When friendship and truth clash

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

Around here in Southeast Louisiana you’ll see billboards that say “Friends don’t let friends eat imported crawfish.”

I know people in other parts of the country who would change that to say “Friends don’t let friends eat crawfish, period.”  :-)

A friend speaks up when his buddy is in trouble. A friend tells the truth even when doing so is uncomfortable for both parties. A friend rebukes his colleague if he’s doing something dangerous or self-destructive.

I want to be such a friend; I want to have such friends.

A few years back, while in Birmingham, I sought out a few friends whose opinions I treasure and handed them a brief manuscript I had labored over.

After all, who should know better than Calvin Miller, Fisher Humphreys, and Charles Carter whether my writing is sound, on target, helpful, and publishable?

“I need you to be brutally honest,” I said.

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There’s one of these in (almost) every church

Young pastors enter the ministry expecting the people of the Lord to be healthy, sane, balanced, spiritual, biblically informed, and Holy Spirit guided.

And then they run into reality.

The image of “running into a buzz-saw” comes to mind.

Some of them do not survive the experience, bless their hearts. But we remind them–when we have the opportunity–that our Lord said those who are whole do not need a physician (Matthew 9:12).  If they were all healthy, sane, balanced, etc etc., they would not need a pastor.

You are there for those who are the unhealthy, unbalanced, spiritually immature, and so forth.

Sometimes, it’s a leader in the church who blindsides you.

Here’s my story (see my two notes at the end)….

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“We dropped the ball!”

I find myself wondering when pastors and churches stand before the Lord and are asked what they did with the resources given them, whether they will say, “We dropped the ball.”

And wondering how that will fly.

In the city where I live, the local Children’s Hospital–a hero to untold thousands for many years–is under attack and the focus of a number of lawsuits.

Over the past couple of years, the hospital had at least five patients (all children) to die of a fungal infection which was the result of infected bed clothing.

As bad as that is, the hospital leadership did something even worse: They did not report it.

They were protecting themselves, they thought, by not following the law and informing the appropriate agencies about this. Consequently, they are in a mess of trouble.

Sound familiar?

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What to do about pastors who ride the church into the ground

Recently in this blog, we said pastors should be terminated abruptly if they are guilty of flagrant indecency, proven immorality, confirmed illegality, and serious heresy.

Several friends wrote to ask about pastors who are not guilty of those serious breaches, but are simply deadbeat preachers.

One said of her pastor, “He’s not guilty of any cardinal sins, but he simply stands by collecting a paycheck when the congregation has dwindled down from 250 to 50. All the programs and ministries are no longer functioning. Many changes were forced upon the people, changes they did not want.”

Her pastor receives a hefty salary while watching the church die around him and doing nothing about it.

She added, “When asked about all the people who were leaving–three-fourths of the church!–he says, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to be.’  And these are people who have worshiped there forty and fifty years.”

She wanted to know what I had to say about that situation.

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People who sound like hell.

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be composed of equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

If your heart is in heaven, your head should be in the clouds.

Okay, I’m playing with metaphors here and admit it. But I am overwhelmed by all the scriptures which keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. Worship, in other words.

There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is just about as good as you could ask for.

In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation (or more often “Revelations”), he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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Periodic accountability calls: a necessary part of the church ministry

“And they came to Capernaum, and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33)

“Thanks for dropping by, Darren. Hope you’re having a good day.”

“Darren, I want to ask you a couple of things. When we get through, you can say anything to me you’d like and tell me what I can do to help you in your ministry.”

“First, Darren.  Tell me about the announcement you made from the pulpit Sunday morning.  When you told the church about the youth mission trip you’ll be leading this summer.  That was the first I’d heard of it.”

Uh oh.  Darren has committed a serious breach.  He has run ahead of his leadership and has put the pastor in a tough spot.  The youth are all excited over the upcoming trip Darren has told them about.  If the pastor stops it in its tracks, he’s the ogre. If he gives his okay to something not even discussed in staff meeting, he’s setting a terrible precedent for the rest of the ministers.

The pastor is calling Darren on the carpet, although in a gentle way.  But don’t be fooled by his graciousness. Darren is in trouble and he knows it if he’s smart.

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“Our pastor is not a good fit for our church.”

The committee could not find any specific reasons they wanted the pastor to leave.  Church attendance was healthy, the congregation was responding well to the minister’s leadership, and finances were in line with expectations.  But there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the preacher, and had been since day one.

“You’re just not a good fit for our church” was all the committee could come up with.

They wanted him out. If he refused to go peacefully, a movement would be started to oust him forcibly.

If this sounds unlikely to readers, let me assure you it happens quite often.

The wife of a youth minister texted me recently with a similar story about her husband.  The administrator and personnel chair had visited him that evening to cut him loose upon just this basis–”you’re not a good fit for our church.”  They informed him the pastor would meet with him the next morning to discuss details of his severance.

Just so easily are leaders willing to toy with the lives and ministries of God-called servants as well as with the health, unity, and reputation of His churches.

In many cases, what “you’re not a good fit” means is that certain members simply dislike the minister.  And since they do not like him, clearly, the solution is for him to go back where he came from.

The presumption of some people is truly amazing.

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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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When should a pastor leave a church?

“The one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

When should a pastor leave a church?

1) When they fire you.

If they vote you out, preacher, and change the locks on the door, it’s a pretty good sign they want you gone. At that point, even if you know beyond all doubt that God sent you and this action represents complete rebellion on their part, it’s time to leave.  The Lord no longer expects you to stay.  (Whether He wants you to go down the street and rent an empty building and start a new church is an entirely different matter.)

2) When the Holy Spirit tells you.

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When to submit, when to insist

“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

I leaned over to my grandson in church yesterday and whispered, “I remember when Brother Ken brought the drum set into the church. Some almost died. Now look.”

On the platform was the usual dozen or so 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 music was great.

What I thought was, “What if we had given in to the critics? What if Dr. Ken Gabrielse–now the dean of the Warren Angell School of Fine Arts at Oklahoma Baptist University–and I had feared the criticism and buckled?”

There are times when church leaders need to pay attention to the criticism, and times to ignore it.

Knowing “what time it is” is the hard part.  For God’s children, that’s a function of the Holy Spirit.

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