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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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For many years, I struggled with jealousy toward those in ministry who seemed more successful than I was.

In my mid-twenties, I was a full-time youth/Christian education director at a church in Orange County, California.  A friend I’ll call Ben … the pastor’s son … was a youth pastor at a church I had admired all my life, and he was making plans to attend seminary outside California.

Ben recommended that the church hire me as his replacement, and since many people already knew me, that’s what happened.

But right off the bat, I ran into resistance.

One high school girl told me that she felt sorry for me because I didn’t compare to Ben.

The adult youth leaders openly resisted my leadership.

An adult youth leader once stared at me and finally said, “Jim, you’re just so different than Ben” … intimating that wasn’t a good thing.

The following Christmas, Ben returned to the church and spoke on Sunday to a packed house where I was forced to sit on the platform and watch the lovefest between him and the congregation.  It hurt … immensely.

When I left that church three-and-a-half years later, I tried to pave the way for the next youth pastor.

A few years later, the pastor retired, and who did the church hire as their new pastor?  That’s right … Ben.

When I left that church, I became pastor of a small church in Silicon Valley.  Pastor Joe led the largest church in the area, and one Sunday when I was on vacation, I took my family to that megachurch.

It was so crowded that we sat on the last row of the balcony.  It was a hot day … the a/c wasn’t working … and we could barely see the stage.

But boy, could Pastor Joe pack them in!

I served a church of less than 100 people, and Pastor Joe pastored 2000 … and had co-written a book with someone who had a study Bible named after him.

To me, Pastor Joe was the epitome of success … and I felt great jealousy toward Pastor Joe because he seemed wildly successful while I was not.

But then something happened that profoundly impacted those feelings.

I had started a Spiritual Leadership Retreat for pastors and their board members in our district the year before.

Pastors often attend conferences … return home … tell their board members what they learned … but meet resistance because the board didn’t hear what the pastor heard.

So, I thought … let’s get pastors and their boards together, bring in a speaker, let him do a few sessions, and then after each session, ask the pastors and their boards to discuss the speaker’s ideas immediately.

We needed a speaker for our second retreat, and someone suggested Pastor Joe, so I contacted him, and we met in a restaurant to talk.

Going into that luncheon, I was greatly intimidated by Pastor Joe.  After all, he was a SOMEBODY while I was a NOBODY.

But during our three hours together, he poured out his heart to me about all the problems he was having in his church.

The biggest problem involved a staff member who was single and had been caught having sex with another woman.

The pastor and his elders decided to remove this man from his position … keep him at the church … put him under an accountability group … and give him a job as a church custodian.

Pastor Joe could not have predicted the avalanche of criticism he would receive.  He had received 300 letters that he could not bear to answer about the decision he and the board had made.  Half the writers felt the decision was too strict, while half felt the decision was too lenient.

The pastor also shared some shocking news with me.  While he had a degree from a Bible college, he had never gone to seminary, and his lack of a master’s degree made him feel very insecure.

So he overstudied.  He spent 15 hours a week on his Sunday morning message … 15 hours on his Sunday evening message … and 20 hours on his Wednesday night message.

Why did he spent 20 hours on his midweek message, I wondered?

Because, he told me, on several occasions, he stood up to speak and John MacArthur was sitting in the congregation, and Joe didn’t want to say anything inaccurate.

The three hours I spent with that pastor did more to cure me of jealousy than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Here is what I’ve learned about jealousy over the years:

First, we should never compare ourselves to others because God has made us all so different.

Whitey Herzog was a Hall of Fame manager who led both the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals to World Series championships.

During his heyday in the 1980s, Herzog was often considered to be the best manager in baseball, an accolade he disputed.  He said the only way to tell the best manager was to give several managers the exact same players and see where they finished at the end of the year … an impossible feat.

In the same way, the only way to compare pastors would be to take a few of them … put them all in the same community … give them the same number of people … give them the same size campus and buildings … give them identical staffs and board members … give them the same income … and then see how they fared five years later.

But since that’s completely unrealistic, why even try to compare ourselves with others?

It may be human, but it’s ultimately counterproductive.

Second, jealousy often doesn’t start inside of us but within the followers of others.

Before Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, John’s ministry took people by storm, and his followers reveled in their access to this superstar and his fame.

But then Jesus came along and began baptizing as well.  The Baptism Wars were ready to start when John’s disciples said to him in John 3:26, “Rabbi, that man [notice they won’t name Jesus] who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

There wasn’t any problem between John and Jesus.  The problem was with John’s followers.

In the story I told above about Pastor Ben … the youth pastor I succeeded … there wasn’t any problem between us.  We often met for meals at denominational events and laughed about my perception of the way people adored him.

And years later, I served as his teaching pastor for sixteen months.

Since we can’t stop people from comparing us to others, we either have to plug our ears or realize that we have our admirers as well, even if they aren’t as numerous or vocal.

