Archive for July, 2016

Over my 36-year career in church ministry, I wish I had done certain things differently.  For example:

*I wish I knew more about sermon preparation in my early twenties.  Many of my initial sermons were well-delivered but said little.

*I wish I hadn’t permitted certain individuals to come onto the church board.  While biblical qualifications are important, following your church’s mission and vision are also crucial.

*I wish I had taken more time to network with various Christian leaders.  While I know some important individuals in the Christian community, I don’t know nearly enough.

*I wish I had never become involved with a denomination.  Going to district meetings and playing political games distracted me from serving the churches that called me.

But these regrets are all miniscule compared to the one decision I wish I had never made: becoming the pastor of my first church in Sunnyvale, California.


By the time I was ready to graduate from seminary, I had already served as a youth/associate pastor in three different churches over a six-and-a-half year period.

But as I prepared for my final year of seminary, I was weary of youth work.  Our son Ryan was born at the beginning of that final year, and I didn’t want to leave my wife or son for even a day … much less a week.

I graduated from Talbot Seminary in June 1980 with a Master of Divinity degree, majoring in Systematic Theology.

And a couple of months later, I had to go to Jr. High camp as a counselor for a week and stay in teepees … and I hated every minute.

When I dropped off campers at the church late one Saturday afternoon, my pastor was there, and he asked me how camp went.  When I told him how I felt, he said, “Jim, we need to get you ordained and get you a church.”

Several months later – on November 11, 1980 – I passed my ordination council and was officially ordained the following Sunday … and I was all of 27 years old.

I could have stayed at my church indefinitely … the ministry was going very well … but all I wanted to do was preach … and those Jr. High kids weren’t exactly great listeners.

How could I find a suitable church?

A former Talbot classmate pastored his own church in Solvang, California, and I wanted to find out how he did it, so I invited him to breakfast.

My colleague told me that he had been offered two other churches before he settled in Solvang … and he wished he had taken the first church.

So that was his counsel to me: take the first church that you’re offered.

It proved to be disastrous advice.


The church I was serving was in a denomination, and someone told me that I needed to speak with the new district minister of our district … so I did.

I turned in my ministerial profile on April 1, 1981, and six weeks later, I received a call from the board chairman of a church in Sunnyvale, California.

The chairman asked me to speak the following Sunday, so my wife and I flew to San Jose … I met with the deacons … I preached the next day … we met nearly everyone at church … and we flew home.

During this time, I consulted with the district minister from Northern California, who encouraged me to take the church.

The chairman called me immediately and asked me to return and candidate the following Sunday.  I went alone … was offered the call … and quickly accepted.

How I wish I could take back that decision!


Here is what I didn’t know at the time:

*The church was composed of refugees who didn’t get along in any other church.  I have never met such a group of complainers and whiners in all my life.

*The average age of the congregation was sixty … and with that age came a rigid fundamentalist mindset that ultimately drove me bananas.

*Those older people expected me to visit them in their homes for at least an hour every few months … and that is not my strength!

*The church was located in the multipurpose room of an elementary school … and you couldn’t find it even with a map.

*The church was five years old when I came … and I was their fourth pastor.  (The board had fired the previous pastor after just one year.)

*The board looked through 14 resumes before they contacted me.  Everyone else had wisely turned them down.

*The board claimed that they wanted to reach young couples, but when young couples visited … and later stayed … they weren’t welcomed.

*While the people claimed they wanted the church to grow, their real desire was to be in a church small enough that they could control its every move.

We sang “Victory in Jesus” practically every week … a guy who played the musical saw came to the church uninvited and was always asked to play … we averaged 30 people when I first came, 45 two years later … and when we started to attract young couples, the older people complained about their dress … their kids … and their music.

When Billy Graham came to San Jose in 1981, I went for counselor training at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church … and was trained by Robert Boyd Munger, author of the little booklet, My Heart, Christ’s Home.

I thought, “Maybe by partnering with the Crusade, we’ll be given some leads on people who make decisions for Christ.”

When the follow-up cards were passed out after the Crusade, the largest church in San Jose was given 600 cards … and our church received one … and that person lived far, far away.

We weren’t a real church … we were just playing church.


I once thought that if you were a great Bible teacher, you could go to any congregation – regardless of demographics and size – and make it grow.

