“Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.” It’s just one person’s opinion, of course, and it might not surprise you to know most of the quotes are silly.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.
With one exception.
Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgement of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”
Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.
When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect….” (Matthew 5:48)
First, let’s get the theological argument out of the way.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: God knows you are not perfect and will never be this side of Glory.
And even clearer: “God does not expect sinlessness out of you and me. He is under no illusion about us.” See Psalm 103:14 “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” And Romans 3:10 “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Or how about, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
Got that? The illusion of sinless perfection is all ours, my friend.
Some power clique in the church is on your case. Some church member is leading a movement to oust you. The church has a history of ousting pastors every so often and it’s time, and some members are getting restless.
Or, perhaps, as the pastor, you did something wrong and it blew up in your face. People are calling for your head.
Or, you failed to act and some cancer has gained a foothold within the congregation and your job is in jeopardy.
What do you do now?
It would be foolish to try to offer a panacea here, a cure-all for what ails the church, a fix-all for what troubles the pastor. I will not attempt that. But here are 20 steps which many pastors can take to right the ship and set it back on track (to mix metaphors)….
1) Don’t hesitate to apologize if you need to.
“I blew it, folks. I’m sorry.”
Apologies should be as public as the act was public. If you did one person wrong and it’s known only to that one, go to him/her and admit what you did and ask for forgiveness. If your mistake was churchwide, stand in the pulpit and take your medicine.
A friend wrote, “What do we do when the pastor search committee is taking so long that people are leaving? Some of our leaders are panicking.”
This is not a rare phenomenon. It happens.
The typical Southern Baptist church can expect the search process to take anywhere from 6 months to a year. If the church has unusual circumstances–a terrible reputation, poor finances, a history of infighting, or several candidates in a row have turned the committee down–the process could take longer than expected.
When people start leaving the church because no pastor has been found, seizing the first preacher available and recommending him is the worst of all possible options.
“Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves; but our adequacy is of God” (II Corinthians 3:5).
You’re married–or about to be married–to a guy who says God has called him. It’s exciting and it’s scary.
You’re wondering whether you can do this, whether you are cut out to be a preacher’s wife.
Sometimes you wonder why in the world the Lord in Heaven thought you of all people had what it takes to be the (ahem) “first-lady” of any church, large or small. You are so overwhelmed by all the inadequacies you bring to this assignment, you find yourself wishing most days that your man would walk in and announce he was mistaken, that God wants him to run the State Farm office with his father back home. Eight to five, home at night and on weekends.
You’re normal, young sister.
I suspect that every minister’s wife on the planet has felt this way, and yes, including the best ones, those beautiful put-together women you admire from a distance who seem to have developed “pastors-wife” into a career and a calling.
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)
Every teacher who is truly effective became a teacher because of the influence of a highly effective teacher.
You can’t say that about preachers. Preachers are called by God. (Teachers can be also, but it’s not a requirement as it is with preaching.)
Brad Meltzer is a highly successful, best-selling author. In a Parade magazine article, he paid tribute to Sheila Spicer, his ninth grade teacher, who is responsible for making him a writer.
Meltzer writes, “The teacher who changed my life didn’t do it by encouraging her students to stand on their desks, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Or by toting a baseball bat through the halls, like Principal Clark in Lean on Me. She did it in a much simpler way: by telling me I was good at something.”
Paul to Timothy: “Be instant, in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
(I was in revival in the St. Louis area. This was eight years ago. Here is what I wrote….)
I met Sarah three mornings ago when she and three co-workers were having breakfast in the hotel where I was staying while in the St. Louis area for a revival. The four of them were sharing a small table, obviously enjoying one another’s company. As they got up to leave, I called over to them. “Hey, do you guys have a minute?”
“I’m a cartoonist and I would love to draw you. It takes one minute and it’s free. Would you let me draw you?”
They mildly protested that they might be late for work, but they lingered and I sketched them, two guys and two girls. All in their early 20’s. All young and cool and looking good.
“We work at Buckle,” one said. I had no idea what that was.
“It’s a denim store in the mall. Right next to the food court. You ought to come by.”
…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel…. (Colossians 1:5)
…this hope we have as an anchor for our souls. (Hebrews 6:19)
I’m eighty years old as I sit here at this laptop in my breakfast room, typing away. I live in hope. Hope for all that Christ has promised is a big, big thing with me.
I often seize upon Psalm 27:13 I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Hope is not mentioned there, but that’s what it’s talking about.
Hope or despair. Those are the two choices.
The only choices.
When I asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships, here are some of the most interesting responses.
1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”
Over several decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least three times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.
I’m recalling a time two churches ago when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”
But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
Anyone can sing when the skies are blue, the air is fresh, the flowers are dressing up the world, and your spirit is soaring. To the best of my knowledge, your Father in Heaven enjoys and appreciates that singing.
But the kind He values most, the singing that thrills His heart, the praise that establishes forever that you are His and He is yours, Scripture calls “songs in the night.”
If you can praise Him when you’re feeling lousy, when the news is terrible, when the bank account is busted, the news from the doctor is bleak, the family is in rebellion and nothing good is going on in your life, then one of two things is true: either you’re a nut in hopeless denial, or you know something. Some really big Thing.
He giveth songs in the night. (Job 35:10)
Thelma Wells is someone you need to know.
This precious lady was born to an unwed mother with more problems than any one soul should ever have. She was a severely deformed teenager with no husband and no place to go, since her own abusive mother insisted that she take the baby and leave. The poor unwed teenage mother found work as a maid cleaning ‘the big house’ while living with her baby daughter in servants’ quarters.