Third, our job isn’t to become famous or well-loved, but to carry out God’s unique assignment for us.

In John 3:27-29, John tells his followers that he knows his role very well.  Jesus is the bridegroom, and John’s assignment is to be Jesus’ friend, or best man.

In other words, John says, who cares what people think about me as long as Jesus receives the spotlight?

That’s what he meant when he said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

During my second staff assignment, I occasionally preached from the church’s large pulpit.  There was a small plaque attached to it that only the preacher could view.  The plaque read, “Sir, we must see Jesus.”

I’ve heard guys preach who told story after story where they were the heroes … and those individuals often acquired a large following.

But like John, there comes a time when we all have to say, “I don’t even care if people remember my name as long as they see Jesus.”

And since He’s why we serve, there’s no reason to be jealous of Him.

Fourth, every pastor has his successes … but they only last for a season.

After a very slow start, I’ve had some successes in ministry:

*I once appeared with several other pastors on a live radio program in the Bay Area.  I was very nervous going in, but talked quite a lot, and when I drove back to my church for our midweek Bible study, the congregation gathered in the lobby to greet me.

While that was cool, nothing really happened because of it.

*I pastored the largest Protestant church in a city of 75,000 for years.

But it didn’t last.

*The starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders attended my church one year right before the season started.

But he only came for three weeks … and went on to became the worst quarterback in the league.

*I earned a doctoral degree, and enjoyed my classwork immensely.

But two years after graduation, I was forced out as pastor.

*I wrote a book, which I never thought I’d do, and it’s fun to see it on Amazon.

But the paperback has stopped selling, and as of this writing, it’s number 2,176,901 on Amazon, although I did sell one today, which will probably help me jump over a million places.

Our perceived ministry successes often don’t last very long.  John the Baptist’s ministry came and went quickly.  Jesus’ ministry lasted less than four years.

Years ago, I became convinced that success in ministry can only be measured by faithfulness.  On occasion, God lets us taste greater success, but it rarely lasts forever, because …

Finally, great success is often followed by great suffering.

When Paul ascended to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12, he said he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”

Paul was tempted to say, “Wow!  I’ll bet nobody else has had this experience!  I am obviously someone very special!”

But, Paul writes, “to keep me from becoming conceited” he received “a thorn in my flesh,” some kind of nagging bodily ailment.

When I sat in that restaurant with Pastor Joe, and heard him tell me about the 300 critical letters he had received, I reminded myself of an adage I had often heard:

“Big churches have big problems … small churches have small problems.”

At that moment, I realized that if I were ever to pastor a large church, I would probably have to suffer greatly … and I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the price.

And I was instantly cured of jealousy.

A year-and-a-half after our initial meeting, Pastor Joe died.  I never found out what killed him, but mean-spirited criticism, constant stress, and sitting in a chair studying fifty hours a week surely didn’t help.

Several years later, that church of 2000 had plunged to 400 … and was barely holding on.

_______________

When I was in seminary, we had to attend chapel four times a week.  Because we had to leave for work after chapel, my friend Dave and I both sat together on the back row.

Today, Dave pastors a large church.  He’s on the radio every day in many US markets.  I often watch his service on Roku.  He has a lot of influence in the Calvary Chapel movement.  He wrote the notes for The Word for Today Study Bible.  He hosted Chuck Smith’s question and answer radio program with Chuck many times … especially at the end of Chuck’s life.

I don’t feel any jealousy toward Dave.  He’s been my friend for nearly 50 years.  I know how gifted he is and how hard he’s worked over the years.

In fact, I’m happy for him … and when the Lord takes me home, I want Dave to conduct my memorial service.

Dave has a very public ministry.  By contrast, mine is quite private.

I spent two hours on the phone yesterday with a leader who has been struggling with some issues in his church.  The situation is complex … without easy answers … but I know I was able to help him.

At this point in my life, I wouldn’t trade places with Dave for anything.  I am quite content with my small ministry and glad that the Lord has called me to it.

And in the end, isn’t the antidote to jealousy to be content with the place, people, status, and salary the Lord has given us?

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Many years ago, a church that I served as pastor held an Italian-themed outreach event on our campus one gorgeous Saturday evening.

Because we had a lagoon behind our property, my wife obtained a gondola and we offered our guests rides while someone serenaded them.

After one gondola ride, I greeted a woman I didn’t know and learned that she was from the Czech Republic.

As we walked toward the back entrance to our multipurpose room, she suddenly stopped and refused to go further.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said that she was afraid of entering the church building.

We weren’t going to enter the worship center … merely a larger room used by various groups … but she became so petrified she would not advance a step further.

Many people in our culture won’t set foot on a church campus for a variety of reasons.  Some have terrible memories from childhood.  Others can’t forget the way a family member was mistreated.  Still others are possessed by hostility toward God or pastors or churches as a whole.

