problems between the pastor and board, and some may be traumatized by the announcement of the pastor’s departure.  This is especially true if the pastor led them to Christ … baptized them … dedicated their children … performed their wedding … conducted a family funeral … or counseled them during a crisis.

Much of the time, the church board doesn’t factor in these people when they railroad their pastor right out of their fellowship.

After their pastor has departed, to whom will these people go when they need prayer … a reassuring word from God … or help with a difficult problem?

Certainly not to anyone on the church board … or anyone on the staff who might have been involved in pushing out their pastor.

Just when they need a pastor the most, these people suddenly find themselves shepherdless.

*When a pastor is forced out, some people immediately withdraw from the congregation because the pastor is the reason they attended that specific church.

And over the coming months … as the board maintains silence about the pastor’s departure … more and more people who loved that pastor will gradually walk away from that church.

Some Sundays, the pastor’s supporters may even watch the church board serve communion … notice that their pastor is absent … and suffer heartache all over again.

*Sunday after Sunday, it will become increasingly difficult for some parishioners to rise, clean up, get in their cars, drive to the church, walk inside, sit down, and feel good because every time they follow that pattern, they’re reminded that the church board “took out” their beloved pastor.

A friend told me about an incident some months after I left our last church.  She came to worship … discovered that she was sitting by one of my most vocal detractors (who was never disciplined) … was traumatized once more … and never set foot in that church again.

In fact, there are people from our last church who didn’t attend any church for years because of the ongoing pain after their pastor was removed.

*All evidence of the “crime” has to be cleaned up and thrown away.  Minutes of board meetings must be concealed and buried.  Board members must pledge strict confidentiality.  They will agree together how they’re going to spin things with the congregation.

Potential questioners are identified … strategies for dealing with them are created … and the board convinces itself, “In a couple of months, everyone will forget all about what happened.”

Because it’s not just the future of the congregation that’s at stake … it’s also the reputations of the board members …  who must keep a tight lid on the tactics they used to force the pastor to quit.

I realize there is a limited amount of information that a church board can give a congregation when a pastor leaves a church … whether the pastor left voluntarily or under duress.

The best boards don’t want to harm the pastor’s career, and know if they did, they might be sued … even if the lawsuit goes nowhere.

The worst boards don’t care about the pastor’s career, but they do care about their reputations … and their power inside the church … so they usually share virtually nothing and hope that everything just blows away.

But I believe that for a church to heal, the leaders need to tell their congregation as much as they can, not as little as they can.

The problem, of course, is that as long as the very people who pushed out the pastor stay on the board, they don’t want to do or say anything to jeopardize their positions.

If they tell the truth, they’ll have to resign.

If they lie, they might be able to stay … so they lie.

Many boards disseminate information through the grapevine … emphasizing their virtues and the pastor’s flaws … and tell people, “We can’t divulge anything about the pastor’s resignation” in public, but they’ll turn around and slander him in private.

But the board has far better options than stonewalling or deceiving people:

*The board can announce the pastor’s departure inside or at the end of a worship service, and at least everybody will officially hear at the same time that their pastor is gone.

*The board can call a meeting of the congregation and share a bit more information … maybe even taking some questions … although most boards won’t be inclined to let people make comments.  (Such people will be labeled “divisive.”)

*The board can meet with people in groups and share additional information in more intimate settings.  A friend told me this is how the board handled matters after her pastor resigned, and I very much like this approach as long as the board is both loving and honest.

But if I’m a member of the church, and the board doesn’t deem it appropriate for me to know why the pastor was forced to resign, I’d do the following two things:

First, I’d contact the pastor and see if he feels free to discuss what happened.  If he doesn’t want to talk about it … or if he’s signed an agreement saying he won’t discuss it … wait a month or two and try again … and keep trying until you get something concrete.  (His wife didn’t sign an agreement, though, and she may be all too happy to tell you what really happened.)

Second, I’d contact one or two board members and ask for two pieces of information: a written description of the process used to terminate the pastor, and the general timeline involved.

The board certainly isn’t violating any law or ethical standard by sharing the process they used to make their decision, but they need to share something or it just may be that (a) one person on the board pressured the others to fire the pastor, and everybody caved, or (b) the board made their decision hastily.

