Why do church people hang on to their jobs too long?

“Diotrephes who loves the preeminence…”  (3 John 9)

In one church I served, the assistant pastor had been there for over 25 years and was long past retirement age.  After I learned he was working against my leadership, when our people started talking about his retiring, I jumped on that bandwagon.  We set a date, with his complete involvement, and the congregation gave a generous love offering.  Then, just before the big day, the personnel committee informed me that they were asking him to remain in place.  He would not be retiring.

Yes, they “informed” me. They didn’t ask.

He gladly stayed on, seeing himself as the savior of the church against this young whippersnapper of a pastor.  (I was 46, not exactly a kid.)

And no, he did not return the love gift.

Why would he want to hold onto the job?  It seemed to give him a sense of prestige being a prominent leader in the city’s most storied church.  That and a dollar would have bought him a cup of coffee.

If you conclude I had more problems in that church than just the assistant pastor, you would be correct.  I ended up leaving after only three years on less than ideal terms.

What’s funny about that–sad funny, not ha-ha funny–is that two years later, I heard the new pastor was trying to get him to retire and having a time of it.  I had to smile.

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What is a pastor to do when a church kicks him out?

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.

Your bitterness feels like you no longer trust the Lord.  Read Acts 16 again, preacher, and remind yourself how God loves to use setbacks and what appears to be defeats for His purposes.  But the one thing He requires to pull that off is trusting servants who know how to sing at midnight (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?

Call it whatever you will.  Perhaps they dressed up the terminology and told the congregation you were taking an extended leave, with pay for three months.  But you weren’t coming back.  Or, you were taking a well-needed sabbatical for rest and study. But you weren’t coming back.  Or you were going to the “wilderness” for some retraining and redirection for your ministry. But you weren’t coming back.

You will hold your head up and go forward and look to the Lord who called you into this work in the first place, asking Him to do with it whatever He has chosen.

Repeat:  Hold your head up!  Look to the Lord.  Give this whole business to Him.  And keep on doing that until no trace of resentment can be found on your person.  Even if it takes five years!

Sure it’s hard.  It’s very hard.

In fact, most people won’t be able to pull it off.  They will grasp their hurt to themselves like a prized possession and refuse to give it up.  Only those who truly trust the Savior can keep their eyes on Him, keep abiding in Him, and keep on trusting and loving and giving.

“The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own. Put on the gospel armor….”

What other things can the ousted pastor do, now that his status with the church is no longer in doubt?

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What I told the embattled pastor

Some friend reading this may think I’m revealing a confidence.  But the fact is I have much of the same conversation almost weekly.  Pastors call or visit to tell of the stresses they are facing, the opposition threatening their ministry, and various crises their church is dealing with, each one more than they can bear.  One said, “The strain is killing me.”    That is the background to this piece….

You’re the pastor of the church.  Things have gone well for the first couple of years (or longer) in this ministry.  You have loved a hundred things about serving here.  But lately, things have slowed down and you’re now hearing a rumbling in the congregation.  It’s like footsteps in the night.

They’re after you.

A few people have lurked around the edges of the fellowship since you arrived as pastor.  They seemed to be searching for something to use against you.  They spoke pleasant words but the sinister reports you heard made you guard yourself around them. And then, something occurred in the church to ignite the opposition against you.  The “something” could have been trouble with a staff member, a moral problem with a leader, a heavy contributor dying or moving away causing financial hardships, anything.  It doesn’t take much of a spark to ignite a fuel dump.

Members who had been on the fence about your leadership now jump onto the bandwagon opposing you.  Finally, they found something they could use against you.  The nay-sayers come out of the woodwork.  Some withhold their offerings and then they say, “The church finances are hurting, proving the pastor is failing.”

Nothing about this is fun.

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The noise of wolves in the night…and a few church members

You’re getting scared.  Your enemies are making fierce noises.  There are so many of them. You  are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go.  Whatever will you do? This is so awful.

Or, maybe not.

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.  We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Before reading the 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.  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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When enough is enough: The pastor throws down the gauntlet.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  –a line from “Me and Bobby McGee,” an iconic song of the 1960s written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster

There comes a time in a pastor’s ministry….

The Lord’s servant has taken all he’s going to take.  He has reached the point where getting fired from this church would be a relief.  And yet, he knows the Lord who called him into the ministry assigned him to this particular congregation, and he has no intention of walking away.  However, the time has come to speak out and tell God’s people what is going on.

