The pastor’s biggest temptation

“Shepherd the flock of God among you…not for sordid gain, but with eagerness….” (I Peter 5:2).


“Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8).   Of course, it happens all the time. For most, it happens when they keep for themselves God’s tithes and offerings. However, every year hundreds of pastors go to jail for embezzling God’s money from their churches.

How does this happen? How could a God-called pastor fleece God’s sheep?

Aside from the spiritual considerations, two large things keep me from stealing millions from my church: 1) I would not know how, or even where to begin, and 2) my church has structures in place to safeguard the Lord’s money. (My pastor will read this and think, “I can tell you another: We don’t have millions of dollars!” True enough. But that’s not the point. Smiley-face goes here.)

So how do people manage to pull off such grand thefts of God’s money?

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What one new pastor told his church

“(I ask) that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21).

No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord.

In fact, almost everything depends on unity.

On April 14, 2012, Pastor Charles McLain stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.

Before they got underway with reports and motions and votes, however, he had something to say which they needed to hear.  His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.

He wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.

What follows is his written message just as he gave it (which he gave me, alongwith permission to share)….

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Seven things the pastor cannot do from the pulpit

You can’t chew gum in the pulpit or bring your coffee in with you. You can’t preach in your pajamas or lead a worship service in your swimsuit.

But you knew that.

However, some pastors do things every bit as silly as this, and as counter-productive, we must say.

Now, in one sense, a pastor can do anything from the pulpit.  Once.

But we’re talking about things no right-thinking godly pastor should attempt to do from the Lord’s sacred place of leadership in His church.

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What the host pastor wants from the guest preacher

You’re either retired (my situation) and accepting as many invites as possible, or you are a preacher in search of a pastorate or a denominational servant, or something else entirely. From time to time you get called upon to visit a church and preach a sermon or two. You want to do this right and make a positive contribution to the health of the church.  You want to bless the Lord, honor the host pastor, draw some people to Jesus, and if possible, avoid embarrassing your mother and dad.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do this.

1. Be prompt.

Don’t make the pastor worry you’re not going to show up.

2. Ask questions of anything you are unclear on.

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A strong dose of leadership

Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.

Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.

–”He acts bossy.”

–”He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”

–”The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”

–”We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”

–”We didn’t vote on that program.”

Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.

–”We didn’t know where we were going.”

–”The staff seemed directionless.”

–”We were just floundering.”

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That pettiness we sometimes see in church leaders

This week, as I write, the Baptist Press website is running five cartoons of ours all on the theme of “Pastor Search Committee humor.” The drawing is basically the same for each, although with a little tweaking on each one. But the people are saying different things in each one. (The suggestions as to what a search committee laughs at were made by a long line of Facebook friends in response to our question.)

“This guy lives in Hawaii. I think we should visit his church.”  “This pastor is unemployed. So we could get him cheap.” “This resume’ is from our former pastor. Wonder if he has gotten smarter.”  “This one’s wife has a job, so he could use her health insurance and save the church money.” “This guy says he’s a lot like our former pastor. Yes, but nothing like our next one!”

That sort of thing.

One of the many comments arriving in response to the cartoons said, “This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness.”

I know the lady only on Facebook (which basically means, hardly at all), but sent her a private note asking, “And what denomination did you find where the human element has been taken out? Every religious group on the planet has to deal with people’s ambitions, their littleness, pettiness, carnal thoughts, competitiveness, etc.”

Two hours later she responded. She has joined a large independent church where she admits she sees none of the kind of infighting and littleness she observed in Baptist churches. She noted that the leaders take care of matters.

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Self-destructive behavior from those who should know better

“…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25).

“What were you thinking?”

A pastor with a fine church, great respect, challenging opportunities, and a good income does the strangest thing. He arrives home from the monthly meeting of a denominational board and turns in his expenses (air fare, hotel, taxi, and meals) to the church bookkeeper. She writes him a check to repay him.

Eventually, it comes out that the denominational agency was also reimbursing him. He has been charging both the church and the agency for his expenses.

For a few thousand dollars a year, he was willing to risk everything.

What was he thinking?

A pastor with a great church and incredible potential discovers he can pull down an additional $20,000 a year by taking several groups to the Holy Land.  All his congregation sees is that their pastor keeps pushing these trips as a way to deepen their commitment and broaden their vision. They are completely unaware that the travel company is giving him a hefty commission.  When the membership finds it out, most are unhappy.  Nothing illegal was going on; this is accepted business practice. The problem is the pastor’s moonlighting and using his position of influence to pad his income on the side.

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No one spoke to you at church? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

“We’re not going back to that church. We attended once and not a soul spoke to us.”

This may be the most common complaint offered by church visitors.

Our people have come to expect that churches will be welcoming to strangers, open to newcomers, receptive to inquirers, and alert to first-timers.

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A minister should be able to teach.

“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged….” (2 Timothy 2:24).

I am a teacher.

When I was a senior in high school, a classmate gave me one of those unforgettable moments that lives in one’s mind forever.  Principal Andy Davis had summoned me to his office to help Jerry Crittenden with a math problem. Now, Jerry was a big football player, lovable and kind-hearted, and a joy to be around.  But in math, the guy was lost.

Toward the end of our session, Jerry said, “Joe, you should be a teacher. I can understand it the way you explain it.”

Eighteen months later, following a frustrating freshman year of college that taught me one huge thing–I do not want to major in physics!–I realized that God wanted me to be a teacher. He had gifted me with a love for history as well as a delight in learning, and had surrounded me with some excellent teachers as role models.

At the time, I thought the idea was to become a history teacher in high school and later, after getting the necessary education, in college.  Then, as a senior in college, God called me to preach.  I think members of my churches over these years would say, however, that Joe never quit teaching.

And that’s good.

“Able to teach.”  What a strange thing the Apostle Paul did.  In the middle of calling his preachers to hold down the noise, to quieten the arguments, and still the controversies, he wants them gentle and patient and kind–and able to teach.

Pastor search committees would do well to put this skill high on their list of requirements when checking out preachers.

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Since the congregation is made up of all kinds of people, expect anything.

Often, I will post an article on this blog and a few days later, see that some online pastors’ magazine has lifted it (they have our blanket permission) and shared it with 75,000 of their closest friends. That’s when I find out what a bum I am.

Maybe I should not read the comments at the bottom of those articles, but the temptation is just too overpowering.  I end up reading things like:

“What kind of idiot would say such a thing as this?”  “I thought it was a positive article and could not wait to read it. Imagine my disappointment when I found out what the writer was saying.  McKeever is weird.”  “This guy is a Christian?”

It’s all I can do not to respond to such comments, and once in a while I will give in and say something like: “How unkind” or “Such anger,” and leave it there.

Mostly, I read it and go away reminding myself that anyone can subscribe to these online magazines, and often does.  Just as there are some bizarre churches in the land purporting to be Christian, they are led by pastors who tend to be just as off-center.

The point being, don’t let it upset you, preacher.

Not that I am above criticism.  Far from it.  In fact, I love it when someone points out a flaw in my thinking with some well-reasoned evidence or some biblical truth I may have not taken into consideration.  Often, I’ll go back into that “WordPress” program and correct the article.

There is, of course, a lesson for pastors here. And that’s the point of this piece.

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