If I work for you, I expect you to protect me when I’m attacked unfairly and defend me when I am accused unjustly. Your failure to do this means I lose confidence in you and the quality of my work begins to suffer immediately. In most cases, I begin looking for a better environment in which to work.
Let a good supervisor–the manager of a business, principal of a school, or pastor of a church– learn this most valuable lesson.
I was a year or two out of college, newly married, and pastoring a tiny church up the highway 25 miles. During the week, however, I was the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.
My boss was 65-year-old Clyde Hooper, a cigar-chewing Methodist layman who could teach sailors a few things about plain speaking. He had paid his dues in coming up the hard way, and was so tightly bonded with the 300 men working in the foundry that they would have died–or killed–for one another. Mr. Hooper wore a crisp, starched white shirt and beautiful tie to work every day. I adored the man.
I also emptied his spittoon in the corner of the office.
On this particular day, the sales manager had caught me on the phone and was chewing me out about something long forgotten. He was really blasting me, and all I could do was to sit there at my desk and take it. The “blessing out” he was administering was so loud and angry that as Mr. Hooper entered the office, he could hear the yelling spilling out the phone.
“Who is that, Joe?” he said through the chomped-on cigar.
I put my hand over the receiver and said, “It’s Buck.”
With that, my boss walked around to his desk, punched in to the phone, and took over the call. What he did to the sales manager verbally would have made my coal-miner daddy’s language pale by comparison. In language that would have peeled the paint off the side of the barn, the production manager told the sales manager what he could do, where he could go, and why he might not live out the day.
That tongue-lashing might have lasted a minute, but in memory it went on a full five minutes.
As he wound down, Mr. Hooper told the sales manager, “Listen to me real good, Buck. If you ever again call down here to harass anyone who works for me, I promise you that you will be out of a job and standing in the bread line before the sun goes down, is that clear, you blankety-blankety blank?”
He slammed down the phone. Now, he would walk off his anger in the plant, but before leaving the office, he said, “Joe, you let me know if you ever hear the first thing from this.”
I never did.
That day, I felt 20 feet tall.
It was the finest thing anyone had ever done for me. And I never forgot the lesson.
Now, fast forward some 20 years.
I was pastoring a fairly large church with several ministers and a full office staff. Since our small city had only two hospitals, I made the rounds every morning before coming to the office. Beth, my secretary, knew not to make appointments for me before 10 am.
That morning, around 9:30, as I entered the church office, I noticed Jeannie, the receptionist, in tears.
I asked Beth to step into my office, closed the door, and said, “What’s wrong with Jeannie?”
“Matt has been up here this morning. He chewed her out about something.”
Matt was the chairman of our deacons that year, and much too young and inexperienced for the job. He was 30, I think, and eager to make sure the pastor and staff got their act together. In the first few weeks of his term, several times he had come running to me when someone criticized my preaching to him. Matt had not learned how to separate the important criticism from the trivial nitpicking.
And now, he had taken it too far.
I picked up the phone and called him. I said, “Matt, whatever you are doing at this moment, please drop it and come up here. You and I need to have a talk. Now.”
Give him credit; he came right on.
In my office with the door closed, I said, “Matt, I need to tell you something. I need you to know how much authority you have in the church office. You do have some. But it’s the same amount your mother has, your wife has, and your children have. But as chairman of deacons, you have no authority in this office. Your authority is with the deacons and only with them.”
He was listening, so I continued.
“Matt, I don’t know what you said to Jeannie this morning. But you will go out there this minute and apologize to her. Are we clear on that?”
Again, give him credit. He did not explain or justify, but went out and asked Jeannie’s forgiveness.
And he never did it again. (Nor did he ever again run to me with nit-picking complaints from church members. Over the years, my respect for Matt has only grown.)
Now, long retired from the church office, to this day Jeannie thinks I’m the greatest pastor that church ever had. (smiley-face goes here)
A boss speaking up to defend an employee will produce that kind of appreciation and loyalty.
I had a good teacher. Mr. Hooper taught me to stand up for my people.
You would not want to hear the tales that staff members have relayed to me. A pastor asked one assistant to do a job, and when the congregation criticized the man for doing it, the pastor publicly rebuked his faithful staffer without taking any responsibility. It produced a wound that is open to this day.
When a church bully turned on one staff member, rather than defend him and become a target for the wrath of the Diotrephes (an allusion to III John 9ff), the pastor kept silent. The staff member lost respect for his minister and left soon after.
A few members of the church were unhappy with the worship leader because of his choice of music for the services. Even though the pastor worked with the staffer on selecting that music, he did not answer the critics and defend the staffer. When someone made the motion in business meeting to cut the man’s salary, the pastor silently acquiesced. There is no justification for such shameful behavior from a man of God.
No one should ever become the pastor of a church without a strong sense of God’s call, God’s presence in that calling, and God’s vision for the work. Only the courageous need attempt to shepherd God’s people.
“Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people….” (Joshua 1:6).