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Archive for June, 2018

Back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the job of Youth/Christian Education Director at a church in Orange County, California that was nearly ninety years old.

My cousin and her husband attended the church and referred the search committee to me.

I interviewed with the appropriate leaders, and the congregation voted on my call.

Out of 47 ballots cast, the vote was 42-5 in the affirmative.

I was offered the position, and quickly accepted it.

(One of the kids in that youth group went on to become the president of a Christian university.  He’s quoted in the press – both secular and Christian – all the time.  I’m very proud of him!)

I immediately wanted to know who voted against me.

There was a family in the church that had four adults living at home: a husband and wife and their adult kids, a young man and a young woman.  The young man was attached to a fifth adult, his girlfriend.

I heard through the church grapevine that all five of them voted against me.

Why?

Because I graduated from Biola College (now University), and their last youth director was also from Biola … and he had painted the youth room orange without permission.

Once I surmised who voted against me, I wondered, “How hard should I try to show them that I’m really a good guy?”

The mother in the family was the church secretary.  And her husband was chairman of the all-powerful Church Council.

I spent time trying to get to know the secretary, but it was challenging.  She wasn’t very nice.

Her husband wouldn’t give me the time of day, and later cheated me out of funds by refusing to break down my salary into taxable/non-taxable categories.

Both of them were rigid legalists.

Now here’s the reason I’m telling this story:

Most of the time, when someone votes against a pastoral candidate or criticizes that pastor publicly, those individuals become likely candidates to oppose their pastor in the future.

Once churchgoers – including board members, staffers, and key leaders – take a public stance against their pastor, they almost always maintain their stance until either they leave … or the pastor leaves.

Once they go public with their opinion, they rarely adopt a different view.

They bide their time until they can prove to the pastor’s supporters that he/she was right … and they were dead wrong.

The couple I mentioned above were later involved in forcing out the pastor of that church.  I expected they would then set their sights on me but the Lord allowed me to leave soon after the pastor did.

Let me share a second example.

In 1999, I was invited by a pastor friend to become his associate pastor with the idea of succeeding him as senior pastor if things worked out.

I came to the church in June 1999 and was hired by the church board.

The pastor announced in January 2000 that he would be retiring the following December … nearly a year later.

By this time, I was preaching … teaching classes … leading a small group … and starting my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

The congregation had to vote on me before I could become pastor.  I had to win 75% of the ballots cast.

The longer I stayed, the greater the chance that I would do or say something offensive … and that could hurt my chances of winning any vote of the congregation.  (It’s not expedient to candidate for a position for almost a year!)

So I went to the pastor and board and said, “I’ve been here ten months now.  If you want me to become your new pastor, I’d like you to vote on me sometime in April.”

If I won the vote … and since things were going great, I was certain I would … I’d become the senior-pastor elect, and that would give me the authority to accelerate the transition.

So one April Sunday, church members cast their ballots.  The vote was 76-4 to call me as pastor … a 95% affirmative vote.

But, just like the vote mentioned earlier, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

I was pretty sure I knew who two of the naysayers were.

There was a man in the church (let’s call him Harry) who had become both a board member and a Sunday School teacher.  In many ways, Harry was the senior pastor’s right-hand man, and his class was large, giving him great influence.

Harry and the pastor were about the same age … had similar views on money … and even took a vacation together with their wives.  The four of them were becoming increasingly close.

And then I came along.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my very presence made me an immediate threat to Harry.

When Harry got together socially with people from the church, he not only roasted me, but misrepresented things I said and believed.  Some of the things he said filtered back to me, so I knew that he didn’t like me.

And given his forceful personality, I knew that if he was going public with his complaints, there was almost nothing I could do to change his mind.

One day, Harry and I met alone at the church for two hours.  He asked me some questions about ministry, and I gave him my honest answers.

We had diametrically opposite views of the direction our church should take.

He wanted to use a retail approach to church growth.  For example, he felt we would grow quickly if we just advertised on television.

That kind of approach makes my skin crawl.

He not only didn’t like me, he didn’t understand me, and couldn’t seem to relate to me at all.

So when that vote was taken, I knew … knew … that Harry and his wife were two of those four “no” votes.

