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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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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Tough choices: No way to evade them

Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle inside me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus inside me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

We all get to choose–we have to choose!–every day of our lives whether to soar or wallow.

Chuck Colson once asked a prisoner on death row if he wanted a television in his cell. “No,” he said. “TV wastes too much time.”

Time  was a commodity of which he had little.

We get to choose–we have to choose!–what to do with our time each day.

Thomas Merton said, “There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the ass understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.”

We choose what to do with Jesus.

Someone called our church office inquiring if non-members were allowed to use the sanctuary for weddings. The secretary informed her that the answer was “no.” A few minutes later, the woman called back. This time she wanted to know if the pastor could marry her and her fiance over the phone.

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Parasites who feast on the church body

I had never heard of an insect called an ichneumon until newspaper columnist George Will wrote about it as a metaphor for the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

According to Mr. Will, the ichneumon insect inserts an egg in a caterpillar, then the larva which hatches from the egg proceeds to gnaw the insides of the caterpillar. Eventually, it has devoured almost every part of the worm with the exception of the skin and intestines, while it carefully avoids injuring the vital organs.  The ichneumon seems to know that its own existence depends on the life of the insect on which it feeds.

Detroit’s government employees’ unions had been living parasitically on their own city, Mr. Will stated.  However, in devouring their own host, they were not as smart as the ichneumon insect.

I find that fascinating.

What kind of God would make such a world?

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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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The noise of wolves in the night can be frightening. Right, pastor?

Preacher, a lot of people in the church are concerned.  I’m not at liberty to use names.  Even some who love you are not happy with the way things are going.  I think you’d be surprised to know how widespread the unrest is.  If you are the wise person I think you are, you will not want to jeopardize your family by risking a church vote and suddenly find yourself unemployed.  If I were you–and I’m just saying this as a friend–I think I’d be looking for another church to go to. 

The baying of wolves in the night can be disconcerting.  But it’s also misleading.  As this story from President U. S. Grant’s autobiography makes clear….

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s Memoirs make fascinating reading.  The first former president to write his memoirs, Grant’s are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Note: Before reading Memoirs, I read Grant’s Final Victory, an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death from cancer.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and plenty of varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  “To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.”

The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance.  He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.

Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid.  I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….

After a bit, Benjamin spoke. ‘Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’

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The single most encouraging thing you can do for your pastor

First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.

That’s what this is about.

I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.

Eight years later, we did something.

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Three gifts for the new pastor

When our church was about to welcome a new pastor, I contacted him to ask what we could do for him.  “Tell me the top three things you want from this church.”  He had an immediate answer, as though he’d been expecting the call.

“I would love to come to a unified, loving, praying church,” he said.   As a retired pastor of six churches, I knew exactly how he felt.  So, let’s look at those three gifts the new pastor would love to receive.

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Things we must get right in church otherwise it’s all over

In the Lord’s work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.

If we don’t know which is which, we’re in big trouble.

In the late 16th century, the City of Windsor engaged architect Sir Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.

Christopher Wren had four more columns added to the building, each identical to the first but with one exception: they lacked one inch reaching the ceiling.  They were not holding up anything!

We say that some of those columns were load-bearing and the others cosmetic.  (The building stands today. It’s called Guild Hall, I read somewhere.)

It’s a wise church leader who knows which structures in the Lord’s work are loadbearing and which are cosmetic and not structural.

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