One more reason to pray for your pastor: Those frustrating times with members

Any pastor can tell you that even when you do your best to minister to His people, some church members are not going to let you.  If you didn’t do things their way, were not there when they called, did not jump at their bark, you are a failure and they will never forgive you.

Such people are the exceptions, I hasten to say to those who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  Our answer–

–It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.

–It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing police force to enforce laws.

–Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent is deadly.

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Things that “simply could not happen!” Oh no?

“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, our country broke the Japanese secret code.  This means that Army and Navy personnel were reading Japan’s messages. We actually knew where their forces were most of the time and what they were planning.

All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–we were completely unprepared. Our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers.  Our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.

The Japanese had a field day.  A turkey shoot.

How had this happened?  How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?

We did not believe what we were reading. This could not possibly happen.

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100 things I tell young pastors (61-80)

61. Resiliency. There is no shame in being fired by a church or run off by a group within the church. Some of God’s greatest champions have that on their record. The shame comes when you let that discourage you from future ministry.  Read Second Corinthians 4:8-10 again and again until you “own” it. If this happens to you, own it, give it to the Lord, then get up and get back in the game. Your team needs you.

62. If you are terminated–or “encouraged to leave” a church in a way that leaves you angry and bitter–read Luke 6:27-35 repeatedly until you make it your own.  The way to rid yourself of the anger and bear a faithful witness to your detractors is to practice what the Lord commanded: do the four actions the Lord commands in this passage.  Do good to them, bless them, pray for them, and give to them.

63. Encourage pastors who have been terminated or for any reasons, find themselves “between churches.”   A pastor friend ousted from his church had trouble re-entering the ministry.  One day he asked, “Why don’t other pastors help me?” I said, “Tom, how many unemployed preachers did you help when you were pastoring?” He said, “I didn’t know it was the problem it is.” I said, “They don’t either.”

64. Problems. Teach your lay leadership (preferably in small group settings) how to deal with problems that arise in church, how to confront a troublemaking member, and what to do about a pastor or staff minister who has gone rogue. When nothing of that sort is happening in your church is the perfect time to teach this.

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100 things I tell young pastors (41-60)

41. Preparation. Remember that preaching is not a written art, but an oral thing. So, once you have finished your plan for the message, go for a walk and preach it aloud.  This will alert you to detours to avoid, rabbit trails to shun, potholes to steer around, and will make you aware of areas where you need to do more work..

42. Never deliver a sermon you have not preached to yourself at least three times. Likewise, when you plan to read a Scripture in the worship service, prepare by reading it aloud numerous times to prepare your tongue for forming these particular sounds, to find phrases you need to emphasize, and so you can do the reading justice.

43. When you are invited to guest preach in other churches, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. This is no time to hammer out a new sermon, but an opportunity to use something you have previously preached. You’re being given a rare opportunity to return to something you have preached and improve on it.  In time, this may become a favorite message you preach in many places.

44. While your sermon-machine is always on (and you will always have a notepad nearby when reading anything), make it a point to read Scripture devotionally–asking the Father to feed your soul–every day.  Read for no other purpose than to listen to God.

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100 things I tell young pastors (21-40)

21. Off days.  Early on, establish with your spouse at least one full day (including evening) each week for yourselves.  Have an understanding about this when talking with search committees. Protect it. (Then, help your wife to know that a) you will work hard to protect this day, but b) there will be exceptions once in a while.)

22. Search Committees. When dealing with search committees, do not become so enamored with that church that you fail to do your homework–such as looking carefully at the church’s history, its relationships with previous pastors, what income/benefits they offer, the details about the living arrangements, etc.

23. Mentors. Find at least two older ministers and ask them to be your mentors. That word means different things to different people; to me it means “a resource, a friend, someone I can call and run things by.”

Call them occasionally to tell what’s going on and seek their counsel. Pray for their ministry.  You will be needing them.  I promise.

24. Reading. In addition to theological books and ministry periodicals, read outside your field.  Run by the public library and browse the periodicals. Scan through magazines you’ve never heard of. Be alert for ideas, interesting concepts, anything you’ve never heard of. Read a lot of history.

25. Always have reading material in your car so if you are stuck in traffic or in a waiting room, you’re prepared.

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Twenty things I tell young pastors

(Eight years ago, I posted “One hundred things I tell young pastors,”  twenty at a time in five posts.  I’m reposting the first twenty, but tweaking them, adding to them.  Whether I’ll repost the (amended) other eighty depends on the response.) 

There was no particular order to these.  I jotted them down as they occurred.

1) In all the world there are only three Christians who love change; none of them are in your church.  This is a reminder to introduce change carefully.  I suggest you not use that word, but “experiment.”  Tell the church, “We’re going to experiment with an 8 o’clock service.”  It implies that if this doesn’t work out, you’ll try something else.