But what I learned instead is that sharp pastors quickly size up such churches and turn them down early in the search process.

About eighteen months into my tenure in Sunnyvale, the chairman of the deacons brought a doctrinal issue to my attention that he perceived as an internal threat.

I researched the issue … held a three-hour meeting with the church board … and we all agreed on a plan of action.

When I began implementing that plan, those involved with the false doctrine threatened to leave the church … the entire board backed down … and then asked me to apologize … which I refused to do.

Due to my conflict with the board, I contacted my district minister … who thought I was such a good preacher that he praised me in a district newsletter … explained the situation to him … and told him I was open to moving to another church.

Since it was relatively easy for me to move to Sunnyvale the first time, I figured it wouldn’t take all that long to move somewhere else.

And that’s when I learned these realities:

*If you’re 29 years old, nobody is going to take you seriously as a candidate … even if you’ve had nearly ten years of church ministry experience already.

My district minister arranged for a “pulpit swap” one Sunday to showcase me to his own congregation in San Jose.  Their interim spoke at my church in Sunnyvale.  The chairman of the pulpit committee loved me … as did many others … but one search team member was away, and he felt I was too young, so that was that.

*If you’re in a small church, you can only make a lateral move statistically.  That is, if you’re in a church that averages 45 people per Sunday, only churches that average around 45 or fewer are going to take you seriously.

*If you didn’t attend the denominational seminary – and I didn’t – that’s going to hurt you with an awful lot of search teams … and it killed my chances for most denominational churches.

*Years later, I was told that I was suspect because I had graduated from Talbot.

*How you perform in your first church can determine the rest of your pastoral career.


After two years, the city of Sunnyvale announced plans to bulldoze down the school to make way for condos, so we had to find another place to worship.

A sister church five miles away in Santa Clara invited our congregation to merge with them.  Our church would gain a building, and their church would gain a pastor … me.

I didn’t know anything about church mergers at the time, so I did some research … and learned that merger math is usually 1+1 = 1.

In other words, if you put a church of 80 with a church of 50, you’ll eventually end up with a church of 80 … or 50.

I didn’t want to pastor that merged church, so I tried to find somewhere else to go … but I couldn’t find anyplace suitable … and only agreed to their offer to make me pastor at the last minute.

The next seven years were my worst years in ministry.  Almost everyone from my first church left in anger.  They wanted to be in charge of decision making, but now had to share control with leaders from the other church … and I was caught in the middle.

I found myself constantly discouraged, frustrated, and depressed … so depressed that I had to seek professional counseling.

After four months of counseling – seeing him twice a week – my counselor … who had two doctoral degrees … told me, “Your problem is your church.  Get out of it.”

I tried, but I couldn’t.  I spoke with search teams from New York, Michigan, and Washington, but I couldn’t find a suitable place to go.

Nearly ten years later, that first church was still holding me back.


My family suffered tremendously during those years.

My wife worked in a Christian bookstore … then in day care … and made peanuts.

I recall receiving a raise after my first year but not receiving a raise for the next six years.

I drove a 1963 Chevy Nova that I bought for $200 from my grandmother.  It lacked air conditioning, heat, and a functioning radio … and the springs that came through the driver’s seat kept catching on my pants.

One Christmas, I had to borrow money from my credit union just to buy presents.

Our medical insurance was with the denomination, and it was awful … going up 47% in one year.

We couldn’t afford to buy a house in Silicon Valley because they were far too expensive.  Shacks sold for $400,000.

I wish I could do it all over again.


What would I have done differently?

Many years ago, when I was reading books for my Doctor of Ministry degree, I stumbled upon counsel from church guru Lyle Schaller.

Schaller said that a young person in ministry should try and become the associate pastor in a larger church.  He said that if you can do that, and stay two years, you can then apply for and be considered as the senior pastor of a church of comparable size.

Let’s say you become an associate for a church of 1200 people, and you stay two years.  You can then apply to be the pastor of churches of 1200 people or less because you’re already familiar with the mindset of a larger church.

Before I went to Sunnyvale and became labeled as a small church pastor who couldn’t make his churches grow, I wish that I had become an associate in a larger congregation instead … or at least aimed higher than I did.

It’s my greatest ministry regret.


Yes, I know that God is sovereign, and that all things work together for good, and that God allowed me to go through all of those experiences for some reason.