But sometimes, people have a negative reaction because a church long ago made them feel so uncomfortable … or anxious … or excluded … or afraid … that they don’t want to feel that way again.

My wife and I attended a church in our area recently for the second time, but sadly, it will be the last time because that church … like thousands in our country … simply wasn’t ready for anyone new to show up.

The only way for any church to grow is by reaching newcomers … and you can only attract and keep them when you make them feel comfortable enough to stick around.

Let me share with you five things that many churches do to keep people from returning … and this is only a brief list:

First, they let the church phone go unanswered.

I was once speaking with a pastor in his office when the phone rang.  When I asked him, “Shouldn’t you get that?”, he said, “No, the church answering machine will get it.”

But if a church wants to reach people for Christ, they need to treat every call as precious.  You never know who’s on the other line.

I once read a story about a Christian leader who called many churches in his community before Christmas.  In more than half the cases, nobody picked up the telephone.

We had a rule in our last church: during office hours, we will personally answer every call that comes in.  When the office manager needed to use the restroom, she would first ask me or another staff member to answer the phone until she returned.  If the entire staff was going out to lunch, the office manager would arrange to have a volunteer answer the phone during her absence.

There are many people who will call a church once.  If nobody answers, they figure nobody cares … or they will call the next church on their list … and it won’t be yours.

What if it’s a potential leader … a large donor … or that prized volunteer you so desperately need?

Second, they fail to greet every guest personally.

Years ago, the late Howard Hendricks – speaker, author, and professor at Dallas Seminary – said that whenever he visited a new church, he played a little game.

He tried to enter the worship center without anyone greeting him.

Over the years, I’ve tried playing the same game, and so far, I’m winning.

A while back, I visited a church that meets on Sunday mornings at the local community college.  I walked past two booths without anyone greeting me, and then I walked straight into the auditorium while a greeter kept his back to me while talking to someone he knew.

After I sat down, an older woman told me that I was sitting in her friend’s seat, and that she always sat next to her friend, the implication being that I was doing something wrong by coming to her church.

So I left and never went back.

The greeters in a church are crucial.  Most people receive a warm feeling when someone says hi to them.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Saddleback Church in Orange County where Rick Warren is pastor.  They were meeting at Trabuco High School in the early 1990s.  As my wife and I walked toward the gymnasium, we were instantly greeted by a couple of younger people who communicated, “We are so glad you’re here.”  Their greeting took a lot of our initial anxiety away.

Then we were greeted when we entered the gymnasium.

Greeters don’t corner newcomers and ask if they can teach the fifth grade class.  They just stick out their hand, say hi, and welcome you to their church.

I believe that greeters are so important in a church that they should be trained on a regular basis … and it’s so vital that the pastor may need to do the training himself.

Third, they fail to keep their promises.

I am one of those people who take their promises seriously.  I try and underpromise and overdeliver.

But some churches do the opposite in their advertising: they overpromise and underdeliver.  And when that happens, many people will stay away.

My wife and daughter and I recently visited a church on Christmas Day that advertised their service from 10:00 am to 10:45 am.  We had visited several years before and didn’t return, but thought we’d give them another chance.

We didn’t get out at 10:45, though … we got out at 11:15.

Another time, my wife and I visited a church near our home and she signed up for a women’s Bible study, leaving her name and number.

She’s still waiting for a call.

Someone gave me a gift card to Kohl’s for Christmas, and I received a 15% off card in the mail.  The checker at Kohl’s honored both cards, and I left a satisfied customer.

Church leaders need to make sure they honor their promises as well.

Fourth, they fail to use visuals during the Sunday service.

A church I admire has an annual emphasis on doing things for their community over several weeks.  To celebrate what they did, they showed a video recapping the highlights of the previous few weeks.

It was quick … celebratory … and effective.

Even though I wasn’t there to witness what happened, the video made me wish I had been there.

I am a firm believer that churches need to use visuals as much as possible.  Most churches nowadays have large screens to project the lyrics of praise songs.  They need to do more than that, however:

*Put the announcements on the screen while they’re being made.  Some people respond better to what they see than what they hear.

*Celebrate every major victory with either photos or a video.  It will make people feel that they were present at the event.

*The pastor should use photos when he speaks.  When I was a pastor, I took hundreds of digital photos everywhere I went.  Most of them went unused, but when I told a story, I’d often say to myself, “Hey, I have a photo of that.”  And I knew how to find it quickly.  In fact, I had a private rule to use at least seven photos during every sermon.

*Use video when it’s appropriate.  When I saw a concert at the Hollywood Bowl last fall, the performer used video.  When I attend a major league baseball game, they use video.  If you attend a business presentation, they use video.

For years, I’ve felt that whenever a pastor refers to a scene in a movie, he should show that scene during his sermon.  It has more of an impact than if he tries to describe it.

There’s a famous church in London called Holy Trinity Brompton.  They meet in an old Anglican Cathedral down the street from Harrods.  I’ve visited the church three times.  What do they do in that old building?  They use photos and video.

