Jim Mora was the popular coach of the New Orleans Saints NFL team. On one occasion, as he and I shared an elevator, I introduced myself. I said, “Preachers can appreciate what coaches have to put up with. We both work hard all week and everything comes down to a couple of hours on Sunday. It’ll make or break you.”
He flashed that smile that charmed every fan, calmed many a sportswriter, and drove a few referees nuts. “But,” he said, “they don’t call radio stations the next week criticizing every little decision you made, do they?”
No, I guess not. A friend said, “If they’d pay me the zillion bucks these guys get, I could stand that.”
Now, football coaches and pastors probably have more that differentiates us than we have in common. A coach tends a small flock, usually no more than 50 players and a few assistants. At the upper echelon, he gets paid astronomical bucks, is answerable only to one or two bosses, and his season lasts just a few months. The typical pastor may have a flock numbering in the hundreds and receive a salary barely sufficient to keep the house heated and the children clothed and fed. The pastors are answerable to everyone and his brother, and work year round with no letup.
The coach’s job description can be summed up in a sentence or two: Win games and try not to embarrass the company. But pastors, God bless ’em, labor under multiple layers of expectations and demands and requirements.
“His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14)
In a Harry Bosch detective story, best-selling author Michael Connelly tells of a murder victim who, while being hanged, had a bucket placed over his head. Connelly explains to the reader that killers who want to dehumanize their victims often hide their faces, perhaps blindfold them or in this case, cover their head with a bucket.
Rapists, says Connelly, will often blindfold their victims or place a pillow over their face. They cannot stand the pain of looking into the eyes of one whom they are destroying.
The eyes tell so much of what the soul experiences.
A reporter was interviewing a medic who had served during the Vietnam war. “How,” he asked, “does a medic handle the constant suffering he has to deal with day after day?” The man answered, “Never look a dying man in the eyes.”
I hesitate to say one group in the church has a “right” to expect anything of another. Insisting on our rights will almost invariably result in resistance, frustration, anger, and division. And yet in a very real sense believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes and offerings and time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd. That’s what this is about.
What follows is directed primarily to pastors. Others may listen in, but they should not miss the “they do not have a right” which comes at the end of each section.
If I got what I deserve, I’d be in hell. And so would you.
The Christian life is not about getting our rights or having others meet our demands. Far from it.
We have died with Christ. We are bondservants instructed to submit to one another. That is a far cry from the so-called “catbird seat” from where we call the shots.
Much better for us to appreciate anything we receive from the people around us, no matter how small or poorly given.
“All were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips…. And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they rose up and cast Him out of the city…” (Luke 4)
Who was it who said “I’m not as bad as my worst enemies say, nor as good as my biggest supporters claim”? Something like that.
I expect there’s a lot more going on as to why some love you, pastor–and others don’t–than first meets the eye.
Stella was a senior adult and dear to everyone in our congregation. From time to time, she would drop by the church office with fudge for her pastor. It was as delicious as anything Godiva or Hershey ever hoped to make. I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness.
Meanwhile, I was having a miserable time trying to get a handle on pastoring that church. A few of the leaders were chronically dissatisfied with anything I did and most of what I said.
I welcomed her kindness.
One evening on my way out the door, I ran into Stella in the hallway. She said, “Pastor, I want you to see something.” Opening her purse, she brought out a letter from ten years earlier written by the pastor at that time, Dr. Carl Bates. He was thanking Stella for the wonderful candy.
I feigned shock. “Stella! I thought I was the only pastor you made fudge for!”
She smiled. “I have always loved all my pastors.”
I gave her a hug and said, “Good for you. That’s exactly how it should be.”
A few minutes later, on the drive home, something occurred to me.
“Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” –Stephen Hawking
I’m afraid of the dark.
If we’re talking about the endless kind of darkness that offers no light anywhere, no hope ever, and nothing but nothingness, who among us would not panic at the thought of that?
I expect people like Mr. Hawking simply find the idea of Heaven too good to be true, and thus conclude that it must be a product of man’s delusional yearning for “pie in the sky by and by.”
And yet, there are solid reasons for reasonable people to believe in the concept of a Heavenly home after this earthly life. Here are some that mean a lot to me. By no means is this list exhaustive. It’s simply my thinking on the subject.
“Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” (Isaiah 6)
You say the Lord has called you into His work. You’re still young and you’re excited, although with a proper amount of fear and uncertainty on what all this means.
You’re normal. Been there, felt that.
We might have cause to worry if the living God touched your life and redirected it into His service and you picked yourself up and went on as though nothing had happened. Amos said, “I was gathering sycamore fruit, and the Lord God called me.” He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy.”
The call of God is almost as life-changing as the original salvation experience itself.
So, give thanks. And give this a lot of prayerful thought.
You know some things about Jesus and you find yourself drawn to Him.
You wonder what to do now, where to start.
Here are some suggestions…
One. Go to the primary source, not a secondary one. A primary source is one that is close to the subject, that is the basis for what we know and believe. A secondary source is one written about the primary source.
Two. In other words, read the Bible and not just books about the Bible.Start by reading the Four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the opening “books” of the New Testament, and give us all we know about His earthly life and ministry. I’d suggest you read them again and again. — You will find a lot of similarities. It’s pretty well agreed that Mark’s was first, and was written, according to some of the earliest believers, at the dictation of the Apostle Peter. But each gospel is different in interesting ways. Read them several times.
You should never volunteer for the pastor search committee unless one of two things is true: Everyone agrees that your former youth minister, who is serving a church in Podunk and was so beloved, is going to be the next pastor, making this the easiest job ever; or, you have a death wish.
It can be the hardest, most thankless assignment you’ll ever have.
It can also make a world of difference for good in a church that needs just the right combination of visionary pastor, anointed preacher, competent administrator, and down-to-earth friend.
If your church is selecting such a committee, pray big time for the Lord to lead in filling the slots. Never volunteer for it. Accept it if the Lord leads you and those making the decision. If you are a member of such a group, then this little piece is for you. Think of what follows as a cautionary note, exaggerated in places, attempting a little humor at times, but with much truth.
My friend was telling me about the woes of a church in the next town.
“They got a new pastor. He moved in and took over. When he got wind of something going on in the church weekday school he didn’t like, he called the principal and teachers in and fired them. He sent the students home and told them the church didn’t have a school any more.”
I said, “He closed the school?”
“Just like that. Did it on his own authority.”
“Was the school in trouble or anything?”
“Not to my knowledge. We know people who sent their children there. It seemed to be a fine school.”
“So what happened?”
“Everyone is upset. Some of the members left and went to other churches, and attendance is down in that church.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
I find this incredulous.
In September 1939, Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time. A quarter of a century earlier, during the First World War, he held the same position. To assume the leadership of the greatest navy of the world twice was an amazing thing. To do so 25 years apart was even more remarkable.
Churchill thought of all the great officers he had worked with the first time. They were all gone now. He alone was still living and serving. In one of his books on the Second World War, Churchill quotes this little piece from the Irish poet Thomas Moore….