I’m sure that someday, He will tell me why.

I believe Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:18: “But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

Many great pastors started out in small situations, where you can experiment and fail without doing too much damage.

But if you’re in a tough situation for too long … and you can’t make it go … you can easily be labeled by people who don’t know you and have never visited your church.

As I look back upon my life, my biggest regret is that I chose to become the pastor of a tiny, dysfunctional, crabby group of people for my first ministry assignment.

Even Peter and John couldn’t have made that church go.

What’s your biggest ministry regret?


My wife and I had a great discussion about this blog post after she read it a few hours ago.

She asked me, “So did we waste out lives going to Sunnyvale?”

No, we didn’t … but I wish I had known at a younger age how the evangelical “church system” works.

I could have made wiser decisions … cared for my family better … and accomplished much, much more for Christ’s kingdom.

Yes, God can use our mistakes to further His purposes, but I still wish I could have that one do-over in my career.

Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

I’ve had a few regrets, this being the main one.

I hope it’s all right that I mentioned it.












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By far, the article that has received the most views on my blog – out of more than 500 – is an article I wrote in March 2011 called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”

This particular article outpolls everything I’ve written … before or since … by at least a four-to-one margin.

I don’t claim that this article covers every facet of pastoral termination.  It’s not the last word on the subject, but may be viewed as the beginning of the conversation.

As a pastor, I sometimes had to deal with wayward staff members … and was attacked by church bullies at various times throughout my ministry … and finally was pushed out of office nearly seven years ago.

This article is directed toward church decision makers … usually members of the official board … and is a plea for them to understand that the way they treat their pastor will affect him … them … and their church for many years to come.


One of the most excruciating experiences that a supervisor can have is to fire someone from their job.  The first time I had to do this with a staff member, I felt horrible.  Although I did not hire the person initially, I felt partially responsible that the staff member didn’t work out.  I wondered, “What if I had supervised this person better?  What if I had given them more attention?  More training?  More warning?”

Most pastors will leave a church via their own resignation.  They will choose the method and timing of their departure.  In the great majority of cases, they will leave one church for another.  Sometimes they will leave a pastorate to teach in a Bible college or join a parachurch organization.  And one day, they will preach their last sermon and then retire.

But many pastors – surveys now indicate more than 25% – leave church ministry involuntarily.  They are usually forced from office by a faction of ten people or less … sometimes by their governing board.  Most of the time, the process is handled clumsily, resulting in seething anger, ecclesastical division, and incalculable damage.

How can the termination of a pastor be handled in a more biblical and optimal fashion?

An attorney can recommend the legal way to terminate a pastor.  The CEO of a company might suggest how it’s done in business.  The church’s insurance agent might propose ways the church can minimize risks.  And I could mention the way the federal government terminates employees … except they almost never terminate anyone!

If you’d like to read what the Bible says about correcting an elder/pastor, please check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (which applies Matthew 18:15-20 to spiritual leaders).  I believe a pastor should be removed for heresy and for immorality as well as felonious criminal behavior and that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.

I was a pastor for nearly four decades, and I saw a lot of my colleagues terminated in senseless ways.  If I was still in pastoral ministry, and the board decided I had to go, here’s how I would like that process to be conducted:

First, I’d like to see a possible termination coming.  If attendance was plunging, and giving was going south, and church opinion makers were unhappy, I would probably sense that my time in that place was coming to a close.  And if members of the church board had talked with me about making changes in my ministry, but I either wouldn’t or couldn’t pull them off, that would suggest to me that my days in that church were numbered.

Some pastors have confessed to me that they stayed too long in a previous pastorate and wished they had left before they did.

Last fall, I had lunch with a former mega church pastor.  He had been in his church for more than two decades, but for some unknown reason, attendance suddenly began declining at a rate where nothing he tried worked anymore.  When he preached, he sensed that people weren’t listening to him.  He eventually reached a settlement with the church board and resigned.  The Lord confirmed to his spirit that his time in that spiritual community was over.

If a board has shared their concerns with their pastor, and if matters haven’t turned around after a reasonable time frame (maybe six months to a year), then the pastor should not be surprised if the board openly talks to him about leaving.