Without knowing the specific charges, the process or the timeline might be all that is needed to determine if the pastor’s termination was just or unjust.

In the case of the woman who committed murder at McDonald’s, she’s currently in jail.  There will be a trial down the road.  Witnesses will be called … evidence will be presented … charges will be brought … truth will be told … and justice will be served.

But deep inside thousands of Christian churches, nobody is ever held to account for brandishing the weapon of deception … decimating the pastor’s career … destroying his reputation … and terminating his friendships.

That is, nobody is ever held to account in this life.

But Judgment Day is coming in the next life, and for those who have intentionally sought to harm their pastor … in the words of a young Bob Dylan … “I’d hate to be you on that dreadful day.”

Read Full Post »

I love the fall.  It’s my favorite time of year.

But I don’t like the last eight days of October.

Because on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at an 8:00 am board meeting, events were set in motion that forced me to leave a church I had loved and served for 10 1/2 years.

In case you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time, my name is Jim, and I was a pastor for 36 years.  I’m a graduate of Biola College (now University), Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), and Fuller Seminary, where I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree in church conflict in 2007.

For many years, I pastored the largest Protestant church in a city of 75,000 people.  We built a new worship center on our small, one-acre campus and successfully reached people who weren’t going to church.

But six years ago this week, I went through a horrendous conflict that ultimately led to my resignation.  I wrote a book about my experience called Church Coup.  The book was published in April 2013 and is on Amazon if you’re interested.

Since that conflict, I’ve written 475 blog posts, most of them on pastoral termination.  And over the past few years, I’ve written a special blog whenever October 24 comes around.  Call it self-therapy.

I feel great liberty in discussing this topic openly because (a) I will never be a pastor again, and (b) I have already lost nearly all of my friends from that church.

This year, I’d like to ask and answer seven questions about my experience in hopes that my story might give greater perspective to the issue of pastoral termination in the wider Christian community.

Why do you think you were pushed out as pastor?

There are multiple answers to this question.

Financially, after two great years, our church had a rough year in 2009.  The shortfall wasn’t anybody’s fault.  We were behind budget all year, but we had plenty of funds in reserve to carry us through.

There was no need to panic.  But some people became overly-anxious, and began to overreact to a situation that nearly every church was experiencing that year.

We also had a church board with the wrong combination of individuals.  They were all good people, but three were new to the board, and everyone was younger than me, so we lacked veteran leadership.  The board member who always had my back moved away, and two other seasoned laymen were on hiatus from the board.

So there wasn’t an experienced, calming influence in the group.  I believe the board interpreted some things I said in the worst possible light, overreacted to the financial shortfall, and chose a course of action designed to rid them of anxiety but that ended up causing great harm to many people, including the board members themselves and half the church staff.

Three Christian leaders later told me that for years, I had been undermined by a prominent ex-leader who had left the church years before.  I knew it was taking place, and could pinpoint those who were being influenced, but without proof, I chose to ignore the behavior.  This ex-leader advised the church board during the conflict, but his counsel backfired.

Then the mob mentality seized the congregation.  There were all kinds of charges thrown at me, and enough people believed them that I couldn’t stay.

I counsel pastors and church leaders about the conflicts in their congregations, and the situation that I experienced ranks in the Top 5 Worst Conflicts I’ve ever heard about.  A former pastor and seminary professor told me, “You’ve been to hell and back.”

I’m still coming back.

What impact has the conflict had on you and your family over the years?

I’ve always done my best to be authentic … to share how I really feel … yet to do so with love and civility.  Although I will continue that practice, I’m doing so with much restraint.

*I wonder why God didn’t protect my wife from being spiritually assaulted.  I watched helplessly as my wife … who has done more good for the cause of Christ than most of my detractors put together … was attacked in a brutal and destructive fashion by the enemy.  She was diagnosed with PTSD and told not to work for one year.  I would gladly have taken bullets for her, but she took them for me instead.

*I wonder why the generous and gracious congregation that I served for years turned into a place of betrayal, false accusations, and character assassination overnight.  The mercy, grace, and love of God vanished from the congregation, as did forgiveness and truth.  People who attended the church after we left told me that the church was never the same after the conflict occurred.