After the election, one of my best supporters came up to Harry and his wife and said … loudly … “Why don’t you congratulate Jim on today’s vote?”

They did so … but their hearts obviously weren’t in it.

Six months later … two months before I was scheduled to become the senior pastor … Harry and his wife left the church … in anger.  Harry immediately tried to negotiate his way back, asking for full access to me at all times.

I told Harry I couldn’t grant his request … and he and his wife never returned.

In essence, Harry wanted to run the church through me, but I couldn’t be anyone’s man but God’s.

Based on these two stories, let me share five principles about how a pastor should view his early opponents:

First, it’s not wise for a pastor to try and track down who voted against him.

Although I was curious about the five people who voted against me in the first story above, I don’t remember being obsessed by it.  But it didn’t take long for me to find out who those five people were … and as I recall, I didn’t seek out the information.  It somehow came to me instead.

But in the second instance, I knew that Harry and his wife did not think I should be pastor of the church.  Most people were very complimentary of my ministry when I first came.  In contrast, Harry never said one positive thing to me during that whole time.

Other than Harry and his wife, I never did discover the identities of the other two people who voted against me … although after a few months as pastor, I could have hazarded some educated guesses.

Second, although pastors cannot afford to be paranoid, it helps to know the names of those standing against him in the early days.

Most people who vote on a pastor will tell their relational circle how they voted … and they will explain or create a rationale for doing so … even if their friends disagree.

If the pastor does or says something stupid, they’re liable to tell family or friends, “Don’t look at me … I didn’t vote for the guy!”

If a pastor can casually find out who voted against him, that knowledge can become extremely useful.  This gives the pastor time to figure out how to minister to his critics … or at least neutralize them.  (For example, a pastor shouldn’t let such people into leadership.)

Third, if a pastor can win over some of his initial detractors, he should seize the opportunity.

I can only recall winning over two people who initially stood against me.

In my second pastorate, I received a vote of 51-5 to become the church’s senior pastor.  And once again, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

There was a middle-aged couple who attended the church, and I somehow discovered that they were two of the “no” votes.

I tried to get to know them, but they weren’t interested … and the woman always glared at me.

It went on like that for three years.

Then suddenly, the woman’s mother became ill and died.  I ministered to the family, and I watched their attitude toward me change overnight.

Suddenly, I became “their” pastor … and we enjoyed a great relationship for many years after that.

That’s the key: to become their pastor.

And sometimes, that takes a long time.

Fourth, some people initially oppose a pastor, not because they don’t like him, but because they assume he won’t notice or like them.

Most churchgoers don’t oppose a pastor because they disagree with his theology, or because they don’t like his stance on some social issue.

Instead, they’re afraid he won’t give them … or their family … or their ministries … sufficient attention.

This is where I sometimes failed.

As an introvert, I was often exhausted after preaching a sermon.  I didn’t have much energy left to say to the woman who glared at me all the time, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband go out with my family for pizza after church?”

Frankly, my wife and I didn’t have the money for shoes or car repairs, much less meals with people I didn’t understand.

But I needed to send some signals to that couple that I wanted to get to know them better and that they were valuable to our church … and if I sensed somebody didn’t like me, I sometimes avoided them instead.

Some of a pastor’s opponents are mean-spirited bullies who use intimidation to get their way.  Once a pastor has sized up such people, he needs to pray or escort them out of the church … and if they leave, let them go.

But others are just wounded people who wonder if the pastor truly cares for them.  And once they know that he does, they’ll become the loyalist of supporters.

Finally, although a pastor might be able to win over a few of his initial opponents, he needs to accept that some people will always oppose him.

I don’t think a pastor can win over everybody who initially stands against him:

*Some people are stubborn.

*Some people don’t want to lose face by admitting they’re wrong.

*Some people feel their influence would be jeopardized by switching positions.

*Some people are cantankerous and contrary by nature.

*Some people pride themselves on being the “loyal opposition.”

So the best of pastors can’t change everybody.

But if a pastor knows who his early opponents are, he can take steps to love them and to address their concerns … even if he never understands them.

_______________

But on rare occasions, the Lord can do amazing things even in the lives of those who vote against a pastor.

