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Posts Tagged ‘pastors and pride’

Pastors make mistakes … all the time.

Last week, I made a doozy.

I scheduled an appointment one day with an accountant for 1:00 pm.  Since I had been to the office two weeks before, I figured I could find it “by feel.”

While I found the main intersection just fine, I kept driving through office complexes, looking for a familiar-looking entrance … but I couldn’t find it.

Finally, out of frustration, I actually called the office – and was told I was on the wrong side of the street.  I promised to be there in two minutes.

So I got in my car, quickly drove to the right office, and then reached for my backpack (with my wallet, smartphone, and glasses inside) … and realized that I didn’t have it.

Suddenly, I remembered that I called the office with my backpack on top of my car … but when I got out of the car, it wasn’t there.

Oh, no!

I raced out of the parking lot and turned right … only to find my backpack in the middle of the street, along with my tax forms, which were blowing every which way.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a busy street, so I quickly picked everything up … but boy, did I feel stupid!

Since I retrieved everything … and one of my tax forms looks good with a tire track on it … I quickly forgot about the incident.

Until today.

When I preach, I love to tell stories like that on myself because it shows the congregation that I’m as human as they are.

But what many – if most – pastors don’t want you to know is that we can be fallible as well.

Let me share with you several thoughts on pastors and their fallibility:

First, pastors are obsessed with being right.

Before I preach, I study my brains out.  It’s important that I interpret Scripture correctly, illustrate it powerfully, and apply it relevantly.  When I stand before God’s people and teach them God’s Word, I want to be convincing.

After all, I’m speaking with the authority of God Almighty.

But I can still make mistakes.  I’ve had people come up to me after a service and ask, “Do you realize what you said?”  When they tell me, I’m embarrassed … and wish I could issue an immediate correction!

It’s easy for pastors to take that preaching mindset away from the pulpit into other venues … like board meetings, staff meetings, or counseling sessions … or even at home with the family.

In Marshall Shelley’s groundbreaking book on pastor-centered conflict, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Shelley tells about a pastor who used a specific phrase whenever someone disagreed with him.  The phrase?

“You may be right.”

Is it you may be right?  Or you may be right?  Or you may be right?

I don’t really know … but the phrase reflects the fact that the pastor is not the fount of all wisdom and knowledge … and that other people have good ideas, too.

Pastors need to use that phrase more often.

Second, pastors have a hard time admitting they’re wrong.

40 years ago, the most popular TV show in America was All in the Family.  While Archie Bunker’s mouth was always open – expressing opinions, putting down his son-in-law, and pontificating on the state of the world – there were two words he just couldn’t get out of his mouth:

“I’m sorry.”

I’m not an Elton John fan, but he’s right: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.

We don’t want our pastors apologizing all the time.  Can you imagine what it would be like if a pastor apologized throughout his message?

“I’m sorry … I could have said that better.”

“I’m sorry … I didn’t pronounce Artaxerxes right.”

“I’m sorry … I was thinking about the 49ers playoff game last night.”

We want our pastors to be strong and persuasive, to proclaim the Word of God with the anointing of God.

But there are times when a pastor does need to apologize … mostly in relational settings … even if people don’t know you’re a pastor.

Not long ago, I went to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and was unhappy with their prices.  I expressed my discontent directly to the server behind the counter, but he didn’t get ruffled.  I immediately felt bad about what I said.

I sat and ate my food, but on my way out, I stopped and apologized to him for the way I spoke to him.  He accepted my apology.  I was wrong and needed to admit it.

The prices were still too high … but he didn’t set them.

Pastors need to say “I’m sorry” when they’re late for an appointment … or if they get upset in a board meeting … or when they overreact to criticism.

After all, if we pastors truly believe that we’re all sinners, doesn’t that mean that we sin at times … and not just in private?

Finally, pastors struggle with certain ongoing sins.

When I was a teenager, I had a really annoying habit: I tore the bottom inch off of newspapers (the place without ink), put it in my mouth, and chewed it for a few moments.  To this day, I can’t tell you why I did that.

But I overcame that problem.  I haven’t done that in more than 40 years.

I’ve always tried to be open about sins that I used to commit … but have now overcome.

Pastors sense that they can admit a problem with overeating … or ignoring their kids … or going into megadebt … as long as they’ve overcome those sins with God’s help.

But what pastors struggle with the most is admitting that they still commit certain sins.

Like anyone else, pastors can make cutting remarks … or can talk too much in public … or can go berserk when a driver cuts them off in traffic.

Because we pastors still cross God’s moral and spiritual lines, we need to serve the Lord with humility … and forgive those who criticize us … and admit when we’re wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to pastors who let me know they’re just as human as I am.

And I’m repulsed by pastors who must always be right, even when they’re obviously wrong.

“Infallible” pastors may have large congregations … and write books … and be in demand as speakers.