But if the ministry is going well, and attendance and giving are holding steady, and the board has never discussed the pastor’s behavior or ministry with him in a formal way, and then the board decides to terminate the pastor … the pastor will rightfully feel blindsided, and the board may very well lose control of the situation.  While the board may have the legal and ecclesiastical right to remove the pastor from office (and in most congregational churches, they don’t have that right – only the congregation does), blindsiding a pastor with termination may be considered a destructive act that results in ripping apart both the pastor’s family and the church family.  (Just know up front that many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church within a few months.)

If I’m going to be involuntarily terminated, I want to see it coming a mile away.  And if I do see it coming, I will try and make my own plans to depart before the board ever has to deal with me.

Second, I would like the process to be fair, not fast. When one member of a church board decides that “the pastor must go,” his anxiety can become contagious.  Before anyone realizes the full ramifications, the entire board may then fall into line and quickly decide to fire the pastor.  While anxiety drives us to make fast decisions, Jesus encourages us to make fair decisions.

Let’s say that a pastor has recently displayed inappropriate anger several times in private.  The board should not convene and decide to fire the pastor immediately.  Instead, Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 that if a believer sins [and this includes the pastor], it’s your duty to “show him his fault” in private [one-on-one, not in a board meeting].  Then Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen …” then you are to take one or two witnesses along, and “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  Some scholars believe that the board should be informed between verses 16 and 17, although Jesus doesn’t say that.  In other words, the process is:

*A single believer [maybe the board chairman] talks with the pastor about his sin in private.

*If the pastor refuses to change, that single believer asks one or two more people [a staff member? a friend of the pastor?] to witness a second confrontation.

*If the pastor still refuses to change … only then does it become a board matter.

*If the pastor refuses to listen to the board (that’s three refusals), then either they can terminate him (if the church’s governing documents allow for this) or the church as a whole can vote him out of office in a public meeting (although there will be lobbying and it may become very divisive).

I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed between steps (maybe a month or two between each one?) but Jesus did not necessarily intend for the process to work instantly.  The person being confronted – in this case, the pastor – is not being corrected for getting angry, but for refusing to acknowledge his anger and make the necessary changes in his life.

Before saying, “But pastors should be able to change their behavior immediately,” how long does it take you to make a major change in your life?

That’s why we need to give a pastor some time to make changes in his life.

Third, I would expect to be offered a generous separation package.  The minimal severance a pastor should receive is six months.  If a pastor has been in a church for more than six years, then a good rule-of-thumb is that he receive one month’s salary for every year he’s served in a church.  While some board members might exclaim, “I would never receive severance pay like that at my job,” please realize the following facts about pastors:

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

*They and their family members will suffer tremendously.  It is common for the older children of a terminated pastor to stop attending church and even leave the faith.  The wives of terminated pastors go from being somebodies to nobodies overnight.  If the marriage has already been strained by ministry, the couple might head for divorce.

*The terminated pastor is often in so much pain that he turns to alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

*They will lose almost everything dear to them by being terminated: their careers, their income, their church family, their local friends, their house (if they have to leave the community and sell), and their reputations – in other words, they will lose their life as they know it.  (This is why pastors often hang on at a church long after they should leave.)

*They will be stigmatized as a “loser” in much of the Christian community.  As a veteran pastor told me when I first entered the pastorate, if a pastor resigns with no place to go, it’s the “kiss of death.”  If he applies for another church position, his resume will most likely go to the bottom of the pile because he was fired from his previous church.  The Christian world is very small and word gets around quickly.

*They will suffer constant depression, great anxiety, and feel like God has abandoned them.

*They will be shocked to discover that most of their ministry colleagues will turn away from them.

*The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes time.  The separation package allows for the pastor to pull away from ministry so he can take stock of his life and begin the healing process.  If the pastor is given a token separation package, he and his family will feel that he has been “kicked to the curb” and it will take them a long time to recover and forgive those who hurt them.

*The terminated pastor will probably not be able to find another church position for at least an entire year … and that church will most likely be considerably smaller than his previous congregation.

We talk a lot in the church today about social justice.  This is ecclesiastical justice.

If a board cannot or will not give the pastor a generous separation package, then they need to think twice – or ten times – about letting him go.  Getting cheap here borders on being unchristian.

Finally, I would welcome the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. If the members of a governing board want to be vindictive toward a pastor, they can fire him outright – but the word will quickly get around the church, and the board will be severely criticized by many while others will angrily leave the fellowship and encourage others to come with them.

