Posts Tagged ‘pastors and perfection’

Do you know any pastors personally?

If so, are you under the illusion that they’re perfect?

My grandfather … father … step-father … and father-in-law have all been pastors.

They are godly men … in my mind, even great men.

But many pastors … if not most … wish they could be perfect … and sometimes put on the façade that they are.

But there are always people around a pastor to remind him that he is very, very fallible.

During my 36 years in church ministry, I did my best to make as few mistakes as possible … but I still made my share.

Here’s the first one:

When I was 19, I was hired by my church to work with the high school and college groups over the summer.

A few days after being hired, our church held a missions conference.

The first night, a missionary showed slides of the new Bible Institute that his organization had built in India.

The missionary was quite a character.  His presentation was hilarious.  I laughed … hard … along with everybody around me.

As soon as the service was over, the Church Gestapo confronted me and said that since I was now a paid youth leader, I needed to set a better example for the young people.

I told him, “But the presentation was funny!”  He agreed … but reiterated what he said anyway.

I learned two things from that initial encounter: first, as long as I was in ministry, some people were always going to be keeping me under surveillance; second, some people weren’t going to allow me to be normal.

That puts a lot of pressure on you to meet everyone’s expectations.

Fast forward ahead 35 years.

My wife had spent five days in the hospital with great abdominal pain.  She didn’t receive a diagnosis until Friday.  It was scary … but she was going to be okay.

Our church was holding a rare Saturday morning conference.  Should I stay at home and care for my wife or attend the conference?

If I didn’t attend the conference, some people might accuse me of being unsupportive … so I went.

I felt almost giddy.  I could dress down.  I had no duties.  I could be a person.

The conference speakers were excellent.

I sat in the back, and the only person near me was a woman I’d known for years.

From time-to-time, I turned around and made little comments to her about what was being said.  It felt good to be away from the hospital.

At the break, someone came up to me and reamed me out for being rude.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.

Was I rude?  I didn’t think so at the time, but maybe I was.  I certainly didn’t mean to be.

But once again, I had that feeling that I had to be perfect every time I came within three miles of the church campus.

In his book, Leadership That Works, Leith Anderson introduces the concept of “parish poker.”  He writes:

“Becoming a pastor is like joining a poker game.  Although I am neither a gambler nor a poker player, I know that at the beginning of a game each player has a limited number of chips to play with and must use them strategically to win.”

Anderson goes on:

“Churches generally give new pastors 50 to 100 ‘chips’ to get started.  After that, they either gain chips or lose what they have, depending on how well they learn the catalog of rewards and penalties the church runs by (which, of course, no one bothered to tell the new pastor about).”

Anderson then lists various behaviors and the number of chips involved:

Preach a good sermon (+2 chips)

Preach a bad sermon (- 8 chips)

Visit sick person in hospital (+7 chips)

Sick person dies (was expected to recover) (-10 chips)

Sick person recovers (was expected to die) (+40 chips)

Bring cookies to monthly board meeting (+ 1/2 chip)

Lose temper and shout at monthly board meeting (-25 chips)

In my last ministry, I thought I had earned thousands of chips over the years, so if I made a mistake, I’d still have thousands more left … but some people insisted that if I made even one mistake, I deserved to lose all my chips.

Sometimes “parish poker” doesn’t seem fair.

Let me make three observations about pastors and perfection:

First, expect that your pastor will disappoint you somewhere along the line.

He will say something in a sermon that will make you wince … or angry.

He will make a decision you don’t agree with.

He will make an inappropriate comment to you personally … laugh about something serious … or fail to greet you while passing.

I didn’t say you had to like it … just expect it.  He isn’t an angel, so don’t idealize him.

But realize this: every other pastor is just as imperfect.

Second, if you’re really upset with him, talk to him directly.

Whenever somebody spoke with me personally about my perceived misbehavior, I tried to thank them.  It takes courage to confront your pastor.

If you do it out of anger, your pastor will invariably become defensive.

If you do it calmly and lovingly, he will hear what you’re saying much better.

Try not to come off as the Church Gestapo.  Every church has them … and every pastor runs from them.

Finally, let your pastor be a person.

I read around 75 books for my doctoral program.  One of them was called The Pastor as Person.

The basic thesis of the book was this: the pastor is a person before he is a pastor.

Many pastors forget that they’re persons.  Since so many people at church want them to be angels instead, that’s what they try to be.

But after a while, a pastor has to stop trying to be somebody else and just be himself.

If you want your pastor to be an angel, you’re being unfair.  He can’t be who you want him to be.

But if you accept the fact that he’s human … and that he gets weak and tired and frustrated and even angry at times … then you’ll be doing him a great favor.

Because the New Testament tells us that Jesus was human … that, at times, He was weak and tired and frustrated and angry … and that He was made “a little lower than the angels.”

Jesus was morally perfect.  Your pastor isn’t.

But Jesus was also a person … a human being … and He had limitations.

Just like pastors.














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