“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).
My notes from that church business meeting some 20 years ago are fun to read from this distance, but that event was not the least bit 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?”
“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.”
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….
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.
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.
A pastor friend wrote a book by the title “What They Never Taught Me in Seminary.” I even drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.
Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have. Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed. One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.” I’ve taught it a few times myself.
Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes. After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.
All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind today….
I was sent the following email from someone trying to sell me a service….
I was sent you an mail regarding Web Listing hope you are found it.
This is an follow-up email for you, Interested in our proposal or not?
Let us know if you are interested, I am waiting here your valuable
I went back and read their original proposal to see if the same poor English was to be found there. It wasn’t. Clearly, someone was hired to pretty up the original mailing, but the followup was done by the salesperson, if you will.
Not a good way to impress a prospective client.
Now. I’m not interested in having my website be first to pop up on Google, as they were proposing. Nothing about that interests me.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to virtual church.
You have noticed on your screens that the pews in our building are empty today.
There’s a reason for that.
No one comes to this church any more. That’s the bottom line.
It did not happen accidentally, by the way. But this is the result of a concerted effort from those of us in leadership positions to set higher standards for the membership. Anyway, what happened was this….
“No one spoke to me at that church.”
“That’s an unfriendly church.”
“I’m never going back there again.”
We pastors have heard it all. Sometimes, it’s anonymous notes informing us that ours is a cold church, that not a single person spoke to them last Sunday. They will not be returning.
Usually, it’s hearsay. A visitor told a friend who passed it on to a neighbor who told one of our deacons.
Church visitors, it would appear, can be a troublesome lot. Always demanding to be greeted warmly, seeing that as their right and as the confirmation that ours is a church founded on the Rock and faithful to the Word.
I beg to differ.
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 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.”
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
As a college student, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains. It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.
First, their standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class. This means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car. Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.
I wondered if they did not know the company was sticking it to them. (I believe this three-tiered system is still the custom on Amtrak.)
When I began traveling by plane, I was amazed to see people paying astronomical fares for first class. Same plane, a little more legroom, coffee in a china cup instead of Styrofoam, and get to deplane first. That was about it. A status thing? I imagine so.
In the Texas of the 1800s, the stagecoach lines had three levels of tickets: first, second, and third class. This had nothing to do with where you sat, the food you ate, or when you disembarked. It involved what you did when the coach got into trouble.