When some churches blindside a pastor by firing him, they never recover … and it becomes easier to fire the next pastor.  When I was a kid, my dad felt forced to resign as a pastor, and after the board fired the next two pastors, the church went out of existence.

But if both the pastor and the board announce that the pastor resigned voluntarily, it takes the heat off the board and allows the pastor to leave with dignity.

The optimal win-win scenario is for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous separation package.  That is, the pastor cites multiple reasons for his leaving in his letter, doesn’t harshly criticize anyone in the church (especially the leaders), and encourages everyone in the church to stay and support the next pastor.  Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you will be remembered.”  Leave bitter, and you will leave a legacy of bitterness.  Leave with class, and you will leave a legacy of class.

A small percentage of pastors deserve to be terminated – maybe even quickly – because they have inflicted great destruction on their ministries, their families, and themselves.  But even then, they should be treated with dignity and their families should be cared for.  But the great majority of terminations go wrong because the board wants the pastor to leave as quickly as possible, and they run the risk of dehumanizing him in the process.

More than anything, I am pleading that church leaders deal with their pastors in a biblical, Christian, and loving way rather than a businesslike, political, and vengeful manner.

And may I remind everyone of this biblical principle from Galatians 6:7: what you sow, you reap.

Or in more contemporary parlance: what goes around comes around.

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I have a mentor who used to be a pastor and later became a top executive with two different denominations.

When he was a pastor, he used to tell his staff, “Remember: our jobs could all be gone overnight.”

If someone had told me that before I trained to become a pastor, maybe I would have redoubled my efforts to become a math teacher.

Because from a distance, being a pastor seems like a pretty secure position.

But upon further scrutiny, the truth leans in the opposite direction: most pastors are, in the words of a pastor friend, bound to their churches by a one day contract … revocable anytime.

There are three common scenarios along this line:

First, the pastor disqualifies himself from ministry by committing a major offense.

If a pastor commits even a single act of sexual immorality, and it becomes known to the official board, that pastor will almost always be fired or asked to resign.

If a pastor commits a felonious criminal act, like grand larceny, or fraud, or assault, that could end his ministry as well.

If a pastor struggles with an ongoing sin … such as the megachurch pastor on the East Coast who resigned last Sunday because of a problem with alcohol … that can finish someone’s ministry in a particular congregation as well.

And if a pastor preaches heresy … like the pastor I heard about who started preaching universalism (the view that everybody will be saved and enter heaven in the end) … that can either get him fired or cause his church to empty out.

Most church boards are composed of spiritual individuals who know that their pastor is human and that he can get angry … suffer from depression … become exhausted … and even struggle with family issues … and yet still be a man of God who can be an effective and productive shepherd.

But when a pastor commits a major offense … and it’s discovered … he will usually either offer his resignation or be summarily dismissed.

Second, the pastor might be fired either after a worship service or during a regular/special board meeting.

I once knew a pastor who presided over a church that was growing like crazy … but he had been at the church less than two years when he was fired by the official board.

The pastor went to a regular board meeting.  The elder who had his back was away on a trip.  Knowing this, the other elders decided this was the time for them to make their move.

When the pastor came to the meeting, someone pushed a pre-typed resignation letter over to him.

The pastor was so shocked that he stared at it for 45 minutes.

The letter stated, in part, that he had to resign … clear out his office … turn in his keys … and cut off all contact with the people of the church.

And he would not be entitled to a final sermon or any goodbye party.

His offense?

He did things differently than the previous pastor … even though the church was doing very well.

Sometimes the signs of discontent among board members are there, but the pastor misses them.

And when they finally fire him, the pastor is genuinely shocked by their ambush.

But sometimes, the board makes a decision behind the scenes … often pushed by one of the board members, who is out for revenge … and the pastor becomes ecclesiastical toast.

Third, the pastor might be given a choice: either resign now and receive a token severance agreement, or be fired without any severance.

If the pastor is guilty of sexual immorality or criminal behavior and the board just discovered his sin, I can understand this scenario.

And if the pastor was asked to deal with an issue like alcohol abuse but he hasn’t made any progress … or refuses to change … then I can understand the church board saying, “We’ve done all we can, so we have to ask for your resignation.”

But much of the time, the board never says a word to the pastor about anything he’s done wrong … he comes to a meeting … and the board gives him this ultimatum: quit right now and we’ll pay you to leave … but if you refuse, we will fire you and you will receive nothing.