*I wonder why we still find it hard to trust churches as institutions.  Over the past six years, my wife and I have had three church homes (18 months in one church, 18 months in another church, 3 months in a church I served as an interim).  We’ve also spent nearly three of those years looking for a church home.  We’ve probably visited close to 75 churches during that time span (we visited another new church last Sunday) but have felt uncomfortable in most Christian churches.  Will that discomfort ever go away?

*I wonder why we’ve had to suffer so much financially.  When the conflict broke out, our personal finances were pristine, and we owned a house.  We’ve rented six places since then, and my wife and I will have to work well past full retirement age just to survive in the future.

What impact has your book Church Coup had?

When I wrote the book, I wanted to make a contribution to the field of church conflict and pastoral termination and believe that I’ve done that.

The book has sold several more times than the average Christian book, and I’m pleased with the number of reviews I have on Amazon.  However, I’d like to remove the lone one-star review because I don’t think the reviewer read the book at all.

Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary told me he would include the book in the reading list for his classes at Fuller.  A colleague from Pennsylvania quoted from my book in his Doctor of Ministry project.  A pastor I’ve never met has recommended the book to church leaders.  It’s a niche book, but those who need it will find it.  (I spoke on the phone yesterday with a church leader who told me that he wished he had found the book sooner so he could have used it during his church’s conflict.)

I once met with a sales rep from a Christian publisher.  He told me that I’d need to shorten the book to 150 pages for it to be stocked in Christian bookstores, but I’m glad I wrote the book I wanted to write … although I wonder why there are more than 20 used copies on Amazon!

Have you heard from any of the people you mention in the book?

Just a handful.  I think that the conflict we endured was so painful that nobody wants to relive it.

*Some of my detractors have read the book but don’t seem to recognize themselves.

*Most people decided on the narrative they wanted to believe years ago, so the book changed few people’s minds.

*If I had published the book six months after I’d left my last church, it might have had a positive impact, but because I waited more than three years, most people had moved on emotionally.

*I had already cut ties with 80% of the people I mentioned in the book, so little that I wrote affected those friendships.  I didn’t write a book and then lose friends; I lost friends and then wrote the book.

Have any of your detractors made contact with you?

No.  There were nine people most responsible for trying to force me out, and not one has ever contacted me directly.  One did relay a message to me indirectly through a friend.

Another detractor was a friend for 22 years.  He had attended my ordination and even signed my certificate.  We have never spoken since he involved himself in trying to undermine me.  I’ve been told on good authority why he tried to push me out but I’ve never revealed that information publicly.  Although his backroom maneuverings temporarily succeeded, scores of people were harmed by his efforts.

In some termination situations, the church board loves the pastor personally, but feel he needs to leave for the church’s benefit.  In other situations, the pastor is doing a good job, but someone on the board despises the pastor personally, and that hatred spreads to others – usually including the church board – which uses “official charges” as a smokescreen for personal hatred.

Six years after the fact, I remain convinced that the attempt to push me out was personal and motivated by revenge.  I did not do anything rising to the level of official termination nor did I deserve how I was treated after 10 1/2 years of faithful service.  While it feels good to say that, I’ve had to endure a myriad of false charges, most surfacing after I left the church … and my guess is that most people who said cruel things had no idea their words would get back to me.

Some people from my former church read this blog when I first came out.  My guess is that almost none of them read it anymore.

I don’t want to hurt people the way they hurt me.  I have a story to tell, and I’m going to do so as often and as long as God uses it.  But I’m not going to mention anybody’s name in public.

In my blog, I usually don’t reveal the names of people whose stories I recount because I don’t want their names to pop up in a search engine.  If anybody really wants me to identify someone, and it’s appropriate, I will do so privately.  For example, a friend recently wrote me and asked for the names of the experts who advised me on when to terminate the pastor of a declining church.  I felt comfortable sharing that information with him because he’s trustworthy, but I’m very careful with names … unless I mention someone that I admire.

What were some of the charges against you?

In consultation with respected church members, I hired a church consultant who came to the church for a weekend.  He interviewed staff, met with the transition team, and attended two public informational meetings.  He later told me that those meetings were among the worst he has ever seen, so he witnessed the destruction firsthand.

He wrote a report stating that my wife and I had a future in ministry and that certain members had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Two Sundays after my wife and I left the church for good, a 9-person team publicly stated that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on our part.