When I was nineteen years old, my church asked a former member and missionary to candidate for the position of senior pastor.

I didn’t fully agree with him … and neither did some others in my relational circle.

During his second of two sermons, he told us that God had called him to pastor the church.

I thought, “So why hold an election?”

In the end, I voted against him … as did six other people in my circle.

But 87% of the people voted for him, and five months later, he became the church’s second senior pastor.

Right before that pastor arrived, I was hired to work with youth for the summer.

That new pastor became my primary ministry mentor for decades.

And I ended up marrying his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Friday night in winter … nearly twenty years ago … the Bay Area church I was pastoring advertised that we were going to have snow for the kiddies.

Since it never snowed in our area, the snow had to be imported on a truck.

My wife … who ordered the snow and was coordinating the event … was anxious.  She promised snow at 7:30 pm, but the truck got lost.

Finally, the driver found his way to our campus … almost an hour late.

A man from our church … who was in his eighties … was present that night and put things into perspective when he said, “Pastor, a good church is hard to find.”

Amen to that!

Until I was 56 years old, I never had to search for a church:

*During my childhood, my dad was a pastor, so I went to the churches he served, mostly in Orange County.

*For the next eight years, I attended where my family attended.

*From ages 19 through 27, I was a staff member in three churches.

*After that, I served as the solo or senior pastor of three churches.

So for most of my life, I didn’t have to search for a church home … but that all changed after we left our last church in 2009.

While living in Arizona, it took my wife and me a long six months to find a church home.

But when we moved to the Inland Empire in Southern California six years ago, finding a church home became a complicated and painful experience.

We’ve had three church homes over the past five-and-a-half years: a Baptist church, a Calvary Chapel, and a Reformed Church.

We left the Baptist church because it was too far away to become socially involved … and because they were much too ingrown.

We left the Calvary Chapel because their worship time was becoming weirder.

We left the Reformed Church because, while they didn’t do much that was wrong, they didn’t do much that was right, either.

So now … once again … my wife and I are searching for a church home.

What are we looking for in a home church?

Five things:

First, we want to hear a biblically based, intelligent sermon.

Most pastors in our area offer a sermon based in Scripture.  That’s the easy part.

But most pastors don’t offer a sermon with much, if any, intelligence.

As a former pastor, I want a pastor to:

*Give us evidence that you’ve immersed yourself in the text.

*Show us that the passage under study has passed through and touched you.

*Share with us a quote … a story … an application that is fresh and moving.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones … one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century … sometimes visited churches in America.  Pastors would get up to preach and be astounded to see the good doctor sitting in their congregation.

Lloyd-Jones said he looked for one primary thing in a sermon: evidence of the presence of God.

I’ve tried to apply that standard to the sermons I’ve heard, but I don’t always succeed.

Lloyd-Jones also summed up what a great sermon is in three words: “Logic on fire!”

I hear fire sometimes in the churches we visit.  Sadly, I don’t hear much logic.

On Sunday, April 1, my daughter and I attended an Easter service at All Souls Church in London, England, where John Stott had been the pastor years before.

The Minister of Evangelism gave the sermon that morning, and knocked it out of the park.

There was logic … and there was fire.

I loved it.

My longtime friend Dave Rolph preaches live on Roku every Sunday morning from his Orange County church.  (He’s also on the radio here in SoCal.)  I watch Dave’s sermon most Sunday mornings because while he’s thoroughly biblical, he’s also original, thinks broadly, and offers stories and applications that make me think.

With most sermons I hear, I forget them as soon as I hear them.  With Dave, his insights sometimes stay with me for days.

Second, we want the worship music to be singable and meaningful.

By singable, I mean that the band on stage isn’t playing too loud.  You can hear the people around you singing … not just the music … and you don’t have to strain to sing yourself.

By meaningful, I mean the songs are not selected because they’re currently popular, but because they say something significant about the Lord.  The words are both theologically accurate and touching.

Many churches in our area offer music that’s too loud for singing.  You can hear the band and singers on stage, but you can’t hear anyone around you.

And so many of the song lyrics are repetitious.  I refuse to sing the same words over and over for no reason.