There’s a variation on this: one or two board members take the pastor out to eat or meet him in his office at church and throw down the same ultimatum.

One pastor told me that when the board asked him for his resignation, he gave it to them on the spot, walked away, and left the area as quickly as he could.

That’s one way of handling things.

But many pastors will want to know things like:

*What have I done wrong?

*Why haven’t you talked with me about this sooner?

*Why are you doing this now?

*What are you going to tell the congregation about my leaving?

*Who is really behind this power play?

The pastor can try and talk with the board about questions like these … and I think he should … because the more the pastor understands the board’s thinking, the more quickly he can heal down the road.

If the board has prepared a severance agreement they want the pastor to sign on the spot, the pastor should tell the board, “I cannot sign this agreement unless I first have it reviewed by an attorney.  I will try and get back to you within a few days.”

But there’s something else the pastor can do: stand up in the meeting … walk toward the door … and tell the board, “You’ll be hearing from me soon” … and quickly leave the building.

When I went through my conflict nearly seven years ago, a church consultant asked me if our church bylaws specified a way to vote the board members out of office.

Since the bylaws didn’t envision that possibility, there wasn’t any mechanism in place for removing the board.

In my situation, I wouldn’t have done that because the board members were all duly elected by the congregation.

If a pastor is asked to resign on the spot, the best move he can make is to tell the board, “I need a few days to think and pray about this.  Can I gave you an answer by Saturday?”

If the board agrees to this scenario, the pastor should assure the board that (a) he may consult with a few people from the church, but (b) he will not lead a counterattack against the board.

But many church boards don’t allow for the pastor to take a few days to make his decision because (a) they want him to leave right away; (b) they’ve already lined up somebody to speak the following Sunday; (c) they’re afraid the pastor will lead a counterattack if they give him any rope at all.

Some pastors in megachurches and larger churches sign a contract before they become the pastor.  The contract spells out the various scenarios up front.

But most small church and medium-sized church pastors don’t sign such contracts and so are open to being railroaded right out of their positions.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He knew what was coming … and knew He would rise again.

Before most pastors are asked to leave, they are blindsided … and wonder if they’ll ever pastor again.

If you’re a church board member …  your pastor has not committed a major offense … but you think he should leave: it’s better for the board if the pastor leaves immediately, but if he does, it may very well kill his church career … for good.

So before you make a major decision that you can’t take back, search Scripture … pray it through … consult with several church consultants/interventionists … and rid your board of every desire to exact revenge on your pastor.

And be very careful … because in a real sense … your life and your job are bound by single day contracts as well.










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It was one of the spookiest sights I have ever seen.

A few years ago … while waiting for my car to be repaired … I found myself walking across a bridge over a major freeway.

And below me … as far as the eye could see … I saw hundreds of police cars … with their headlights on … driving slowly but uniformly toward the cemetery where a fellow officer … who had been gunned down a few days before … was soon to be buried.

The sight of all those police cars was eerie … but also impressive … because the officers were saying to each other … and to the world:

“What happened to my fellow officer could have happened to me, and in life, or in death, we stand together as one.”

We’re seeing the same outpouring of unity and solidarity today after twelve police officers were shot last night in Dallas … and sadly, five of them have died.

I just wish that pastors felt the same way toward each other … but for some reason, they often don’t.

Inside the local church, Paul commands believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

And in 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul writes, “If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

When Christians act this way toward fellow believers inside a congregation, it’s like heaven on earth.

But for some reason, many pastors of congregations don’t tend to act this way toward their fellow pastors.

I’m not saying they never act that way.  I’ve met some pastors who are gifted at pastoring their peers, and at times I’ve been the recipient of their grace.

But when a fellow pastor suffers … especially if he’s under attack or has been forced out of his church … most pastors won’t even bother to pick up the phone and contact that pastor personally.

And in many cases, they’ll hear something through the grapevine about that pastor’s departure and assume the rumors are true without bothering to check with their hurting brother directly.

As I wrote in my book Church Coup:

“Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits? Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues. But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser. If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems. For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.”

Let me offer three suggestions along this line:

First, I wish that pastors met together more often.   

Many years ago, when I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, pastors were invited to a monthly luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals.  I went to as many of those gatherings as I could.  They were held in various churches and often had meaningful speakers.

