Now, preachers and ministers come in all stripes and varieties, I understand that.
In the denomination I serve, there are some who are called “jack-leg preachers,” and it is not a compliment. No dictionary defines that term, but mostly it means they are self-taught, self-designated, and probably self-called.
I’m not talking about these.
I’m referring to solid God-called well-established servants of the Lord who have been cut off from the church they were serving for one reason or the other and now find themselves unemployable.
I’m referring to faithful preachers of the Word who should be out there leading a congregation, but have not been able to find one willing to give them a try.
Most pastor search committees are deathly afraid of unemployed preachers. They ask–and with good reason, by the way–if you’re so good, why aren’t you in the pulpit now? If you’re so faithful, how could any church have cut you loose? If you’re such a good prospect, how come no other church has snapped you up?
The short answer to these questions is simply that churches tend to be afraid to risk calling a preacher who was “let go” by his former church.
Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult.
Our pastor has been here (too many) years. He has lost his vision and his energy, and the church is dying. The numbers are down considerably, and yet the church is located in a growing area. We love him and are so grateful to God for his ministry over the years. But isn’t there a limit to the loyalty thing? At what point does a pastor need to be told that his time here is up?
There are no simple or easy answers to this. Handled wrongly, this matter can destroy a church, inflict a terminal wound to a veteran minister, and hurt his family in lasting ways.
Ideally, the minister is there by the Lord’s doing. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit makes the pastors/elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). We do not want to casually hurt God’s servant since our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40). Likewise, we are not equating today’s pastors with Moses; but throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was clear that the Lord took personally the treatment/mistreatment of His man by the people.
I think that’s still the case. When people mistreated God’s prophets down through the ages, He interpreted that as an offense toward Himself.
So, we always want to try to honor the Lord’s servant, even if he is undeserving at this particular moment.
On the other hand.
“We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
The thought that flitted through my brain that night scares me to this day.
It had rained heavily the previous day, the kind of West Texas downpour they write books about. Next morning, very early–4 am or something–I was leaving the Alto Frio Baptist Campground for a very long drive home (to central Mississippi). Anyone familiar with that remote retreat facility knows that the main route calls for you to drive down a highway and then cross over to a secondary highway. Oddly, that crossover is a humble, one-lane road of perhaps half a mile. Equally odd, the bridge curves as it passes over the small creek. I made this drive several times that week so was familiar with it.
So, now, four o’clock in the morning, it is pitch black out there, and as I am about to turn off the first highway and drive the narrow lane over to the main highway, I notice the entire area is flooded. I mean completely submerged. Assuming the bridge was still there, it would be flooded also.
Can you believe that I pulled off the highway and started to drive that way? The thought actually hit me that I can do this, that I know where the road is, even though I can’t see it. Suddenly my senses returned. “What are you doing? You can’t see the road, it’s all under water, the water is rushing downstream, and the bridge isn’t even straight! This would be pure suicide.”
I backed out, took the longer route, and drove home with no problem.
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy City, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).
Someone says, “I’ve had a revelation from the Lord, something Scripture doesn’t address.”
Run, as fast as you can.
Scripture calls it “adding to the Word,” and it’s clearly verboten throughout the Bible, off limits to all who take seriously their devotion to the Lord and His Word. Deuteronomy 4:2 reads, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Need more? Try these: Deuteronomy 12:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6. The Father is consistent on this point.)
Let’s not go beyond what the Lord says through His Word. After all, Scripture teaches that Scripture is sufficient. Some would call that circular reasoning. That’s a possibility, but a better plan is that Scripture is Holy Spirit inspired. God knew what He was doing.
The church down the street was having some kind of special meeting. The eminent speaker, a professor or something, preached that we should add an additional book to the Bible, this one addressing the subject of nuclear weapons. If anyone objected, I never heard. But I could not help thinking, “Oh yeah. In the Middle Ages, they would have addressed gunpowder. In the mid-19th century, it would have been gatling guns. And the process would never end.” So foolish.
You can’t phone it in.
Itzhak Perlman is a champion violinist. Disabled by polio in early childhood, he gets around on a scooter or with hand walkers and is arguably the world’s greatest living violin virtuoso.
Hear him once and you are a fan for life.
In USA Today for Wednesday September 2, 2015, Perlman said, “If you are a golfer, you have to be reliable. But you cannot do that as a musician. The challenge, as I tell my students, is not how you play something the first time. What about the 10th, or the 50th, or the 150th? Am I going to play something the way I did last time? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the point is never to go on automatic.”
We preachers know about going on automatic. It’s what actors call “phoning it in.”
Some of the things we do in ministry, we do for the 50th and 150th time. Consider….
I’m thinking of one-on-one conversations in which a pastor might ask personal or intimate questions of the church member.
Some things you just do not need to know.
Do not ask questions such as these:
1. How did you vote on that issue?
2. Are you a Democrat or Republican?
3. Will you support my political candidate?
“But Thou, O Lord, dost laugh at them; Thou dost scoff at all the nations” (Psalm 59:8).
I think it was Erma Bombeck who said, “Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”
Or maybe it was Joan Rivers.
Anyway. It’s right on the mark.
The writer for Our Daily Bread said this: I was washing my car one evening as the sun was preparing to kiss the earth goodnight. Glancing up, I impulsively pointed the hose at it as if to extinguish its flames. The absurdity of my action hit me, and I laughed.
I get a kick out of seeing how prophecy experts bend over backward trying to locate the United States–as well as whatever country happens to be giving us headaches at the moment–in Scripture. As though our moment in history is so huge and our place in God’s plan so essential, how dare anyone suggest He could have planned the grand sweep of history without our being given a starring role.
Isaiah 40 has a good word on this.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Depending on a number of factors, growing a small church may well be one of the more do-able things pastors can achieve.
Those variable factors include…
–the health of the church (you don’t want a sick church to grow; it needs to get well first!). I once told my congregation, “There’s a good reason no one is joining this church. I wouldn’t join it either!” Believe it or not, those words were inspired and the people received them well, and repented.
–the attitude of the congregation (if the people are satisfied with the status quo, newcomers will not be welcomed). I’ve known Sunday School classes composed of a small cluster of best friends who felt imposed on by visitors and new members. No one wants to go where they’re not wanted.
–and the location of the facility A church situated five miles down an isolated road, at the end of the dead end trail, can almost certainly forget about growing. Yes, it’s been done, but rarely.