Posts Tagged ‘pastors who make mistakes’

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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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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