The trend in many churches is to sing the same song for eight to ten minutes … like what you’ll hear at a Chris Tomlin concert.

That may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.  What is the point of singing the same words five and seven and nine times?

My son attends a Calvary Chapel that uses acoustic music.  You can hear the voices around you.  I enjoy their worship times.

My daughter attends a Reformed church that also uses acoustic music.  The words to the songs are elegant and deeply moving.

I’d attend either church in a heartbeat … but my son’s church is 60 miles away, and my daughter’s church is 500 miles away.

I’m sure there are churches out there that offer what we’re looking for.  I just don’t know where they are.

Third, we want to meet people who are in our socioeconomic background.

This is a big problem for us around here.

I grew up in suburban Anaheim, California.  Every church I pastored was located in a suburban area as well.

I don’t fit in an urban environment, and I don’t fit in a rural environment, either.

My wife and I spent 27 years ministering in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We fit best with the people in that region.  They are “our people.”

But we don’t live there … we live in the Inland Empire … and much of our community is rural … along with the communities ten miles north, west, and east of us.

This is really tough for us.  We don’t want to come off as snobs.  We aren’t better than the people around here … we’re just different.

There are churches around here where most of the people have tattoos or piercings.  Praise God that those people know the Lord … but it makes us feel very uncomfortable.

You can’t determine a “relational fit” from a church website.  You have to visit the church first.

And this is a major reason why we visit most churches only once.

Fourth, we want to be theologically compatible with the church’s faith and practice.

Two Sundays ago, my wife and I visited a church 15 miles south of us.

There was nothing on the church website that indicated the kind of church they were.

After a couple of worship songs, I turned to my wife and said, “This is a charismatic church.”

Now there is nothing wrong per se with a charismatic church … it’s just not our preference.

The pastor’s son spoke that morning … at a supersonic rate.  He spoke on the Lord’s appointing and anointing.

My wife wanted to walk out after a few minutes.  He was making us both highly anxious by his rapid-fire delivery.

I told her later that in some churches, when a pastor speaks fast, that’s an indication that he is anointed with the Holy Spirit.

After the sermon, the pastor asked everyone in the congregation to pray to receive Christ.  Everyone!

That, my friends, is manipulation, pure and simple … and I refuse to attend any church that uses manipulation.

We attended another church for a few months where a woman was on the staff.  That was okay.

But one Sunday, we came to church, and she delivered the sermon.

For us, that was not okay.

Churches aren’t going to tell you their peculiarities on their website.  You have to visit them first.

If you visit them a few times, they won’t hide their unique beliefs or practices very long.

And then you can decide if you want to stay or not.

Finally, we want to be able to use our spiritual gifts in service.

My top spiritual gift is teaching.

My wife’s passion is outreach.

I have tried to find a church that will let me use my teaching gift, but I keep hearing the same thing: the pastor is our only teacher.

And if the pastor shares his pulpit, he shares it with staff … or a visiting missionary … or an old pastor friend.

I’m not angling to preach.  I just want to teach God’s Word to God’s people.

In our community, my guess is that less than 10% of the churches even offer Sunday School or adult Bible classes.

And I don’t know where those churches are.

Instead, the churches offer small groups, which is good … but the whole idea of groups is that everyone participates … and no one teaches.

I suppose I could volunteer to clean toilets … or move chairs … or work in the nursery … or fill a slot somewhere.

Forgive me, but no thanks.

Since I can’t use my gifts inside a church, I write instead.

_______________

A couple weeks ago, my wife spent several hours looking for a church for us to visit.

She checked out dozens of websites … and only found a handful of churches that might appeal to us.

When I checked out the churches, I eliminated most of them for the reasons listed above.

I’ve decided to make a chart and rank the churches in priority order.

But my big concern is that we aren’t going to find a church where we fit.

Yes, we’ve visited several churches, and gone back two or three or more times … hoping that would become our church home.

But it just hasn’t worked out.

We’re not looking for a perfect church … just one where we fit.

There are many such churches in the Bay Area … and in Orange County.

There aren’t that many in the Inland Empire.

That older gentleman was right:

A good church is indeed hard to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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