2) When you speak before an unfamiliar group, be careful what you say.  You never know who is listening. You’ll start to tell a story about some guy in your former church and his mama is sitting right in front of you.  I have scars to back this up.

3) There will never come a time when you know all the Bible and have all your questions answered.  If you cannot serve Him with some gaps in your knowledge and preach without knowing everything, you’re going to have a hard time.

4) As a general rule, your church members should submit to your leadership, but you’re not the one to tell them that. Furthermore, you should not be a one-man show, but share the decision-making and direction-setting authority with others.

5) The best way to get people to submit to your leadership is for you to humble yourself and serve them the way the Lord did the disciples (John 13).  People will trust someone who loves them that much.

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What the pastor is to do when ousted from a church

The headline from an online preacher magazines says a pastor fired because of his alcoholism is bitter at his mistreatment by that congregation’s leaders.  Not good.

I’ll not be reading that article, thank you.  But a lot of people will.  Looks to me like he deserved what he got.  But then, I’m neither his judge nor their advisor.  But when a fired preacher walks away bitter, that does concern me.

No one deserves to pastor the Lord’s church.  No degrees on the wall, no glowing resume, no recommendations from the denomination entitle you to a church to pastor.

It’s a privilege.  A call from Heaven.

The bitterness feels like this guy no longer trusts the Lord.  I suggest he read Acts 16 again, and remind himself how God can use setbacks and what appears to be defeats for His purposes.  But to do that, he will be needing trusting servants who are willing to take their lumps without complaining, to quieten their spirits, and to sing at midnight (Acts 16:25).

That God would allow any of us to preach to His people year after year, declaring Heaven’s message to the redeemed, without giving us what we truly deserve–the fires of hell come to mind, frankly–shows Him to be a God of grace.  Why don’t we see that?

Whenever I hear a Christian talking about not getting what he deserved, I run in the opposite direction, lest the Father suddenly decide to give the fellow what he’s asking for!

So, you were fired.  Okay.  Can we talk?

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Before you terminate the pastor

The phone call that night was unnerving.

“Brother Joe,” the young pastor on the other end said, “the deacons voted to ask for my resignation.” They had met that evening.

“They’ve given me 30 days to get out of the pastor’s residence.” They had also voted two months’ salary. And, if he plays along nicely, nothing will ever be said about his having been terminated.

I said, “Did they give a reason?”

“The chairman asked the others, ‘Do you have confidence in the pastor’s leadership?’ All six said they didn’t. So that sealed it.”

Granted, all I have is one side of this discussion. And I know from long experience with this young pastor he is not perfect. In fact, he told me of difficulties in administration he had experienced that may have brought this on.

But I know also that this pastor is a godly man of great integrity, that he works hard at his preaching, and that he has a servant heart. One could do a lot worse than have such a shepherd, particularly a small town church such as the one in question.

With a half century of observing similar dealings from church leaders, I would like to say a few things to these deacons and other church leaders who are contemplating asking their pastor for his resignation.

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What the church forgot to remember

This notice appeared on the front page of the July 4, 2004, issue of the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader—

It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.

When that newspaper’s staff decided to prepare a special edition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, they began combing through their archives looking for local material. That’s when they discovered a complete lack of such information. The newspaper had simply not covered the civil rights movement, period.

A local African-American leader said, “The white community just prayed that rumors and reports (of the civil rights movement) would be swept under the rug and just go away.”

As odd as it is that a newspaper would fail to cover a world-changing movement going on throughout the world and happening in its own hometown, it will not come as a surprise to many of our readers that churches lived through the same revolution in this country without the first mention of it being made from the pulpit.

And we wonder why outsiders found our sermons irrelevant.

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God’s faithfulness during difficult times

Just once I want to read where someone says, “I lost my job. God is good.”  Or, “The doctor said it’s cancer.  God is good.”  Or, “My loved one died. God is good.”  

His faithfulness is everlasting.  He is good no matter what.

A pastor friend sent me a note reporting on his church. He had baptized several that year and had twice that number to join in other ways. I replied that God is using him to turn around that old church and, “Good for you, friend!”

He came back: “The curmudgeons are still there, though, still lurking.”

I answered, “They always will be. But let me tell you what I’ve finally learned about that. These detractors are doing you a favor. They motivate you to greater faithfulness, to do your best work, to keep the focus on the Lord.”

He said, “I call them ‘Holy Sandpaper.’”

The Lord uses them to get the rough edges off His servant.

Interesting how the notes I get from pastors–some are questions regarding ministry–turn out to be the very thing the Lord was talking with me about earlier.

Case in point. I was going through some old correspondence files, trying to decide what could be discarded. I ran across the most critical (i.e., life-changing) exchange of letters I ever had with a church member in a long lifetime of ministry.

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