Why don’t more churches use visuals?  I don’t think the reason is theological.  I tend to think it’s due to laziness.

We use microphones so people can hear.  We need to use visuals so people can see.

Finally, they fail to plan the service wisely.

When I go to a play, I receive a program telling me the names of the actors as well as the scenes.

But when I visit most churches nowadays, I don’t know what’s going on.

On Christmas Day, the congregation sang six stanzas of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” even though the song officially has only three.  Then at the end of the service, we sang all six stanzas again, and I thought to myself, “Somebody didn’t plan this well.”

I like an order of service.  I like to know who did the announcements … who read the Scripture … and who gave the message.

But many churches have dispensed with that information altogether, and to be honest, it makes me anxious.

My wife and I attended a service a while back that met in a middle school.  The pastor spoke for a solid hour without notes, but his message was, in my view, much too long.

If a sermon is good, I don’t want it to end.  If a sermon isn’t good, I want to escape.  When it isn’t all that good, and the pastor goes on and on, I feel like a prisoner in church.

It’s fine to be spontaneous in the Spirit.  Just let us know the general structure of the service … or guests may not return.

_______________

I pastored four churches.  Two were under 100 … one was over 200 … and one was over 400.

I became a more effective pastor when I decided to ruthlessly evaluate how each church was doing and create a plan for becoming more outreach-oriented.

Most pastors focus on what’s happening on the stage … especially the worship music and the sermon.

But sometimes the impact of a church is determined more by little things like answering the phone promptly … greeting every guest warmly … keeping promises effectively … using visuals in the service regularly … and planning the service wisely.

What are some areas that make you feel uncomfortable at church?

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While reading the Christmas story again last week, I was struck by a phrase in Matthew 1:19.  After Mary was discovered to be pregnant – presumably with another man’s child – Joseph her fiancee had several choices to make.

Because he was “a righteous man” – a man who thoroughly kept the Mosaic law – he intended to break off their betrothal because she had been sexually unfaithful to him.  According to Deuteronomy 22:23-24, Joseph had every right to not only “divorce” Mary but also to insist that she be stoned in order to “purge the evil from Israel.”  Scripture seems to indicate that most men in Joseph’s situation would have had Mary executed.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was guided by a different spirit.  The ex-taxman writes that Joseph “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” so he decided to “divorce her quietly.”

He did not want to expose her to public disgrace.  How unlike our culture.  How unlike our media.  And sadly, how unlike Christ’s church.

I’ve been reading Gayle Haggard’s book Why I Stayed recentlyAs you may recall, Ted Haggard was the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs – a mega church of 14,000 – as well as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Some unflattering news surfaced about him a few years ago, and Pastor Haggard resigned from both his positions.  Many women – even Christian women – would have left Mr. Haggard at that point, and would have been biblically justified in doing so.  But Gayle chose to stick it out with her husband, thus the title of the book.

The story of her relationship with Ted makes for fascinating reading, but I was far more interested in the latter half of the book.  Gayle describes the way that prominent Christian leaders, the church’s governing board, and their friends treated them during this time, and although she maintains a gracious, non-vindictive spirit throughout, the same cannot be said for the believers involved.

The Haggards – including Gayle, who was innocent of wrongdoing – were treated in a humiliating way by the church they founded in the basement of their home.  Within a week of their departure, all traces of their ministry at the church had been purged.  People who knew them were interviewed so as to find more “dirt” on them.  Both believers and non-believers were able to say anything about them they liked but the Haggards were not permitted to reply.  They were even told they had to leave the state of Colorado which meant that their children had to leave behind their friends and schooling.

No matter what they did, it was eventually misinterpreted.  No matter what they said, it was flagrantly disregarded.

Pastors are fond of preaching on the fact that God can use anyone, even a liar like Abraham, a murderer like Moses, an adulterer like David, and a hothead like Peter.  But let that same pastor fall into sin and he will be tarred, feathered, and blogged about ad infinitum, often by people who are his own teammates.

Phil Keaggy, who has long been my favorite Christian male artist, co-wrote a song with Sheila Walsh called “It Could’ve Been Me.”  The song always makes me think and can bring me to tears.  (The song is found on the CD Way Back Home and is available on iTunes if you’re interested.)  After describing the fall of a Christian leader, Keaggy’s powerful chorus nails each one of us to the wall:

But it could’ve been me,

I could’ve been the one to lose my grip and fall.

It could’ve been me

The one who’s always standing tall.

For unless you hold me tightly, Lord,

And I can hold on too,

Then tomorrow in the news

It could be me, it could be me.

Just four chapters after Matthew 1, the grown-up Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  When Mary “fell” – which is what Joseph thought until the angel enlightened him – Joseph chose mercy over vindictiveness.  Mary’s pregnancy undoubtedly caused her to lose her local reputation as a virtuous woman.  It might even have ended her chances of ever marrying anyone.