But that just made some people angrier.  They had to win … even if it meant destroying the reputation of their former pastor.

Let me share just one example of a charge that was floating around my last church.

Before that board meeting on October 24, my wife and I had traveled to Eastern Europe on a church-sponsored mission trip, but someone was telling people that we hadn’t paid for our share of expenses.

After the mission part was over, our team flew to London to rest and see the sights for several days.  (Nearly all mission teams do something similar.)

We put all of the charges for our hotel and meals in London on the church credit card.  Then when our team returned home, the charges would be converted from British pounds to American dollars (there’s usually a lag in this process) … the charges would be divided up among various team members … and we’d all reimburse the church for our personal expenses.

This was standard operating procedure whenever a mission team went overseas.

But we didn’t find out the charges for more than a month.  As soon as we found out, we reimbursed the church immediately.

But one of my detractors was running around telling people that we never paid the church back for those charges … implying that we stole money from the church … and God only knows how many people believed that.

Do you see how subtle such accusations can be?

There are other charges floating around in the ether that I’ve heard about that are just as false.  They have caused my wife and me great sorrow over the years.

Here’s what bothers me: the charges were circulating around the church long before I heard about them or had the chance to respond to them.  People were leaking information and trying to impugn my character without ever giving me a chance to respond.  There was no forum made available where I could answer the charges made against me … and this happens in most churches.  It’s one of the least attractive truisms in Christian ministry.

I could never treat anyone else that way, especially a pastor.  Could you?

When the charges began circulating, I needed to know who was making them and exactly what they were saying.  Then I should have been given the chance to respond, and the charges should have been dismissed.

The problem was … and is … that when people are trying to destroy you, they will continually find charges to throw at you until you leave.  And after you leave, they manufacture new charges designed to alleviate their own guilty consciences, to make them believe that their mistreatment of their pastor was justified.

Where do we find this kind of practice in the New Testament?

We don’t.

What have you learned about pastoral termination over the past six years?

I probably had an average amount of conflict over the years in that church as exemplified by the fact that I never seriously considered resigning.  I worked hard to resolve every issue and conflict that came my way.

But then a conflict surfaced … and “ended” … in just 50 days.

Yet during those 50 days, I went through a wide range of experiences – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – so I have both a broad and deep range of firsthand understanding about pastoral termination.

Let me recommend three practices that are biblical and that a church’s leaders must institute whenever a pastor is under attack:

*Whenever a pastor is publicly charged with wrongdoing, he needs to answer his detractors publicly and quickly or people will assume he’s guilty.

I was publicly accused of some charges in two informational meetings 15 days after the conflict surfaced.  I was told by our church consultant (who attended both meetings) that I could not answer any charges made against me, and I promised him that I wouldn’t.  But when I didn’t respond to the charges, some people assumed they were true.

If I had to do it over again, I would have listed the accusations made against me and responded to them in writing after those meetings had concluded.  If people tried to argue with me after that, I probably wouldn’t have responded further.  But when I didn’t say anything at all, I was pronounced “guilty” in many people’s minds.  To many people, silence = guilt.

*Church leaders need to do their best to protect the reputation of their previous pastors. 

Sad to say, there is a stigma in Christian circles concerning pastors who have undergone a forced termination.  Even though it’s 6 1/2 times more likely that a pastor is pushed out because of a faction in the church than his own sinful conduct, the Christian community tends to turn its back on its wounded warriors.

To this day, I’m shocked and disappointed that leaders in my former church allowed my reputation to be trashed during the year after I left.  Some might have answered charges against me privately, but it needed to be done publicly and firmly.  One person in particular allowed the charges to be spread.  May God forgive him.

*An unjust pastoral termination hurts not just the pastor and his family, but can damage a church for years to come. 

Doesn’t David admit in Psalm 32 that he suffered physically and spiritually until he acknowledged his sin to God?  Doesn’t this same principle apply to churches as well?

There were attempts after I left to smooth over what happened, but no one was given the opportunity to repent for their part in assaulting their pastor.  In my opinion, a church can never fully heal until its leaders reveal the truth about what really happened and allow people to confess to wrongdoing.  Until that happens, the memory of that conflict is hidden in its walls … and will assuredly damage its soul.

