One thing we must never do in ministry

A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them.  They will be right.

They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years.  They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there.  And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred.  They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated. 

The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level.  And shows no signs of abating.

So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose.  Flockless shepherds.  Ministers without portfolio.  Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant.  Pink-slipped.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

God bless you.  May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high.  No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).

May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants.  Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.

In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago.  Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.

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Why you didn’t get that church job you wanted

This is merely one possible scenario, but I’ve seen it happen several times.

We had interviewed Brian and all the background checks and references were great.  We liked him, were impressed by the work he was doing in his present church, and knew God was going to continue doing great things through him.

He liked us, and possibly felt some leadership from the Lord.  If we had called, I expect he would have accepted.

But we backed off. We did not call him to our staff.

My journal tells how he responded when I informed him.

“I told Brian we had learned 100 good things about him.  But the bottom line is I don’t have inner peace about this.”

He asked what in particular was the hangup.  I said “Nothing. It’s just that I feel a sense of unease, that it’s not right.”

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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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Write a play for your church. A short, fun one that fits the sermon.

In the church I was pastoring in the 1990s, we began inserting the occasional drama into the morning worship service, something we had created to fit the sermon.

(Note:  If you do brief dramas like this, you don’t have to purchase them.  And neither do you have to buy videos.  You have a few people in the congregation who would love to do something creative and helpful like this.  Don’t do it more often than monthly, lest it grow old.)

Here’s one from Sunday, July 11, 1993.  We called it the “Low Self-Esteem Anonymous Group.”

Margaret called the meeting to order.

Julie stood and said, “My name is Dummy–and I have low self-esteem.  I’d planned to look for a job this week.  But I didn’t.  Probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.”

David stood to his feet. “My name is Invisible and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about asking a girl for a date this week. But I didn’t.  Who would want to go out with me?”

Jennifer said, “My name is Zero–and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about going to church.  But I probably wouldn’t fit in, so I stayed at home.”

Throughout this, Neil sits aloof, off to one side, making derogatory comments (which brought laughter).  Finally, he has enough.  He stands up, points to the sign and says, “Look at that–‘Low Self-Esteem!’ I love the initials–L.O.S.E.  That’s what you all are. A bunch of losers! I’m out of here.”

As he turns to leave, Jesse calls to him, “Hey Buddy–Egomaniac Anonymous meets down the hall, third door on the left.”

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The pastor considers hiring an assistant. Uh oh.

I have been an assistant pastor and as pastor, I have had assistants. They can be a great help in time of need.  And they can be a pastor’s biggest headache.

I wish I’d had one in a certain church.  I regretted having one in another.

In his book “The Twelve Caesars,” Michael Grant says these rulers of the Roman Empire were one-man shows for a long time.  Their burdens were heavy and their duties endless.  Most caesars worked very hard, he said.  They desperately needed advisors, consultants, and assistants.  But therein lay a huge problem.  How does one bring on board someone to be his assistant, an up-close and personal consultant, who is in on all the important issues of the day, without him being caught up in all the intrigue, the dramas, the personal animosities and rivalries.  How to find out who is loyal.

An assistant can be the pastor’s best friend; an assistant can do a great deal of damage.

I asked a pastor about a staff member he was having issues with.  “Are you afraid of him?”  He answered, “I’m not afraid of him, but I’m afraid of the damage he can do.”

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Expectations: The pastor informs a new church staff member

Let’s say you’re the pastor of a growing church.  The church has just brought in a new minister to assist you in leading the congregation.  He/she might be a worship pastor, minister of music, student minister, or in charge of education or pastoral care.

One of the best things a pastor can do with the incoming minister is to make him/her aware of your expectations.  You will want to think them through and write them out, then share them after you both have agreed that God is leading him/her to your church.  Give the person the printed copy and don’t lose your own.  This may be necessary if the time comes when you have to deal with a rebellious or lazy staff member.

In sharing these, do it graciously, not dictatorially as though you are going to be looking over their shoulder all the time.

You could even follow this by asking for their expectations concerning you.  I guarantee you they have them.  They will expect you to deal with them as ministers of the gospel, to give them room to do their job, to pay them well and protect them on their off days, and to support them when the criticism is unfair.  If  the new staffer is expecting something from you which was not spoken and never implied, you want to know that up front before you get too deeply into the employment process.

What follows are things I shared with our staff members in six churches over forty-two years.  Some of them evolved, while some of them were there from the first.  The list is not complete, but only things I recall at this vantage point…

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The church which wants to help the needy has its work cut out for it.

“Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30).

Everyone who works around the church office will identify with this.

From my journal of Tuesday, August 12, 1997…

In the afternoon, I took a phone call from a Don Peterson.  “Remember me?” he said.

I said, “Refresh my memory.”

“My fiancée and I were in your services three Sundays ago.”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, my father has died.  In Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I need some money for a plane ticket.  I need to borrow it until Sunday.”

I said, “How much?”

“Fifty-four dollars.”

I said, “How can I verify this?”

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Special delivery to church staff members

“Only Luke is with me.  Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).

From time to time, pastors invite me to spend an hour or two with their leadership team, primarily the church staff, at their weekly meeting.  It’s informal and conversational and takes place around the office conference table with the coffee pot going and a rapidly diminishing plate of donuts before us.

Some thoughts I share with the team include the following…

One.  Nothing is more important than that you keep yourself close to the Lord.

He is your source. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Jesus Christ is the Giver of everything that concerns you.  He called you into this work (after saving you!) and He sent you to this church.  If either of those is not the case, you would do well to get alone with Him for an hour and clear everything up, then do as His Spirit instructs.

Keeping yourself close to Jesus means exactly what you think it does:  daily quiet time with Him, with your Bible open and your heart in constant prayer, bringing every thought and act under His lordship.  We should begin and end the day in prayer, and offer up prayers throughout the day.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  We should know God’s word and meditate upon it.  A church staffer should never say knowing the Word is the preacher’s job;  it’s every believer’s privilege and duty.

From time to time, your pastor is going to exasperate you; Jesus will give you patience and understanding.  Your income is not going to be sufficient; Jesus will hear your prayers and send what He wants you to have.  Your job conditions are going to change, and sometimes the assignment dearest to your heart and matching perfectly your spiritual gifts and talents will be taken from you;  Jesus will be your counselor, guide, and protector, or you will be in trouble.

The Holy Spirit will be your Human Resources Director.  He is your Lord.

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The best thing a boss can do for his worker

If I work for you, I expect you to protect me when I’m attacked unfairly and defend me when I am accused unjustly.  Your failure to do this means I lose confidence in you and the quality of my work begins to suffer immediately. In most cases, I begin looking for a better environment in which to work.

Let a good supervisor–the manager of a business, principal of a school, or pastor of a church– learn this most valuable lesson. 

I was a year or two out of college, newly married, and pastoring a tiny church up the highway 25 miles.  During the week, however, I was the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

My boss was 65-year-old Clyde Hooper, a cigar-chewing Methodist layman who could teach sailors a few things about plain speaking.  He had paid his dues in coming up the hard way, and was so tightly bonded with the 300 men working in the foundry that they would have died–or killed–for one another.  Mr. Hooper wore a crisp, starched white shirt and beautiful tie to work every day.  I adored the man.

I also emptied his spittoon in the corner of the office.

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