But although we now know the back story, neither Joseph nor the folks in Nazareth did at the time.  A modern love story would probably tell us that Joseph married Mary anyway, but as a keeper of the law, he couldn’t bring himself to do that … until God told Joseph that Mary was not only his soul mate but also the mother of the promised Messiah.

When pastors are forcibly terminated from their churches, they suffer many losses: their jobs, their income, their houses (in some cases), their careers (potentially), their marriages (sometimes) and most of their church friends.  And though they’re almost always innocent, their family members suffer those same losses.

But just like Mary and Ted Haggard, they also lose their reputations, whether the charges made against them are valid or not.

I find it ironic that pastors, who are conduits of God’s grace to scores of sinners throughout their ministries, cannot find that same grace when someone accuses them of wrongdoing.

May I urge you, not only at this Christmas season, but in every season of life, to be gracious toward every sinner who comes into your life, whether it’s a woman pregnant out of wedlock or a pastor who has been forced to leave his church because our Lord Jesus Christ suffered public disgrace that we might become recipients of His grace.

That’s why II Corinthians 8:9 is my favorite Christmas verse: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

May God give us the ability to treat wounded Christian leaders with the same grace that Christ has shown us … because only grace can lead us home.

Merry Christmas!

_______________

I wrote this article six years ago.  It was among the first ones that I published.  It’s still relevant today.

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Which two areas in a local church have the greatest potential to catapult a pastor out of ministry?

According to church conflict expert Dr. Peter Steinke, those two areas are money and sex.

When I first became a pastor, I was unprepared for the value placed on money in the local church.  In fact, I can’t recall even one word being devoted to the topic in seminary.

But the quickest way for a pastor to be pushed out the door is for him to mess up – even in a small way – on church finances.

Let me share with you seven brief thoughts I’ve learned about pastors and church finances:

First, the pastor’s personal finances need to be in pristine order.

A pastor needs to watch his spending and his indebtedness very carefully.

Although they shouldn’t, some people watch the kind of car the pastor drives and the kind of house in which he lives … and if they think he’s being excessive, they will rip into him behind his back.

One famous pastor bought a cabin in the mountains with income unrelated to his church ministry, but a vocal minority howled about it, and it became a factor in his eventual departure.

I remember hearing another time about a pastor who had a gambling problem.  As I recall, he finally gambled away his house … and soon afterwards, his career.

My wife and I have lived by a budget for most of our married life.  We both have set allowances every month, and we can spend those funds however we like, but each of us is accountable to the other for every other expenditure.

I check my bank accounts online nearly every day and balance my checkbook at the same time.  At any given moment, I know exactly how much money we have and how much we have to spend.

Because when it comes to personal finances, I hate being surprised.

In 36 years of ministry, I can’t recall a single time that anyone criticized me in the area of personal finances.  I’m sure some did, but their comments never got around to me.

But realize this: people assume that church funds are managed the way the pastor manages his own funds.

This area is crucial because of the next lesson:

Second, the pastor must give generously to his local church.

By generously, I mean at least a tithe, and preferably beyond a tithe.

I don’t know if he still does this, but for years, whenever he preached on giving, Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church would invite people up to the front after his message so they could view his checkbook and see how much he gave to the church.

Following his example, I did this for years, but my son Ryan was the only person who ever took me up on it!

If a pastor isn’t giving at least a tithe to his church, he can’t speak with integrity on the subject, and that will come through in his preaching.

The day after the conflict broke in my last church seven years ago, I preached on the story of the widow’s mite from Mark 12:41-44.  I was so rattled that I forgot my tithe check at home.  Between services, I drove home, wrote my usual check, returned to the church, and dropped the check in the offering … then shared that story during the second service.

I don’t believe that if a pastor tithes, his church will automatically do well financially, but I do believe that if a pastor doesn’t tithe, his church won’t do well financially.

And there are always a few people in the church who know the truth about the pastor’s giving, especially the money counters and the financial secretary.  During anxious times within the congregation, if even one financial person tells someone else about the pastor’s giving patterns … well, let your imagination run wild!

Third, the pastor should never handle people’s donations: period.

In my last ministry, people would sometimes come up to me after the service – especially people on the worship team – and tell me, “Hey, Jim, I wasn’t able to put my donation in the offering today.  Will you take care of this for me?”

I always told each person the same thing, “No, I don’t handle money, but let’s go together and you can put your donation in the drop safe.”

We had a slot carved out of the wall next to the church office where people could insert their donations.  They went down a chute and instantly fell into a safe.

I treated other people’s money like poison.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

In that way, it would be difficult to accuse me of stealing someone’s donation, whether by cash or by check.

Years before, at another church, someone once slipped fifty dollars in cash under my door.  Whoever put the money there didn’t identify themselves or the purpose of their gift.

