What to do when your pastor stirs the pot

“….according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal….”  (2 Timothy 2:9)

Pot-stirring: To take a stand on a controversial issue.  Known colloquially as “opening a can of worms.”  Rocking the boat. Rubbing the old cat’s fur the wrong way.  Upsetting apple carts.

Expect it.

It’s a poor pastor who doesn’t stir the pot from time to time.

They didn’t crucify Jesus for sweet-talking the 23rd Psalm, for explaining the symbolic meaning of items in the Tabernacle, or for spending six months on the Greek verbs.  He took a stand on what matters most, and when people didn’t like it, He held His ground and paid the ultimate price.

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How much do you charge to come to our church?

“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyared and does not eat the fruit of it?” (I Corinthians 9:7)

“We’d like to invite you to speak to our church (or our seniors group or whatever).  But we’re small and I’m not sure we could afford you.  How much do you charge?”

I get this a lot.

In the first place, I’m excited (and more than a little relieved!) that any church would invite me to do anything–preach a sermon, teach a class, speak at a banquet, or sit in a room and sketch the children.  So, I’m always honored. Always, no matter the size of the church.

God knows my heart.

But I’m always a little flummoxed when people ask about the fee.  I reply, “I don’t charge anything.”  But that is not the entire story.

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Why a lot of professing Christians never attend church

“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”–unless, of course, the Lord reveals to you that you are the church, as one lady said to me.  Or, that you are smarter than the preacher, the deacons are trying to run the church, or no one in the congregation will speak to you.  Hebrews 10:25, sort of.

When you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to have an excuse.

If you do not want to go to church, for instance, if you can skip church for a whole year and never miss it, you should “man up” and admit, “I’m not a Christian and don’t believe all that Bible stuff.  Church is for people who take the Lord seriously. Not me. So, I don’t go.”

Hmm. That felt ‘mean,’ didn’t it?  But it’s dead on accurate.

Please read on.

By “go to church,” we don’t necessarily mean a building with a steeple on it.  It could be a group of God’s people gathered in a living room to sing and pray and study the Word.  Or,  fifty people in a storefront.  The point is not the location or the structure but God’s people meeting on a regular basis for the work and worship of the Lord.

The redeemed of the Lord will be drawn to one another.  They love each other.  Jesus said so.

I heard of a pastor somewhere who collected excuses on “why people who call themselves Christians don’t go to church.”   He did not make these up…

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Pride and prejudice: Pastors know without reading Jane Austen

“Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (I Peter 5:6-9)

This is for pastors and other church leaders.  In the same way, the above admonitions were directed first of all to pastors and elders.  Peter was addressing “elders…as a fellow elder….”

Sometimes you have to take a tough stand, and then later, often months later, you have to defend it.  My suggestion is youshould keep good records.  To be able to open your book and say, “Okay, here’s what you said and what I answered” may end up saving your job.  Or your ministry.  Or sanity?

Hearsay or memory cannot stand up in a court of law alongside a journal where you recorded the exact conversation the day it happened.

Estherline has given all her pastors headaches.  But I was new at the time and no one had cautioned me about her.  I walked into her lion’s den unknowing.

When the lady who had been directing weddings in that church gave up the job, I was just entering as the new pastor.  I called her.  She gave me the names of two ladies in the church who could do the job. Estherline was the second.  “She’s pretty rigid, Pastor,” the lady warned me.

So, when the first choice declined, not knowing any better, I called Estherline.  She was only too happy to become the church’s wedding director.  She held that little position for the next three-plus years.  Until I fired her.

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Your pastor is plagiarizing his sermons; What to do.

All preachers borrow ideas and illustrations from one another.  I heard Adrian Rogers say, “I got this story from someone who got it from someone who got it from the Lord.”  We all smiled and the purists among us were satisfied.  He gave credit.

But what about when a pastor lifts the sermon in toto–lock, stock, and barrel–from another pastor’s book or website?  Is that right?  Is he guilty of something–possibly something illegal? or at least unethical?  Does he violate some unwritten law somewhere? Should a church be concerned?  And what if you are a member of that pastor’s staff and you are the only one who has learned where he is stealing those sermons?

