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Archive for February, 2017

I could not have published what you’re about to read when I was a pastor.

Over 36 years in church ministry, there were things I did that I hated doing … and things I loved doing.

If I hated an activity, it took me a while to start and finish it … and I’d count the minutes until it was done.

If I loved an activity, I’d clear my calendar, focus like a laser beam … and pay no attention to the clock.

My guess is that the longer a pastor is in ministry, the more things there are that he can’t stand doing.

When I was a kid, the great Bible teacher Wilbur J. Smith came to our church to preach.  My parents invited him over for dinner, but he declined, stating that he no longer accepted invitations for meals.

He loved preaching … and hated dinners.

I can relate!

Here are five things I hated doing as a pastor:

First, I hated editing church publications.

It’s my belief that everything that a church publishes for public consumption has to be perfect.

Just one misspelled word or a phrase with garbled syntax can lessen a church’s image in the eyes of some people.

Many years ago, the church I served as pastor spent $5000 on a full color brochure that we gave to our guests.

I was on the marketing team that designed the brochure and had reviewed it repeatedly for errors.

A prominent evangelical leader was so impressed with the brochure that he wanted to include it in a book he was writing.

I was thrilled … until I noticed that the word “activities” was spelled “activites” instead!

And that sunk our chance to have the brochure included in anybody’s book.

After that misstep, I was doubly conscious of only putting out perfect publications.

So every week, I reviewed the bulletin/program.

And every month, I proofread the church newsletter.

As a perfectionist, I’m a good proofreader.  I edited and proofread my book Church Coup and have discovered only two errors in the 289 pages of the paperback version.

I don’t mind proofreading my own writing, but I hate proofreading other people’s writing.  (One staff member had dyslexia and couldn’t write a decent sentence.  I had to rewrite everything he gave me, which ticked him off.)

Why didn’t I farm things out?

Because publications have to be read both for grammar and for content … and I could do both quicker than anyone else.

But after years of proofreading, I dreaded it more and more.

Second, I hated performing weddings.

I created four criteria for marrying a couple: they both had to be Christians; they had to attend our church while undergoing counseling; they had to agree to four to six counseling sessions with me; and they had to agree not to sleep together until their wedding day.

After reading those conditions, the majority of couples found someone else.

But if a couple met my conditions, I’d marry them even if I thought they were a mismatch.

The worst wedding I ever did involved a couple I can’t adequately describe.

They wanted to get married on a beach in Northern California.

I dressed up in my suit one summer day and drove 90 minutes to this small parking lot … then had to walk about a half mile over sand to the site of their wedding.

The guests sat on driftwood … all 15 of them.  The groom dressed like Sir Lancelot, and the bride dressed like Maid Marion.

I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here?”

After the ceremony, I waited a solid hour for my honorarium of $100, which didn’t come close to paying for my humiliation.

Another time, I married a couple at the chapel at The Presidio in San Francisco.  Before leaving home, my wife agreed to be in charge of my clothes.

When we arrived at The Presidio for the wedding, my wife had left my suit coat at home.

I had to borrow one from the chauffeur!

But those stories don’t reflect why I didn’t like weddings.

If the wedding was held inside our church, then I was in charge, and my anxiety lessened considerably.

But if the wedding was held away from church … and most were … then others were in charge … and my anxiety could go through the roof.

More times than not, I represented the spiritual part of things … and the rest of the festivities seemed to contradict the spiritual.

In addition, a wedding usually involved a rehearsal and dinner the day before, with the wedding itself the following day … which meant I’d invest anywhere from ten hours to more than a day … and sometimes, I’d never see the couple again.

The last wedding I did involved 32 hours on my part … and the couple stiffed me on the honorarium.

Just another reason why I came to hate most weddings.

Third, I hated the logistics of getting to a hospital.

Rather, I hated driving to hospitals and finding a parking place.

Once I found a patient’s room, I loved talking with them, and reading God’s Word, and praying with them.

But getting to the hospital was often another matter.

During my last ministry, the area hospitals I visited lacked reserved parking for clergy.