When I mentioned it to the finance team leader, I thought he’d hand me the money.  Instead, he immediately deposited it in the offering … and his actions protected my financial reputation.

Fourth, the pastor needs to make sure that people’s donations are protected by safeguards.

I once knew a married couple who scooped up the Sunday offerings, took them home, counted them together, and then deposited the funds in the bank the following day.

This practice was a carryover from the previous administration, and when I found out about it, I quickly put a stop to it.

Another time, a law enforcement officer in our congregation told me that after the offerings were taken in each service, a woman took the proceeds, walked several hundred feet by herself, and then locked the money away until after the service.  He told me, “It’s dangerous for her to carry those funds by herself.  What if someone knows her route, hits her on the head, and steals the money?”

I didn’t think about things like that because I was preaching when she made her walk, but his comment spurred me to make sure that she was accompanied by at least one other person … preferably a strong man.

We eventually devised a system that started with donations … ended with the bookkeeper writing checks … and covered everything in between.

For example, we always made sure to have three people counting money.  If one person counts the offerings, they might be tempted to embezzle funds.  Even two people working in concert could engage in embezzling.  But when there are three money counters, embezzlement almost never occurs.

Fifth, the pastor must communicate that the church budget is a servant, not a master.

Let’s say that you have a family budget, and that you have a category marked “household repairs.”  You just fixed your garbage disposal for $200 so you have little money left for other problems.

But then your refrigerator begins to leak water, and after calling out a friend, he tells you, “Your refrigerator is shot.  You need another one.”

Since the “household repairs” category has been depleted, are you going to wait months to buy a refrigerator?

No, you’ll move heaven and earth to buy one right away, regardless of the budget category.  Your family NEEDS a refrigerator.

Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a handful of board/finance people who act like the church budget is a master.  If a category becomes depleted, they’ll say, “I’m sorry, but we just don’t have funds for that item until next year’s budget.”

Church budgets should be as flexible as possible.  Yes, God’s people need to learn to live within their means, and yes, some items and repairs can wait, but there are times when a church will limp along unless it replaces the copier or fixes that leaky toilet in the men’s room.

One of the great things about not being a pastor is that I don’t have to consult the bean counters anymore.

Sixth, the pastor needs to realize that money flows toward the most effective ministries.

In my last ministry, my wife was our church’s outreach director for nearly nine years, and she knew how to get things done.

One Saturday night early in her tenure, we had a big feast on the lawn outside the worship center.  The place was packed, we had gondola rides on the lagoon adjoining our property, and the mayor and his wife even stopped by for a visit.

My wife’s vision and passion to reach people became contagious.  One couple in particular began donating large amounts of money directly to her ministry through the offering.

Some on the board were very upset about this development.  They wanted to ask the couple to give to the general fund instead.

While I understood their viewpoint, I pointed out that if the couple was told where to give the funds, they might stop giving altogether.

During our entire time in that church, funds flowed easily toward the outreach and missions ministries because that was the primary area that God was blessing.

But there were other ministries that weren’t as well funded … mostly because nobody was very excited about them.

I still believe this basic principle: money flows toward the ministries … and churches … that God is blessing.

Finally, the pastor needs to monitor the financial systems privately but stay away from the money publicly.

If there’s a breach in the financial systems of a church, the pastor may very well be blamed, even if he had nothing directly to do with a violation.

For that reason, the pastor needs to make sure that his church does everything in the financial realm properly, because if he doesn’t, it may be his head that rolls.

About ten years ago, a prominent megachurch here in Southern California suspended the senior pastor because of financial irregularities involving a staff member.  The pastor knew nothing about the staff member’s sloppiness, yet the pastor was scapegoated and eventually forced to resign.

I believe that a pastor’s involvement … at least in a small or medium-sized church … extends even to who the money counters are.  Whenever my last ministry needed a new money counter, I would make a list of potential volunteers.  We needed someone who was committed to the ministry … had a lifestyle of integrity … and who would keep their mouth shut about who gave how much.

Those people aren’t always easy to find, but they are worth waiting for.

At home, I’m hands on with the money: budgeting … keeping records … transferring funds … paying bills online … the works.

But even though I could handle the funds directly inside a church, it’s crucial that I delegate those duties to others who are optimally qualified or else I will be viewed as a control freak.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I was pastoring a new church in Silicon Valley.  We had the location, the staff, and the ministry for growth, but in that resistant environment, the ministry was not growing as fast as I wanted … and that included the finances … which made me anxious and even fearful at times.

One night, during our midweek worship time, the Lord spoke to me in an audible voice … the only time I ever remember this happening.

His word was just for me.  The Lord said, “You take care of the ministry, and I will take care of the money.”

And He did.

The Lord wants all of His shepherds to know that taking care of the money is a huge part of taking care of the ministry.

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Out of all the types of conflict I endured during my 36 years in church ministry, I had more trouble with paid youth leaders than anyone else.