A small but determined group of members is waging warfare against the preacher. They want him subservient to them, they want him different from who he is, they want him “out.” Snipers work in the darkness to undercut him.  A little group conspires to oust him.  Others simply detest him and are constantly voicing their displeasure with him.

Their work is crippling the ministry of the church and destroying the effectiveness of this minister.

And these are all leaders.

The trusting congregation loves the pastor and believes all is well.  They don’t have a clue.

God help your church!

(NOTE:  Whenever I post an article on the mistreatment of God’s servant, invariably someone will message me about some hot-shot preacher who mistreated a church, stole its money, and ran off with a deacon’s wife.  Please spare us.  We are well aware there are hypocrites in the pulpit as everywhere else in life.  But no one has a license to dishonor God by shaming the ministers He sends to lead His church.)

“The Holy Spirit makes the pastors the overseers of the church.”  That’s in Acts 20:28.  So, let’s establish this up front.

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Scars from the ministry: They come with the territory.

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

“…I bear branded on my body the owner’s stamp of the Lord Jesus” –the Moffett translation.

“…I bear on my body the scars that mark me as a slave of Jesus” –Goodspeed.

At Mississippi State University, the Kenyan student carried horizontal scars across his face.  “Identification marks for my tribe,” he explained to me.  Wow.  Tough clan.

We were returning from the cemetery in the mortuary’s station wagon.  The director and I were chatting and perhaps could have been more observant.  We did not notice the pickup truck coming from our right and running the stop sign at 30 or 40 mph. We broadsided the truck.

My forehead broke the dashboard.

I bled and bled.  And got a ride to the hospital in the EMS van.

The emergency room people decided I had suffered no serious injuries and taped up the two gashes in my face.  At the wedding rehearsal that night, I sported a large white bandage on my forehead, just above the eyebrows. It made for some memorable wedding photos the next day.

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In the church you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer….

“In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We were expecting hostility from the world.  But certainly not from the Lord’s people.

Church is where we get blindsided.

The Lord wanted His people to know what to expect.  The road ahead would be rough.  They should prepare for turbulence.

The Lord would not be bringing His children around the storms but through them.  We will not miss out on the tempest, but will ride it out with Jesus in our boat, at times standing at the helm and at other times, seemingly asleep and unconcerned.

The lengthy passage of Matthew 10:16ff is the holy grail on this subject, as the Lord instructs His children on what lies ahead and what to expect.  His disciples should expect to encounter opposition, persecution, slander, defamation, and for some, even death.  So, when it comes–as it does daily to millions of His children throughout the world–no one can say they weren’t warned.

But what about the church?  Should we expect opposition and persecution there also?

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When church members insist on their rights.

“Why not rather be wronged?” (I Corinthians 6:7).

Ask any pastor.

We hear it all the time.  Variations on this theme are endless…

–“All these years we have belonged to this church and given our money to support these preachers, and now when we need him, he’s in Israel on a holy land tour!”

–“I went by the church.  I needed to see the preacher then, not the next day.  And you’re not going to believe this, but he was on his way out the door, headed to his son’s little league game!  And me a member of his flock.  What kind of preachers are we getting these days?”

–“The preacher needs to apologize to me for what he implied in that sermon on Sunday.  I know he was talking about me, even though he used someone else’s name.”

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“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I”M NOT ANGRY!” he bellowed.

“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 some 20 years 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 to put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to work 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.

A young woman said, “I can understand someone not liking a pastor’s style.  But why are these people so angry?”

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10 scriptures that keep drawing me back again and again.

This is semi-funny.  In my retirement ministry–preaching in various churches–I naturally preach the passages that mean a great deal to me.  And, since I know them so well, in many cases I quote the verses from memory. Often I don’t even carry a Bible to the pulpit with me. To read, I need cumbersome reading glasses, and if I already know the Scripture, what is the point? Just recite the passage and preach it.  If someone asks–as they often do, probably not seriously– whether I have memorized all the Bible (try to imagine that!), I say, “No, I just preach the parts I’ve memorized.”  That’s flippant, I suppose, but pretty much how it is.

I do love the Word of God.  I love all of it, not just the parts I’ve preached again and again.  And I love how those well-known familiar passages keep yielding insights and blessings. Here are a few thoughts on ten passages that I dearly love…

One. Romans 8 is the mother lode of spiritual insight.

In my sermon on prayer last Sunday morning, Romans 8:26 played a huge part.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know how to pray as we should.  But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…”

We are poor pray-ers. If the Apostle Paul did not know how to pray, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that you and I don’t!

But, we’re not to despair.

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