But they won’t be able to get very close to their wives … or kids … or friends.

Because an infallible God only uses fallible servants to preach His infallible Word and reach His fallible Church.

And He can’t do much with infallible pastors.

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In the minds of many people, two words rarely go together.

Pastors … and sin.

Since pastors preach against sin, some people come to believe that their pastor is sinless … or at least nearly so.

But when you hang around groups of pastors, as I have for years, you discover that pastors are sinners, too.

They’re just better at hiding their sins than most people.

If you had to guess one sin that pastors commit more than any other, which one would you choose?

Greed?

Sloth?

Wrath?

Lust?

Envy?

Gluttony?

The six words I just mentioned constitute six of the seven deadly sins.  Like all humans, pastors are susceptible to any and all of these shortcomings.

But I left one sin out.

In his classic work Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis devoted an entire chapter to this sin.  In fact, he called it “The Great Sin.”

Know what it is?

It’s pride.

Lewis said that pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.  Pride is preoccupation with yourself, the belief that you are superior to other people … even when there’s no basis for it.

We all struggle with this issue – even pastors.

Let me share with you three ways that pastors display pride … sometimes unknowingly.  I’ll share two more ways next time.

And I include myself in everything that I write.

First, pastors love to hear themselves talk.

I guess most people do … but more than in most professions, pastors are paid to talk.

We expect pastors to preach from the pulpit.  What we don’t expect is for pastors to preach in private settings.

So try this experiment: if you ever find yourself in a social setting with a pastor, notice what happens.

Regardless of who holds the floor initially, see if the pastor eventually holds court … and if he determines the topic for discussion.

Winston Churchill once volunteered his idea of a good dinner: “to discuss a good topic – with myself as chief conversationalist.”

That’s true of pastors, too … although they could probably learn more by listening.

Why are pastors like this?  I’m not sure.  In my own case, I’m not very good at small talk, so if I can steer a conversation around to a larger issue, I’m more comfortable joining in … and that may be true of other pastors, too.

Second, pastors are competitive with their peers.

The day Magic Johnson announced he had AIDS, I was invited to meet with a group of pastors for some strategy sessions at a mountain cabin.  (There were 15 or so of us there.)

Someone asked the pastors to go around the room and share how their Easter services had gone.  Let me offer a typical response:

“Well, we had 757 people out for Easter this year, which was one-third more than we had last year.  God’s Spirit is really moving at our church.  I sense that we’re ready for a breakthrough.  Since I came to the church two years ago, our attendance and giving have doubled, and we’re reaching our community for Christ like never before.”

By the way, all the pastors answered the question in a similar fashion.  Easter went great … we’re really growing … I’m on top of the world … God is blessing.  (In some cases, I knew better.)

All except for me.  Nobody asked me how Easter went at our church … and nobody noticed that nobody asked me.  It was just as well.

I couldn’t compete with the big boys.

When pastors get together in larger groups, there’s a pecking order.  It’s determined by who dresses the best, or who has the most commanding presence, or who has seniority, or who has the largest church.  Pastors are never completely honest when they’re in a larger group of their peers.  They have a way of displaying their feathers.

Put them with a group of Christian psychologists, and their responses would be completely different.

Or if you placed one pastor in a group with two other pastors, they’d be much more honest … and that pecking order all but disappears.

Pastors aren’t nearly as competitive when they’re with doctors or attorneys or professional athletes.  In fact, pastors tend to be deferential toward people in those professions.

But when they’re with their peers, the competitive juices start flowing.  This is why I once heard J. I Packer say that pastors are a lot like manure.  When they’re all spread out, they do a lot of good, but when they get together, it’s just one big stink.

Third, pastors have a need to be know-it-alls. 

Pastors have a high need to be right.  They love to straighten people out.

I suppose it comes from their training.  When I was in seminary, we had to define and memorize specific biblical and theological terms … and Greek verb tenses … and dates in church history … and the beliefs of various world religions and cults … and what the Bible said about a host of social issues.

In most cases, my professors were absolutely convinced that their views were right and everybody else’s views … even those of fellow faculty members … were wrong.  It was the job of the professors (who held the right views) to correct the students (who held the wrong views).  So when we students were called to various churches, we modeled the attitudes of our professors.

We held the right views, while others held the wrong views.

It’s easy to absorb that attitude when you hang around a seminary for five years, as I did … which is why some Christian experts believe that a pastor’s most effective years begin only after he starts unlearning all the stuff he learned in seminary.

This need to be right is like a reflex action among pastors.  Some learn how to disagree with others graciously, while others run around trying to straighten out everybody with whom they disagree.

I believe that pastors continue to struggle with pride until they suffer greatly or are deeply wounded with their own unique “thorn in the flesh.”

I’ll write more about this theme next time.

Your thoughts?

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