Whether they were called youth ministers … pastors … directors … or student ministry directors, I often struggled in my working relationship with them.

Did I try and micromanage them?

No.  I served three pastors as a youth pastor, and none of them micromanaged me, so I made sure to give them plenty of space to develop their own ministries.

Did I insist they work unreasonable hours?

No.  I expected that they would work a minimal number of hours, but I’ve never been a workaholic, and didn’t expect staff members to outwork me.

Did I yell at them in anger?

No.  I never yelled at any staff member.  There were times I felt like screaming, but by the grace of God, I kept it together.

Did I confront them unreasonably?

No.  Most of the time, if I had a concern or a question about their ministry, I’d walk down the hall and speak with them personally and directly in their office.

I tried to convey several basic expectations whenever I worked with a paid youth leader:

*I expect you to carry out our church’s mission and vision statements.

*I expect you and your adult leaders to attend at least one worship service on Sundays.

*I expect you to be present during office hours … which you set.

*I expect you to be present during staff meetings.

*I expect you to let me know what you’re doing in your ministry.

*I expect you to let me know of any potential problems with youth or their parents.  If you inform me right away about any possible blowback, I will back you to the hilt.

*I expect you to fight for your viewpoint on any area where we disagree, but once I’ve made a decision, I expect that you will abide by it.

Those seem like simple guidelines, don’t they?

Yet I was amazed at how often they were violated.

Most of the time, conflict occurred because the youth leader viewed himself as a pastor equal in authority to the lead pastor.

*The youth leader had his own congregation: the youth group.

*The youth leader had his own staff: adult volunteers.

*The youth leader had his own office and computer.

*The youth leader carried out ministry in specific church rooms.

*The youth leader ran his own budget and planned his own events.

*The youth leader was viewed as “our pastor” by his adult volunteers and young people.

But the youth leader didn’t like having to be accountable to anyone … much less the lead pastor.

I saw this latter point demonstrated over and over again.

*One youth leader went on vacation for two weeks without asking my permission.  He had only been on the job for two months.

*One youth leader told me he no longer believed in our church’s mission/vision.

*One youth leader not only let his adult volunteers skip worship services, but started a home church with them without telling me.

*One youth leader purchased expensive equipment for youth ministry … then kept the equipment at his house.

*One youth leader shared a large room with other ministries, but refused to clean up after using it … even when I asked him to do so repeatedly … upsetting the rest of the staff.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Over time, paid youth leaders created a big headache for me.

On the one hand, everyone expected us to have a thriving youth ministry … especially the parents of middle school and high school parents.

On the other hand, I had to restrain myself from firing several leaders … even though they deserved it … because it takes a long time to find another one.

One time, we had a youth leader whom I really liked.  He was getting ready to graduate from seminary, and I offered him a job after graduation.  The youth group wasn’t big enough to support a full-time person, so I asked him to lead the youth and do some teaching for adults (teaching was his primary spiritual gift), but he refused.

Either he was going to work exclusively with the youth, or he wasn’t going to work at all.

I suspected that he didn’t want to be accountable to me as his supervisor, so I let him walk.

But after he left, boy, did I hear about it!

One parent … with whom I had always gotten along … raked me over the coals in an email, telling me that something was wrong with our church because we couldn’t seem to hold onto youth leaders.

The ensuing search took about a year.  After reviewing nearly 200 resumes, we brought eight different candidates to the church.

Either the youth didn’t think they were cool enough … or they made a bad impression on the staff … or they lacked solid character … or something wasn’t right.

Under pressure, we finally hired someone the kids thought was cool … but one of the adult volunteers came to me a year later and poured out instance after instance of unethical behavior … right at the beginning of the summer.

I took two days to investigate the charges.

Evidence in hand, I confronted the youth leader … who didn’t see anything wrong with anything he had done.  In fact, he later told me that I was the problem.

The youth leader deserved to be fired.  Immediately.  I asked pastor after pastor, “If this person did these things at your church, what would you do?”

Everyone said, “Fire him.”

But that meant that all the events the youth had planned for the summer would be cancelled because we didn’t have anyone else available who could step in.

Against my better judgment, I let him stay … and he ripped me to shreds in private … and a few months later, he finally resigned and left the church.

When I was a pastor, I suffered more sleepless nights over staff issues than anything else … and the majority of those times involved paid youth leaders.

Let me share four conclusions I’ve reached about lead pastors working with paid youth leaders:

First, most young spiritual leaders do not share the values of their pastor/supervisor.

A professor from my seminary told me that since many new students come to the school without a basic sense of morality or ethical behavior, the school puts them through a morality/ethics orientation class when they first arrive.

A Christian counselor told me that our culture is raising a generation of sociopaths who can’t distinguish right from wrong.

I noticed a pattern among several of the youth leaders I supervised: it was okay for them to cut ethical corners as long as they got the job done.