Whenever I had to go to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, for example, I’d have to fight through all the signals and traffic, search ten or fifteen minutes for a parking space near the hospital, walk at least a quarter mile, ascend crammed elevators, and hunt for a patient’s room.

Once I got there, I was in my element.

But getting there could be maddening, and the entire round trip could take two hours.

In addition, most medical emergencies happened either on Thursdays (when I studied at home) or on Fridays (my day off) … and that time was precious.

And as pastors know, one emergency situation can throw your entire week’s schedule off kilter.

I loved being a pastor to people in the hospital.

I just wish I’d had a chauffeur.

Fourth, I hated board meetings.

Early in my ministry, board meetings made me anxious.

I never knew who was going to surprise me with criticism or a dumb suggestion or information about someone I didn’t care to know.

In my middle years, I loved board meetings, because that’s where I received approval for the agenda items that God had given me.

When I knew the board members personally, and I knew they stood behind me no matter what, I enjoyed attending them and found them productive.

But when I didn’t know the board members well, and they collapsed on me when I needed them most, those meetings became chores … and bores.

I once heard Bill Hybels say that the elders in his church held their meetings in homes.  They’d have dinner together, let him give a report, and then sometimes dismiss him and carry on without him.

You can do that if you trust the board.  You can’t if you don’t.

My last few months in ministry, I didn’t trust the board, and had to endure meetings long into the night … and wished I was home instead.

Finally, I hated staff confrontations.

I once spent several hours with a nationally-known church consultant.

He asked me some questions about my staff at the time, and then queried:

“Jim, are you a highly responsible person?”

I replied, “Yes.”

He continued, “Do you only have to be told to do something once?”

I replied, “Yes.”

He concluded, “But Jim, not everyone is like you.”

He was right.

I couldn’t understand staff members that came in late … left early … didn’t show up for events … left their offices a mess … were always disorganized … and never got their work done.

I couldn’t live with myself if I acted like that.

I was never a “helicopter pastor.”  If we hired someone, I expected them to do the job without constant reminders or warnings.

But if they weren’t doing the job, I had to intercept entropy and confront them … and I hate confrontation.

This is why I always liked Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-O TV show.  McGarrett had no problem confronting anybody, whether it was a two-bit thief, a local gangster, or an international agent like Wo Fat.

Chuck Swindoll once said that half the time he confronted someone, it worked out well, and half the time it didn’t.

Most of my confrontations seemed to fall in the latter category.

If I had to confront you about something, things had gotten really bad.

I always did it … I just hated doing it.

Pastors are all different.

Some hate administrative work … others hate social events.

Some hate preparing their sermon … others hate making small talk.

As time goes by, pastors are often able to rewrite their job descriptions so they’re doing what they love and avoiding what they hate.

If they can negotiate such changes, they can last many years in ministry.

If they can’t make such changes, they may burn out prematurely.

Because burnout isn’t about doing too much work … it’s about doing work that’s unpleasant and unproductive.

In one of my doctoral courses at Fuller, our professor told us that pastors should spend at least 70% of their time doing things they love and 30% doing things they don’t.

But if you’re spending 30% of your time doing what you love, and 70% doing what you hate, that’s a recipe for failure.

The problem many pastors have is that (a) we either view ourselves as indispensable, meaning we have to do everything and be everywhere, or (b) we believe that people expect us to do everything and be everywhere.

Both are common … but are recipes for disaster.

If you’re a pastor, which areas of ministry do you despise doing the most?

If you’re not a pastor, which areas of ministry do you think he dislikes the most?

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Sixty years ago, a young pastor lived across the street from my uncle and aunt in Garden Grove, California.

This pastor told them that he was starting a new church in the community and asked them to join it.

They declined.

That pastor’s name?

Robert Schuller.

Dr. Schuller believed that when a pastor was called to a church, he should be committed to that church for life.

Although Schuller’s story didn’t end well, he remained the pastor of Garden Grove Community Church … and then the Crystal Cathedral … for his entire ministry career.

I believe that most pastors take that attitude when they’re called to a church: “I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life … or until God takes me home … and that means I’m not going to run whenever trouble starts.”