I realize that some people are going to say, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”  Maybe so.  But I’ve sensed God calling me to be transparent about the events that happened to me so I can help those He brings my way.

If you or a pastor you know is presently under attack, and you could benefit from an understanding ear and some counsel, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can either converse via email or set up an appointment on the phone.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  1 Peter 5:10

Read Full Post »

“How many times does the Bible mention abortion?”

That was the question my philosophy teacher asked more than 40 years ago at the Christian college I attended.

His answer?

“Zero.”

That startled me.

I had been told by Christian leaders that the practice of abortion … which had just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade around the time I took that class in Ethics … was wrong.  So I assumed that somehow … somewhere … the Bible soundly condemned abortion.

But it never does.

This doesn’t mean that abortion is good and right.  But it does mean that we can’t just quote one or two verses condemning the practice, either.  Those verses aren’t there.

I bring this up because I’m always amazed … and sometimes amused … by the fact that some Christians make a big deal out of beliefs and practices that the Bible says little or nothing about.

In fact, some act like because they emphasize a certain doctrine … or a specific practice … that they are enlightened while you are not.

Let me give you some examples.

When I grew up, there were churches that proudly used the following slogan:

WE BELIEVE IN THE BOOK, THE BLOOD, AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH.

I believe in the authority of Scripture … the atoning work of Christ … and the fact that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus as well.  All three doctrines are taught in the Bible.

But the weight of Scripture lies with the first two … and not necessarily with the virgin birth.

The virgin birth of Christ is mentioned in just three places in Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; and Luke 1:26-45.  There are allusions to it in other places (Galatians 4:4) but 25 books of the New Testament never mention it directly.  The virgin birth is true … it’s a biblical doctrine … and it has its place in Scripture and theology … but does that justify a church using a slogan like WE BELIEVE IN THE VIRGIN BIRTH when they could have put so many other beliefs in its place?

By contrast, the second coming of Christ is emphasized much more in the New Testament … more than 300 times!

Let’s look at another issue: speaking in tongues.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in only three books of the New Testament, and is missing from the other 24.  I have a theory as to why that’s the case, but let’s let that slide right now.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in Mark 16:17 (the famous extended ending of Mark) but the practice is grouped with picking up snakes with hands and drinking deadly poison, so it’s possible … even likely … that Mark’s ending is not genuine.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30; 13:1, 8; and chapter 14, where the practice is dealt with extensively.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in the Book of Acts, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as one might think.

Acts covers a 30-year period, yet speaking in tongues is only mentioned three times (at Pentecost: Acts 2:3-13; in Cornelius’ house: Acts 10:44-48; at Ephesus: Acts 19:1-7).  Although it’s not mentioned explicitly, tongue-speaking probably occurred in Samaria in Acts 8:14-17 as well.

I believe that the tongue-speaking in Acts is always connected to a new advance of the gospel among a different people group.

In Acts 2, the gospel came to the Jews; in Acts 8, to the Samaritans (half-Jew, half-Gentiles); in Acts 10, to the Gentiles; and in Acts 19, to the intertestamental saints (disciples of John the Baptist).  The evidence that the Holy Spirit had come to each group was that new converts supernaturally and spontaneously spoke in tongues.

So over thirty years of history, there are only three explicit references to tongue-speaking in Acts … an average of one incident every ten years.  And yet some pastors and churches build their whole ministry around a practice that is absent from 88% of the books of the New Testament and that only occurred in Acts on three occasions over three decades.

While I’m at it, let me mention one more practice: raising hands during worship.

The Old Testament mentions raising hands in praise (Psalm 63:4; 134:2) and raising hands in prayer (Ezra 9:5; Psalm 28:2; 141:2; Lam 2:19) a few times.  The emphasis doesn’t seem to be on connecting with God or feeling something during worship but with demonstrating to God and to the worshiper that one’s hands … and by implication, soul … are clean before God during worship.

By contrast, how many times do you think the New Testament mentions lifting hands during worship?

There isn’t a single reference in the New Testament to lifting hands in praise.  Based on the prevalence of this practice in our day, do you find this surprising?

But there is one reference to lifting hands in prayer in 1 Timothy 2:8:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or dissension.

I have no problem with people raising their hands while singing to the Lord … although some can be distracting and even annoying at times … but when is the last time you saw men (not women) encouraged to lift their hands during public prayer?  And yet that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy he wants done during public worship.