In their world, the ends did indeed justify the means … but not in my world.  (Is it okay for a youth pastor to use four-letter words on youth outings … or to drive well over the speed limit with youth in the car … or to trade equipment bought by the church without anyone’s permission?)

These scenarios raise a key question: should the pastor/supervisor adjust himself to his staff members, or should the staff members adjust themselves to their supervisor?

I stand in the latter camp, but my guess is that most young leaders are in the first camp.

Second, many in the Buster Generation act like they already know everything.

I believe that the Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) were willing to learn from the previous generation (the Builders).

For example, Rick Warren (a Boomer) considered W. A. Criswell (a Builder) to be his father in the faith.

And when I was a youth pastor, I certainly obeyed my Builder pastors and submitted to their authority.

Maybe I’m wrong … or overgeneralizing … but I just haven’t seen the Buster Generation (those born between 1965 and 1983) wanting to learn nearly as much from the Boomers.

In fact, I’ve often said that the Busters act like world history began the day they were born.

I saw this attitude most often during staff meetings.  When a ministry dilemma came up, I’d share with the staff what I’d learned about an issue over the years, including mistakes I’d made.

The other staff members were usually appreciative, but many times, I watched the youth leaders roll their eyes and act like, “I don’t need to hear this from you.”

My kids are both Busters, and they’ve told me, “Dad, not everyone in our generation is like that.”  But sadly, all too many are.

I remember reading an article in a Christian magazine about ten years ago where the children of Boomer parents who attended my university severely criticized the way their parents’ generation did ministry … and these were kids in their early twenties.

Paid youth leaders can bring that same mindset into their relationship with their pastor.

Third, many in the Buster Generation hate the institutional church.

I can’t speak for Millennials here .. just for Busters.

Most of the youth leaders I knew did not like the structure of a local church.

They were happy to collect a salary from their church … while inwardly rebelling against it.

There are things that I don’t like about the institutional church as well.  Sometimes we’ve adopted a business model and superimposed it over the local church … and then tell people they have to support the institution with their attendance, time, and money.

That kind of mentality can drain the life out of a local church.

But I had one youth leader tell me that he didn’t believe in the institutional church anymore and that he was looking at other models instead.

That’s fine with me if you accompany that statement with your resignation … but not if you stay inside the church and undermine what we’re doing … which he did.

This disdain for structure and organization may explain why so many younger people choose missions over local church ministry.

I finally began telling rebellious youth leaders, “Look, if you just want to hang out with the youth, and you want nothing to do with the church as a whole, then take an offering every week among the youth, and whatever they put in will be your salary.  But as long as this church is paying your salary, you need to have some connection with the church as a whole.”

Finally, a church that finds a good youth leader should hold onto him for dear life.

I once asked a veteran youth pastor, “What should I look for in a potential youth person?”

He replied, “They have to love the Lord … and they have to love kids.”

I once knew a man who led the youth ministry at one of Orange County’s top churches.  As I recall, he was there for several decades … well into his fifties.

For a long time, I wondered, “How can the church employ someone that old?”

But he worked hard … he loved the kids … and his character was solid.

I don’t know the average tenure of a youth leader anymore, but it’s probably still less than a year.

Yet I subscribe to the axiom, “It is better to have no one than the wrong person.”

It’s tough being a youth leader.  You have to account to more people than anybody else in the church.

In one church where I worked with youth, I was accountable to the senior pastor … the Christian Education Committee chairman … the committee as a whole … the parents of the youth … and anybody who wanted to take a potshot at me.

With a youth group of 100 kids, I was out every Sunday night … every Wednesday night … most Friday or Saturday nights … and all while I was writing a seminary thesis … finishing work for my degree … trying to pay attention to my wife … and caring for our newborn son.

One December, I was out fifteen straight nights.  In the end, I couldn’t keep the pace, and longed to be a pastor somewhere … anywhere … with much less to do.

In my case, I was using youth ministry as a steppingstone to becoming a senior pastor … and I was very upfront about it.

But if you can find someone called to youth ministry who loves Jesus … loves kids … has a solid character … and willingly submits to one supervisor (usually the lead pastor) … then grab him … keep him happy … and never let him go.

Based on the way I was trained, I don’t know what I could have done differently with the various youth leaders I worked with.

I liked them personally.  I tried to spend time with them.  I listened to them.  I fought for them to be treated well.

And yet in the end, my efforts were never reciprocated … and I was often undermined.

My wife told me, “Jim, you’re too nice, and they’re taking advantage of your niceness.  You need to be tougher with them.”

Maybe she was right.

But I also have reason to believe that I was a father figure to most youth leaders, that they had trouble getting along with their own fathers, and that they projected those troubles onto me.

A former missionary once told me, “We could win the world for Christ if missionaries could just get along.”

A corollary might be, “We could have far healthier and better churches if pastors and their staff members could just get along.”

And in my case, that refers specifically to youth leaders.

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