My ministry is primarily focused on helping pastors and church board members who are struggling in their relationship to handle their disagreements in a biblical, just, and loving manner.

Yet pastors are being forced out of their positions – often by church bullies – at an ever-increasing rate … and I don’t think that pastors should automatically resign when that happens.

But I believe there are times when the best decision a pastor can make is to resign unilaterally and voluntarily.  In such cases, the pressure doesn’t necessarily come from outside the pastor, but often inside the pastor.

When should a pastor resign?

First, when he’s disqualified himself morally.

The first thing most of us think of when we read the above phrase is adultery.

I’m sure many pastors think to themselves, “If I was ever guilty of sleeping with someone other than my wife, I’d quit immediately.”

And yet it’s shocking how many pastors have fallen morally and yet continue on as if nothing ever happened.

Rather than leaving, they wait until they’re caught and then resign … sometimes years or even decades later.

And I always wonder, “How could they hold and preach from the Holy Bible … and serve holy communion … and do it all in Christ’s holy church … when they’re leading such unholy lives?”

More than twenty years ago, I remember a nationally known pastor who resigned from his church for “inappropriate behavior.”

Interviewed in front of his house by a television crew, this pastor stated that he had no business ever being a pastor again.

I thought to myself, “Wow.  You just don’t hear that anymore.”

After running the clip, the female host told her television audience, “The minister’s attitude is refreshing.”

But I have since discovered … from two reputable sources … that the pastor didn’t resign voluntarily but was caught doing things pastors shouldn’t do.

There are other sins that might disqualify a pastor from office as well, including stealing church funds, physical abuse, blatant lying, or even murder.

But for some reason, it’s relatively rare for a pastor to blow the whistle on himself.

Is that due to a pastor’s high commitment level, or his pride?

Second, when the congregation no longer responds to his preaching.

Many years ago, I had lunch with a former pastor who had led a megachurch for more than two decades.

This pastor was well-known in many circles and had written a book that still sold thousands every year.

He told me that for some reason, his people had stopped listening to his sermons.

In fact, he felt they needed to hear a fresh voice.

So he went to the church board and told them he wanted to negotiate a settlement so he could leave.

I can relate to this pastor’s story.

During my final pastorate, over my first few years, my sermons were very well received.

But over my last few months, I just wasn’t connecting as I once had.  Some of my humor fell flat … I started repeating myself … and I may have preached in a tone of frustration.

Looking back, maybe I was trying to work out solutions to my own problems through my preaching rather than dealing with the congregation’s issues.

Toward the end, there were Sundays where nobody told me they “liked my sermon.”

When a pastor receives positive feedback from a sermon, it provides much-needed fuel for his next message … but when he receives little to no feedback, it can become very demoralizing … and, in some cases, serve as a signal that the pastor needs to leave.

Third, when you’re hanging on for a paycheck.

I once worked with a pastor who had announced to the church that he was going to retire at a future date.

After he made his announcement, he didn’t do very much around the office.

He signed checks … came to my office and talked … and spent most of his time just killing time.

I never saw him read a book.  I never saw him study for a sermon.

He came to the office late, and left early.

There’s a sense in which we can understand a situation like this.  If a pastor has served a church faithfully for years, and wants to give them plenty of advance notice that he’s going to retire, maybe he shouldn’t be expected to be a ball of energy.

But what bothers me is that there are thousands of pastors around who aren’t nearing retirement and yet act just like they are.

Life’s too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled in your job.

My counsel to a pastor who is just putting in time would be, “Get out … as soon as you can … because your people deserve a more energetic and effective shepherd.”

Fourth, when attendance is in a death spiral.

Forgive me for the following cynical statement, but I believe that it’s true:

“Many churches exist to pay the pastor’s salary.”

This statement refers to churches that:

*were once growing and vibrant.

*have been in steady decline for years.

*struggle just to put on a service every Sunday.

*are wearing out their few remaining lay leaders.

*nobody wants to invite their friends to attend.

*allocate the overwhelming bulk of their income to the pastor’s salary.

*have no positive plan for turning the church around.

I wrote an article about this situation a while back because it’s so common:

When Should the Pastor of a Church in Steady Decline Leave?