The weight of Scripture is that lifting hands during worship applies more to prayer than to praise … so why do we emphasize one practice but not the other?

I want to be a biblical Christian, and I assume that you want to be one as well.  For that to occur:

First, we need to pay attention to the number of times Scripture emphasizes a belief or a practice.

Scripture mentions but never emphasizes practices like drinking poison, handling snakes, and baptism for the dead.  I think it’s silly to engage in these practices on a regular basis, or even to build an entire movement around them, but that’s what some have done over the past twenty centuries.

Think about some of your favorite theological hobby horses.  How much does the Bible really say about them?

In some churches, the altar call has become a third sacrament … yet you’ll never find the practice in Scripture.  Or what about the practice of holy laughter that was all the rage not too many years ago?  Or how about the practice of “slaying in the Spirit” (the phrase is never used in Scripture) that so many Christians believe in yet which has virtually no biblical support?  (My daughter once attended a church where her peers were called to the front and then fell over in the Spirit.  When the “prophet” tried to knock my daughter over, she resisted and never went down … and left the church soon afterward.)

Second, we need to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes. 

The Bible mentions prayer … obedience … living a holy life … trusting God … sharing Christ with others … worshiping God … and loving others time after time after time.

These are the kinds of practices that God wants us to build our churches and our lives around.

Sometimes I think that Christians emphasize beliefs and practices that Scripture never mentions because they don’t feel they’re doing a very good job of emphasizing what God emphasizes.

Finally, we may need to rethink some of our beliefs and practices if they aren’t emphasized in Scripture.

Nearly nine years ago, my son and I took a vacation together to the Southern part of the United States.  I had never been to states like Arkansas, the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, and I wanted to say I had at least been to those places.

One Sunday, we found ourselves attending a church on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.  The church sang for 42 minutes (yes, I remember details like that), and during the songs, people from the congregation walked to the front, chose a flag from a bin, and while standing between the stage and the pews, waved those flags during the singing time.

I thought the practice was a little odd, so when I got home, I went online and read that some churches engage in a “Banner Ministry.”  I thought the biblical support for the practice was weak, and I still think the whole thing has more to do with pageantry than worship, but I’m not here to say it’s wrong … just not very important.  (I’m still looking for the New Testament verse on the topic … and yes, I know the NT doesn’t mention pews, pulpits, microphones, or video players either.)

There’s much more I can say on this issue of emphasizing what Scripture does, but for now, I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think about what I’ve written?

Read Full Post »

Nine years ago, I was preparing to take a brief sabbatical at the church I pastored.

I had just finished the first draft of my doctoral project and sent it to my reader.  I also spent a lot of time trying to prepare church leaders for my absence.

On the Sunday in September before my time away, I was presented with an early pastoral appreciation gift … a very generous check.

Three years later, I was presented with another pastoral appreciation check … six times less than I had received three years before.

Needless to say, I felt … can I say it … unappreciated.

I wrote an article a few years ago on how to appreciate your pastor.  Now I’d like to write one on why you should appreciate your pastor.

Since October is Pastor Appreciation Month, let me share with you five reasons why churchgoers should appreciate their pastors:

First, your pastor said “yes” to God’s call.

When I was a staff member in a church four decades ago, one of the deacons continually gave me a hard time.  When I asked my pastor how to interpret his behavior, the pastor told me that this deacon had been called by God into ministry, but had told God “no,” and had always felt guilty about his decision.

But every pastor – including yours – has said “yes” to the call of God.

When you submit yourself to that call, you don’t know in advance what it means … where you’ll live … how much money you’ll make … or what kind of leaders you’ll have to work with.  So answering God’s call is an act of supreme faith.

In addition, that call usually involves receiving formal training for ministry, usually from a seminary.

In my case, it took me five years to earn my Master of Divinity degree because I had a full-time job when I was in school.  I left seminary debt-free, but many pastors are still paying back student loans they assumed during their seminary days.

Your pastor has sacrificed himself and his family to serve at your church.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Second, your pastor probably works extremely hard.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.

The first quality that Paul highlights in verse 12 is “those who work hard among you.”

Pastors work hard.  It’s not just the number of hours they work every week – usually more than 50.