It was a chance for pastors to get to know each other … be exposed to other ministries … pray together … and root for each other.

But at least in my community, such meetings don’t occur.

I suppose that district/denominational meetings have taken their place in many locales, and that’s fine, but there’s often an underlying competition among denominational pastors that I didn’t find with the NAE group.

But it’s not always great when pastors meet together.

Thirty years ago, I heard the great J. I. Packer … author of Knowing God and numerous other books … speak at the Congress on Biblical Exposition in my hometown of Anaheim, California.

As he looked out among the throng of pastors, he said, “You know, pastors are a lot like manure.  When they’re all spread out, they do a lot of good, but when they all get together, it’s one big stink.”

There’s a lot of truth in Packer’s words.

Second, I wish that pastors could be honest with each other.

Many years ago, I went to a major church conference at one of America’s largest churches.  During lunch, pastors sat together at large, round tables that seated ten people.

I was looking forward to meeting some pastors from around the country, but when I sat down, two pastors were doing all the talking … and talked for the entire lunch hour.

Nobody else said anything.  Nobody else asked even asked a question.  These guys had the floor, and everyone else was irrelevant.

I’ve had that kind of experience with pastors before.  In fact, one time a few years later, I became visibly upset when one pastor did all the talking at another pastor’s event … and we spent the rest of our time discussing my concerns.

It’s true, so I’m going to say it: many … not all … but many large church pastors are arrogant jerks.  They have no time for pastors from smaller congregations.  They view them negatively … and you can feel it when you’re around them.

In fact, I once read a book where a Christian leader wrote that if you’re pastoring a church of 250 people, you’re wasting your life.

By contrast, I once put together a group of pastors that met every month for lunch.  One was a megachurch pastor … several others pastored medium-sized churches … and I probably pastored the smallest church in the group, but over the years, we came to trust each other with our feelings and our dreams … and when we needed to, we met with each other individually.

In fact, the megachurch pastor once told me something at one of those lunches that turned my entire ministry around.

Years ago, I heard Christian professor, counselor, and author Norman Wright make the following statement: “Everyone needs someone with whom he can be weak.”

I don’t know why, but pastors are terrible at demonstrating weakness toward each other … and yet the entire book of 2 Corinthians is written from the point of view of a Christian leader sharing his weaknesses … and for that reason, is probably the New Testament book I read the most.

I’m drawn to Christian leaders who share their weaknesses … like Bill Hybels, who for years was my favorite preacher … and I’m repulsed by leaders who never share their weaknesses … because I believe they’re phonies.

And sadly, there are all too many of those pastors around … and that phoniness pulls us apart rather than brings us together.

Finally, I wish that pastors would stand together across generations.

Several years ago, there was a national convention for pastors held not too far from where I live.  In fact, the convention was held at a hotel where my wife and I have stayed before.

But the convention blew up … and hasn’t been reactivated … largely because the younger pastors rebelled against the older Christian leaders.

W. A. Criswell was the pastor of First Baptist Dallas for decades.  He considered Rick Warren to be his son in the faith … and Warren considered Criswell to be a spiritual father.

But Criswell was from the builder generation … and Warren was a boomer … and there was usually a mutual respect between pastors from both those generations.

But for years, I have seen that respect missing between boomer and buster pastors.

My wife and I are catching up on the TV show Blue Bloods via Netflix, and one of the great things about the Reagan family … who are all in law enforcement … is that everyone in the family meets for Sunday lunch together.

And four generations are represented.

The discussions around the table are authentic and emotion-filled … but often enlightening.

But if anyone attacks a Reagan outside that house, the other Reagans stand up and support each other.

I wish pastors would act the same way.

Many years ago, I heard Stuart Briscoe … one of my favorite preachers … tell about the time he spoke to a group of policemen.

He quoted from Romans 13:4 and applied this verse to his audience:

“For he is God’s servant [minister] to do you good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.  He is God’s servant [minister], an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Briscoe told those officers, “I am a minister, but you are a minister as well …” and then he went into his talk.

Yes, police officers can learn some things from pastors … but when it comes to standing together … no matter what … pastors have a lot to learn from police officers.

And if pastors could learn to stand together in practice … maybe, just maybe … we could advance Christ’s kingdom significantly.




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