After soliciting responses from some top Christian leaders, I synthesized their counsel and then wrote this article:

Turning Around a Declinling Church

Let me make this bold statement: unless the pastor of a church is willing to reinvent himself, the pastor who presided over a steady decline rarely presides over a turnaround.

It would be helpful for a church in steady decline to bring in an outside consultant to take an objective look at their situation as well as their future, but such a church usually needs a new pastor with fresh vision and energy.

Fifth, when the pastor can no longer endure personal and family attacks.

If a pastor is a strong individual, most people unhappy with his ministry will just leave the church … a few loudly, most quietly.

If a pastor is more passive or perceived to be weak, a bully may try to take him out … or organize a faction that starts making demands and threats.

Pastors know they’re going to be criticized: after sermons, on response cards, through emails, via anonymous letters, and worst of all, through messages relayed by others.  (“So and So is mad at you.”)

Much of this is par for the course, but when people threaten the pastor’s reputation or job, and add threats and demands, it can become a bit much … and sometimes, become abusive.

I believe that when a pastor is being abused, the church board needs to step in, calm down those making the threats, and encourage them to modify their behavior … or leave the church.

But if the board won’t do that … or the threats originate with board members … then most pastors can only take so much.

But what pushes most pastors over the edge is when professing Christians attack his wife and children.

This happened to me during my second pastorate.  The seniors class rebelled against me and drew up a list of all my faults … including those of my wife and kids.

My wife’s offense?  Her slip was showing one Sunday.

When the board unanimously stood with me, my attackers immediately left the church, but it was almost more than we could take.

We all have a different threshold for criticism.  Maybe you can take more than I can.

But when pastors are “mobbed” by a sizeable portion of the congregation, why put up with it?

And short of a heaven-sent revival, what can a pastor do to mollify such people?

Just leave ’em behind.

Sixth, when the pastor would rather be doing something else.

Years ago, I knew a pastor – a very godly man, in my view – who was being consistently attacked at church.

The pastor lived across the street from the church campus, and had some used refrigerators in his garage, which he loved to work on.

One Sunday night, after a terrible congregational meeting, my friend walked across the street to his home and decided to resign and fix refrigerators and appliances for a living.

I began serving in church ministry at age 19, and worked only for churches for nearly the following four decades.

So when I was forced out of my church, I couldn’t identify any transferable skills that I could use to start a business or land a decent secular job … unless flipping hamburgers and cooking fries counts for something.

But many pastors do have those skills, and if the day ever comes when they’d rather make a living in a previous profession, then maybe that’s what they should do.

My first seminary professor was the great Dr. Charles Feinberg.  He told my Old Testament class, “Gentlemen, if you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it!”

He was right.

Finally, when the church board asks for your resignation.

I sometimes hear stories about pastors who were fired by their elders or deacons.

Sometimes he’s fired after a Sunday service … or at a special/regular board meeting … or by two board members who meet with the pastor privately … or sometimes through an email or a letter in the mail.

In a perfect world, it would be preferable if the board asked the pastor for his resignation, and the pastor traded it – and a unifying letter – for a generous severance package.

But all too often, the pastor is fired unilaterally … without any explanation … without letting him ask questions or give feedback … and without any severance package.

However, if a board has prayed about it … consulted with outside experts … and every person on the board is in agreement, then the board should ask the pastor for his resignation rather than firing him outright.

This not only preserves the pastor’s dignity, but sounds much better on a resume.

However, if the board does ask the pastor for his resignation, they shouldn’t force him to quit right then and there.  (Some boards prepare a letter they want the pastor to sign ahead of time.)

The pastor needs time to think, pray, and speak with his family … and yes, giving him time runs the risk of his saying, “No, I’m staying” or even leading a counterattack.

But if the board unilaterally fires the pastor without notice or any good reason, many in the congregation may rebel, and the church may dwindle significantly, and require years to rebuild.

In almost every case … unless a board is composed of cruel and godless individuals … I believe that a pastor should resign if the board asks for his resignation.

Can you imagine other scenarios where a pastor should resign voluntarily?

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