A friend wrote to ask about this. He asked that we keep his identity anonymous, for obvious reasons.

His pastor is well-loved and highly respected.  A father figure almost.  Quite by accident the staff member discovered where the preacher was getting his sermons on the internet.  The man is preaching them verbatim.

“It’s quite impressive, actually,” he told me. “That he can remember those sermons in such detail.”

The pastor obviously did not give credit to the source of those messages since as far as the congregation knows, the Lord was giving those messages to him directly from on high (as opposed to indirectly, by way of this other guy, the one who spends untold hours in his study, on his knees, working and hammering out those messages).

The pastor is being dishonest, of course.  I’ve known of pastors being fired for such.  And he has lost the respect of his staff member who reported it to me.

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Four things I wanted to know that most pastors do not

I’m confident most church members never analyze why they feel the way they do about their pastors, either positively or negatively. But I always wanted to know what was going on with them.

For forty-two years I pastored six churches, as well as serving on the staff of another church for three years.  During those times, four areas used to concern me, to bug me actually, about our people.  Whenever I would mention them to my ministry colleagues, most shrugged and said, “Not me.  I don’t want to know that.”

One.  Why are you leaving?

No matter how large or successful your ministry, people will leave from time to time and join a church down the highway.  I wondered why.

Pastor Ross Rhoads led one of the largest churches in Charlotte, NC at the time, easily twice the size of First Baptist Church where I was serving. But we had a lot in common–age, experience, demanding schedules (preaching four services each Sunday!), and such–and enjoyed a friendship.  That particular day, for some reason we began talking about people who leave our church to join another in the area.

I said, “I know we can’t pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Why did you join that other church?  Did we let you down in some way?’  But I’d like to know. We could learn a lot by knowing why people leave.”

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“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I”M NOT ANGRY!” he bellowed.

“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).

“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).

My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.

Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century.  What did the Lord want us to be doing, where to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work with our leadership.  For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative.  No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed.  To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.

My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class.  They were a delightful group.  They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church.  Then someone asked the question of the day.

A young woman said, “I can understand someone not liking a pastor’s style.  But why are these people so angry?”

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How search committees lead from fear

“We walk by faith and not by sight….” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). 

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Listen to the conversation inside many a pastor search committee…

“We should stick close to this profile on the ideal candidate for our church. That’s our best guarantee the next pastor will be right for us and will stay a long time.”

“The congregation is not going to like it if we recommend this man.  He’s overweight and nearly bald.”

“I’ve already gotten the word from some of our best givers that they want Pastor Hensnest, and if we don’t recommend him, they’re moving their membership. I don’t think we can chance losing them.”

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Learning from the realtors

We preacher types see parallels in everything. I once did an article for this website saying “what preachers can learn from funeral directors.” It honored my favorite mortician and was well received.  So, since I’m in the middle of trying to sell the house where we have lived for more than two decades, parallels with our realtor come to mind. 

What churches could learn from realtors.  You’ll think of other things, but these come to mind….

One. Leave?

When buyers come looking at a house, we’re told that the owners should be gone.  Why? Because the prospective buyer needs to be able to criticize freely, words that might hurt the feelings of the owner who presumably loves this house and is attached to everything about it.

When people come looking for a church home, maybe the membership should leave and let them have the space to criticize.  “This carpet is ugly.”  “Whoever does the bulletin has a lot to learn.”  “I hate the color of the choir robes.”  That sort of thing.

I’m teasing. But it does make a point.

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What laypeople need to know–and seldom do–about speaking in “big church”

By laypeople, I mean non-preachers.

By speaking in church, I mean before large groups of the Lord’s people.

Many non-clergy are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind.  But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his element when suddenly asked to deliver a talk in front of the whole church.

Marlene said to me, “I’m sorry I took the entire service, Pastor. But the Lord was leading me.” Translation: She really got into her talk and couldn’t control it.  As a young pastor, I had invited church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes.  (Later, I learned to interview the individual and retain hold of the microphone the entire time!)

Since Marlene had not prepared adequately, once she got going, she couldn’t find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes.

Personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare on the Lord.

I see it happen all the time.  It’s almost embarrassing.

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