It’s the intensity and the unpredictability of the work as well.

Pastoral work is intense because most pastors want to do their work perfectly.  They want to preach great sermons … counsel people so their problems are resolved … run the staff with efficiency and productivity … see their prayers for the sick and dying answered … and do it all without making a mistake.  (Because when they do, they’re liable to hear about it.)

Pastoral work is also unpredictable because pastors don’t have set schedules.  They don’t work 8-5 jobs.  They have to be available when people need them … when they aren’t working … which means nights and weekends.  In fact, I once heard Charles Swindoll say that churches whose pastors work several nights a week don’t tend to keep them.

My wife and I run a successful business together right now, and even though we work a combined 110-120 hours a week, we feel like we’re semi-retired because we have our nights and weekends free.

But in pastoral ministry, you have to work multiple nights a week … respond to emergencies on your day off … and do it all without knowing when you’ll have any “down time.”

In fact, you feel like you’re never off work, and that you’ll never finish working.

During my last ministry, I eventually wore down physically and emotionally because I couldn’t manage the ragtag schedule I felt was expected of me.

But somehow, your pastor is managing his schedule … doing his job … and showing up every Sunday.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Third, your pastor has to endure a lot of internal flak.

Flak comes to a pastor in various ways: from notes written on welcome cards … emails he receives first thing Monday morning … anonymous letters … angry phone calls … and people who ask, “Pastor, can I come see you in your office?  I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”

During a pastor’s second or third year, the critics tend to come out in full force.  Sometime between years four and five, they coalesce and make their move, giving the pastor a subtle … or clear … ultimatum: “Either you leave or we will.”

According to church conflict expert Speed Leas, when a conflict hits this level, it cannot be resolved internally.  The pastor and/or board must bring in an interventionist from the outside to resolve the conflict, or the church … and the major players … may be damaged for a long time.

And most of the time, the church tries to resolve it internally … and fails.

Surprisingly, if pastors survive such an attack, they don’t quit their position or find another career … they just keep going … and some will have their best years ahead.

Nearly thirty years ago, I spoke to the president of my denomination on the phone about the possibility of moving to another church.  He told me that no matter where I went, I would have to pay a price.  Churches won’t grow if they don’t change … but when the pastor tries to institute change, he’ll be vilified by those who like things the way they are.

You’re probably not aware of it, but your pastor receives a lot of criticism, yet shows up every Sunday with a smile and a word from God.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Fourth, your pastor experiences intense external opposition.

The less effective your pastor is, the more Satan will leave him alone.

The more effective your pastor is, the more Satan will target him for destruction.

Years ago, I saw a Christian film called Whitcomb’s War (which predated Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness).  A small church called a new pastor to lead them.

When the pastor started setting up his office, a group of demons gathered in the basement and planned their strategy to defeat him.

I don’t think we should attribute every conflict in a church to Satan.  After all, human beings must bear responsibility for their own actions.  But whenever deception and destruction are involved (John 8:44), Satan’s minions are definitely present.

Satan usually doesn’t defeat a pastor all at once.  Instead, he wears the pastor down over time until he’s tired of the fight and needs to move off the front lines.

But most pastors stay on the front lines anyway because that is where God placed them.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Finally, your pastor has persevered through many discouraging days.

During my second pastorate, I was so discouraged that I wanted to quit every other Monday.

I read where Dallas Seminary professor Howard Hendricks said that he threatened to resign so many times that he finally wrote out a resignation letter and kept it in his desk.

That’s how I felt.  Little that I did worked out.  Most of what I tried bombed.  In fact, I became so depressed I could barely function.

I felt like quitting.  But what else was I going to do?  Like Bill Hybels used to say, we’ve been had.

I didn’t know it then, but my best days were ahead of me … and all the lessons I’d acquired in my first nine years of relatively unsuccessful ministry prepared me for the next twenty years of very successful ministry.

Many times, Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9 have helped me keep going:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Your pastor is still serving.  He has hung in there and hasn’t given up.

In fact, he’s your pastor.

Can you appreciate him for that?

How will you show or tell him?

Read Full Post »

One day last week, I found myself shopping at Walmart at 5:00 am.

I shop that early because the shelves are usually well-stocked at that hour and the checkout lines tend to be short.

