“Now, in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…boastful, arrogant, revilers…ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited…. Avoid such men as these.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)
Veteran Christian workers get this a lot. People tell you of a conversation with you from years ago in which you spoke words that changed their lives. You were God’s gift to them that day, or, just as likely you infuriated them and they have not been able to get past it.
The problem is you don’t remember any of it.
My daily e-mail brought two such messages, one of each kind. A young minister was thanking me and an older pastor was venting. The conversations had occurred some ten years earlier. I remembered neither.
The older pastor told of the time he sat in my office, seeking guidance for entering the ministry. According to him, I had asked what kind of church position he was interested in. That was the harmless little question that had ticked him off and fueled his anger for a full decade.
“I was morally outraged by the question,” he said.
“And a mixed multitude went up with them.” Exodus 12:38
“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’” — Numbers 11:4
The unbelieving world is attending your church.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them. Not good.
When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone. Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also. (Various translations refer to them as “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)
Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt? Doubtless there were slaves from many countries. So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.
Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.
Bear in mind that these people, being outsiders, had no idea who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. They had no inkling that the great I AM was doing something mighty in their midst. They had no knowledge of Moses and no loyalty to him. Their thoughts were of themselves and their wants.
Don’t miss that.
“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 a quarter-century 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 should we put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to confer 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.
This is for pastors and other church leaders in particular.
When Jim went to his church as the new pastor, he told me, “They have a bad history. Every two years they run the preacher off.” He paused and said, “Let’s see if we can change that.”
He didn’t. Two years later, in spite of the wonderful growth the church was experiencing, a little group informed him that his work there was done and it would be better if he left.
I served one church where a small group of leaders–some elected and some not–met from time to time to make important decisions for the church. The poor pastor had little or no say. When I, the new preacher, suggested that this is the type of thing a congregation needs to know about and make the decision, the spokesman said, “We don’t like to upset the congregation about these things.”
These days in my retirement ministry, since I’m in a different church almost every Sunday, I see all kinds of congregational setups. In one, the pastor seemed to be an appendage and was considered irrelevant by the lay leadership. In another, he was the good old boy expected to not make waves.
Since my ministry in a church (as the guest preacher) is usually confined to preaching a sermon and extending the public invitation, I try to find out certain things before the service begins:
(In leading church conferences, I often present Ephesians 5:21 as the secret key to a thousand good things in a church fellowship. See what you think.)
“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
I leaned over to my grandson in church and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”
On the platform sat a dozen musicians–pianist, keyboard, several guitars, two or three drummers, one violin, a couple of horns, and this time, for a special emphasis, a mandolin and banjo. The church music that day was absolutely outstanding.
I sat there thinking, “What if we had given in to the naysayers? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse and I had feared the criticism and buckled?” (Note: At that time, in addition to being our minister of music Ken chaired the Music Department at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Later he headed the Fine Arts Department at Oklahoma Baptist University. These days, he is a professor of Truett-McConnell University in Georgia. As fine a colleague as I’ve ever served with.)
There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.
Each day that week, the Baptist Press website posted five of our cartoons on the theme of “Pastor Search Committee humor.” The drawing was basically the same for the week but with a little tweaking on each day. The captions were different for each. A committee member is speaking:
–“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!”
Among the comments was this one from a lady somewhere: “This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness.”
From Brother Joe, veteran shepherd of six pastorates, to Brother Timothy as he begins what we trust will be a long and fruit ministry of leading churches.
I hear you’re having a tough time of it.
Good. Glad to hear it.
As I got it, a group in the church doesn’t care for your leadership. They find fault with your sermons. They probably don’t like the color of your tie (or worse, the fact that you don’t wear one).
What makes their opposition ominous is that they are the leaders of the church. Not a good thing.
Unity is always better than division.
You came close to resigning, I was told. You probably felt, “If I don’t have the support of these elected leaders of the church, then I’ll not be able to do anything here.”
Perhaps you wrote out a resignation to see what it would feel like.
Anyone who begins to pastor a church should recognize two big things: There are lessons to be learned if you are ever to do this well, and most of them are learned the hard way. Your scars will attest to your education.
Most of this is counter-intuitive; that is, not what one might expect.
One. Bigness is overrated.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Most pastors, it would appear, want to lead big churches, want to grow their church to be huge, or wish to move to a large church. Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than one would ever think.
Small bodies can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.
A friend says, “At judgement, a lot of pastors are going to wish they’d led smaller congregations.”
Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church. He’s a media star. He’s pulling people out of the other churches.
Sound familiar? It’s not a new phenomenon.
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.” (Acts 18:24)
Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul. Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.
What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot. A real hunk. Articulate in the pulpit. Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.
Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist. He made an impact wherever he went.
What’s more, he was good. He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.
Wait upon the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord. –Psalm 27:14
God’s times are not yours. He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar. His alarm clock is broken. He doesn’t keep regular hours.
Lose the stop watch. Take a hammer to the timer. God is not going to order His actions by your schedule. Forget about showing Him your day-planner. He’s not impressed.
God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.
“Most great ministries are made in the crock-pot, not the microwave.” –Allan Taylor