On this occasion, I did my shopping quickly because I had to be home by 5:45 … and I live 10.5 miles away.

Sometime around 5:20, I went to the only available checkout line.  Everything went well.  The checker and I bantered a little bit, and I swiped my debit card and paid … but the tape for the receipt ran out.

The checker told me, “I’m sorry, but I can’t print you a receipt.”  I asked her, “How long will it take you to print me a new one?”

Her answer?

“It will take eight minutes to reset the computer.”

That was going to make me late getting home.

As calmly as I could, I asked her if we could do something else.  I didn’t have eight minutes to spare.

She told me, “Just a minute,” and went to speak to the manager in charge of customer service.

With a basket full of groceries, I watched as the manager tried to print a receipt for me from her computer.

That didn’t work, either.

I was starting to become anxious.  I needed everything in the cart, but I couldn’t wait much longer.

Finally, the manager suggested that I visit another check stand.  She asked a different employee if she would ring up my groceries … even though it meant unwrapping everything I had already bought.

I was willing to give it a try, until that employee protested … loudly … “I need to go on my lunch break.”

Wrong answer – even at 5:30 in the morning.

At that point, I told the manager, “I can’t wait any longer.  I’m leaving my groceries in the cart and leaving.”

And as I left, I looked at the griping worker and said, “It’s because of attitudes like that that your company is struggling so much.”

I don’t know what happened after I left.  Maybe the complaining employee had worked all night and was dead on her feet.  Maybe she was coming down with a cold.  Or maybe she was reprimanded … or even dismissed.  (Although I certainly hope not.)

But now I don’t want to return to that store … at least not for a long time.

In the same way, when people have an unpleasant experience at a church … especially a new church … they often don’t want to go back, either.

Several years ago, I visited a church five minutes from our house that meets in a community college.  My wife wasn’t able to come with me that Sunday and I felt a bit vulnerable as I left my car and walked toward the front door.  (Yes, it’s even scary for a former pastor to visit a new church!)

Nobody was standing at the door.

Strike one.

Nobody handed me a bulletin outside the auditorium.  The usher had his back to me and was talking to someone else.

Strike two.

And then after I sat down near the back, a woman came up to me, pointed at my seat, and exclaimed, “That’s where my friend sits!”  And pointing to the empty chair next to me, she barked out, “And that’s where I sit!”

Strike three.

Feeling disoriented … and a bit rejected … I arose from my seat and did the only thing I knew how to do.

I went home … without hearing the congregation sing a note or without hearing the preacher announce his text.

One thing is certain: I don’t ever want to visit that church again.

Was it personal?  No.

Is my attitude rational?  Probably not.

Should I give that church another chance?  Possibly.

But in my mind, that church simply wasn’t ready for company.

In fact, most churches aren’t … which is why 80-85% of all churches are either stagnant or declining numerically.

I don’t think any church can completely eliminate unpleasant experiences.  They are going to happen from time-to-time.  Pastors aren’t omnipresent, and even when they’ve done their best to establish a culture of service, some church members are going to mess that up.

But if and when unpleasant experiences happen at your church, don’t be surprised if newcomers never return.

After my early morning excursion to the first Walmart, I visited a second Walmart that morning that was even further away … and I only bought half the items I bought at the first Walmart.

But one unpleasant experience at a specific Walmart wasn’t going to keep me from all Walmarts.

By the same token, those people who have an unpleasant experience at your church may very well visit another church … but they just might cross your church off their list.

I believe that a culture of service to newcomers starts at the top in a church.

The pastor must preach about how much lost people matter to God … exemplify that value through his own life and ministry … train church leaders on how to treat newcomers … and constantly evaluate and reevaluate how the church is doing in this regard.

Paul’s words in Colossians 4:5-6 set the pace for how we Christians are to deal with the unbelievers we meet … especially those who visit our churches on a weekend:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I’ve been to some churches that “are wise toward outsiders” every time I go … and they’re usually packed out with multiple services.

But I’ve also been to churches that aren’t ready for or welcoming toward outsiders … and they’re usually in decline.

One of my ministry mentors is fond of saying that newcomers make 11 decisions about a church within the first 30 seconds after they arrive.

What decisions are they making about your church?

And what can you do about it?

Read Full Post »

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: